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Robert Downey Jr. Brings Action Hero to Life in 'Iron Man'

Forty-five years after he first appeared on comic book pages, another Marvel super-hero blasts onto the big screen. The new action film stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges and is directed by Jon Favreau. Alan Silverman has a look at Iron Man.

Not only fly, he can also smash through walls, deploy an amazing assortment of deadly weapons and bullets bounce off of him ...when he's wearing the high-tech metallic suit that he designed. Robert Downey Jr. stars as Iron Man creator Tony Stark, a billionaire weapons manufacturer who has given awesome destructive power to the world's military forces.

While hawking his latest bombs in Afghanistan, Stark is kidnapped by insurgents who, he discovers, are also well-armed with his company's products. He escapes by devising a crude suit of armor. When he returns home, the newly-enlightened Stark declares he will shut down the assembly lines.

Stymied by the opposition of longtime business associate Obadiah Stain, played by Jeff Bridges, Stark secretly uses his technical skill (and vast wealth) to create a refined version of the armor in which he made his escape. With it he becomes a sort of high-tech vigilante on a quest to stop armed aggression and protect innocent civilians.

Robert Downey Jr. says the concept adapted from the comic book adventure is not all that far-fetched.

"We were getting on the plane to come here and there was (an article in) Popular Mechanics that says 'the REAL Iron Man' and it's talking about these super-soldier things that they're building. Just the idea of doing something where you're so close to a probable future ...kind of being just behind the crest of the wave or just in front of the wave and thinking it's going to break this way or that me that is really creatively exciting," Downey says.

Co-star Jeff Bridges says comic book fantasy may be the origins, but Iron Man - like many Marvel heroes - has relevance to what is going on in the real world.

"One of the things that I like about the movie in general is it is full of interesting themes, but it is not shoving a message down anyone's throat," Bridges says. "There is a lot to be seen and gleaned out of this thing and hopefully promote discussion."

Gwyneth Paltrow plays Pepper Potts, Stark's beautiful and loyal executive assistant ...and, she insists, no damsel in distress.

"Pepper really has a great head on her shoulders. She is a very strong woman, but she is also very giving and non-judgmental when it comes to her relationship with Tony," Paltrow says. "I love the fact that she was who she was and she was his kind of conscience, in a way. She wasn't being dangled from rooftops and screaming or whatever. I would be up for that in the sequel, but it was nice in this one to have her be a real character."

Director Jon Favreau brings his wry sense of humor to what could have been a relentlessly dark drama filled with explosions and other visual effects. Favreau says he knows a super-hero movie must have spectacular action, but he believes the audience also wants - and deserves - interesting characters and a compelling story.

"Nothing, comedy or visual effects, is important enough to undermine the story," Favreau says. "It has to be about the rise of the hero. It has to be the mythic journey: the thing that has worked since Greek epic poems. It's the thing that makes Star Wars great. He got it so right there. I don't think we got it that right, but at least we hit some of the same signposts. The more you stick to the old stories - the mythic way of telling a story: the rise of the hero, the emotional re-invention of somebody as they develop and come of age - the more you're going to engage a world audience. The visual effects help you tell those stories in a way that you don't feel like you've seen it before, but ultimately it's just window dressing."

Iron Man features special effects by Industrial Light and Magic. Oscar-winner Stan Winston and his design studio created the metallic super-suit of armor. The cast also includes Terrence Howard as Stark's close ally, Air Force colonel Jim Rhodes; and Leslie Bibb plays a reporter whose questions start the hero re-thinking his business philosophy. The musical score is by German-born Iranian film composer Ramin Djawadi.