I am Iron Man.

And so it begins. The summer movie season is upon us. Let's roll.

(My Top Ten of 2007 is coming...I promise.)

Marvel Comics continues its assault on the big screen with Iron Man, a different sort of superhero movie that successfully finds a unique niche within a genre bordering on staleness.

I think that for the majority of moviegoers, myself included, the character of Iron Man does not possess the potent mythos of more popular characters like Batman or Superman. There haven't been crazy successful films or television shows to enhance Iron Man's legacy to my generation. I knew the ten-word backstory -- Tony Stark...rich, smart guy...caught in a war...supersuit -- but that was about it. So the movie's challenge was seducing fence-sitters like me, to succeed where heroes like Spider-man and The Fantastic Four failed. In the end, the anonymity may have helped, luring people in as the movie revealed the story of an intriguing hero.

The movie's appeal stems from its star, Robert Downey, Jr., who seems like an odd superhero choice initially, but given the playfully dramatic tone of the movie, he is a perfect fit. Stark is no gentleman, but rather a Bond-esque playboy, wild yet likable, appealing to the bad boy in everyone, and Downey drills the part. From his work blooms an irreverent tone that encompasses the whole movie, all the way down to the electric guitar-infused soundtrack. Downey brands the movie with his humor, but rounds it out with his dramatic ability. One particular mid-movie scene is mesmerizing as Downey explains the reasons and emotions behind Stark's decisions. That scene exhibits what separates Iron Man from most comic book movies: the sincerity of the serious moments. Adding to the singularity is the way that Downey lends an element of high society that mixes oddly with the harsh reality of the war in Afghanistan. It is a strange juxtaposition, much different than the consistently dark world of Batman or the idealized world of Superman. Although jarring at first, the end result is that the realism grounds the movie, eliminating any pretentious air while also preventing a descent into camp.

Origin stories frequently make for the best comic book movies, because the required background tales add dimensions and levels of believability, as they do here. The origin story in Iron Man enhances the overall pacing, which is excellent, beginning at the beginning and building throughout to a timely final act. The movie clocks in at just over two hours, perfect for a good piece of entertainment like this.

Let's hope that the rest of summer's promising slate lives up to the hype as well as Iron Man.

Bottom Line: As the first movie of the summer season, Iron Man may get the benefit of a doubt, but so be it. It's a great ride. 8 of 10 on my newly revised (and soon to be explained) rating scale.

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