Tony Stark returns in this CGI-filled, in-joke fueled third installment of the popular Marvel Comics film franchise.

As a cultural categorical rule, superheroes come equipped with foibles and frailties and issues faced by us wee mortals, allowing us to transfer our fantasies of conquest and might, despite our humble, destructible status. Certainly, the man they call Iron Man has his issues, and they are laid bare for all to see, to smirking comic effect, more than usual in this next chapter of the Iron Man sequel parade. Anxiety attacks and hot- and cold-running cynicism are part of the personality package for Tony Stark, the man who would be day-saving hero, once the armor and external empowerment suit is in place.

When last we caught Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark/Iron Man on the big screen, he was trading wits and collaborating on earth-salvation antics with fellow superheroes in The Avengers. Here, Tony Stark gets his rightful spotlight again, and there is enough self-jabbing in-joke humor, CGI whizbang, and well-deployed 3-D to satisfy the action and irony hungers within us. Who woulda thunk that Downey Jr. would have found his calling — or one lucrative slice of his body of work — in the Marvel Comics–fueled movie world? But he is clearly the man for the job here, brandishing his snide quips and neurotic tics, wise-guy techno-speak, and a certain ramshackle charisma.

Varying degrees of villainy complete the picture of an impending calamity to be thwarted, from Guy Pearce’s maniacal world-destruction scheme to Ben Kingsley’s more complicated and self-canceling foe/fool-for-hire role. When a beautiful woman/cyborg braves fire to attack our hero, his comeback is “I’ve dated hotter chicks than you.” And self-effacing, winking jokes about the superhero trade line the way.

It can be said that Iron Man 3 could use an extra snort or two of subtlety or gravitas, especially if it wants to rise to the level of the Dark Knight flicks. But there’s plenty to justify our entertainment dollars, from the inner preadolescent to the protracted collegiate ironist within. Incidental note: If there is a “Scene to Be Remembered,” it would have to be the one involving nervous-making free-falling humans and a variation on the Barrel of Monkeys game. ’Nuff said.


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