'Iron Man 3'
Two and a half stars (PG-13)
In the galaxy of big-screen superheros - a rather glum lot - Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man is the snappy one.
He's the sarcastic, motor-mouthed, preening, self-referential do-gooder, as opposed to all those self-serious crusaders. No matter how much of a scrap heap of metal-twisting mayhem the franchise piles on (and it's a lot), Downey's sheer charm - his unsentimental, offhand yammering - is the only real super power in Marvel's "Iron Man" trilogy.
"Iron Man 3" follows not just "Iron Man 2" but the box-office busting "The Avengers," in which Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, joined forces with other superheros. These global blockbusters are more produced than directed, but it's nevertheless particularly fitting that Shane Black here inherits the helm from John Favreau, the director of the previous two.
Black (the "Lethal Weapon" screenwriter) and Downey last teamed up (before Downey's career had been fully resurrected) in the wonderfully zippy, deconstructed LA noir "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." "Iron Man 3" begins exactly the same, with Stark in a halting voiceover that he restarts and then gives up on, concluding: "Well, you know who I am."
Black's film, more than any other "Iron Man," is stuffed with this self-aware, winking style. This includes loads of references to "The Avengers," an experience from which Stark has developed panic attacks and sleep-depriving nightmares. Though the stated cause is the alien battle that concluded "The Avengers," one suspects it could be Scarlett Johansson's acting that haunts him.
He is pulled into a confrontation with a terrorist named Mandarin (a bearded Ben Kingsley), who, in hijacked broadcast transmissions, takes credit for public explosions that, in a movie such as this, chafe awkwardly in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. When reporters mob Stark for his response after an explosion puts his friend and bodyguard (Favreau, looking happily unburdened) in the hospital, Stark swears vengeance and brazenly supplies his home address for a fight.