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'Iron Man': Suddenly, Snark Is A Super-Power

The snark in most superhero movies resides mostly with the villains -- Spidey slings more webs than sarcasm; Superman would rather land punches than punchlines.

But with Robert Downey Jr. wearing Iron Man's armor, there was never any doubt that this new Marvel franchise would make its snarkiness central. No one throws away a line with more style than Downey -- not even Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond model -- and the dozen or so screenwriters it took to turn this comic book story into a storyline have given him plenty to throw away as Tony Stark, irrepressibly irresponsible gazillionaire munitions-maker.

Director Jon Favreau blows up a lot of stuff right at the top, then takes his time establishing characters -- Terrence Howard as Stark's comparatively down-to-earth best bud, Gwyneth Paltrow as his lovesick secretary, Jeff Bridges as his nemesis -- and more time getting the hero into that metal suit.

Downey proves hilariously limber in the Blake Edwards–ish slapstick with which he finally learns to fly, but the plot proves less limber, especially in a routine wrap-up where a pair of bulging metalmen have at each other digitally.

Early on, though, when bad boy Stark is trying to rehabilitate himself and Downey's bad-boy rep is dovetailing neatly, the movie zips along. If every superhero franchise had a Robert Downey Jr., the genre might actually be watchable again.

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Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.