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updated: 5/2/2013 6:28 AM

3rd time's a charmer for 'Iron Man'

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  • Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) tests Tony Stark's mettle in the amazing "Iron Man 3."

      Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) tests Tony Stark's mettle in the amazing "Iron Man 3."

  • Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) makes improvements on his suit in "Iron Man 3."

      Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) makes improvements on his suit in "Iron Man 3."

  • Video: "Iron Man" trailer

 
 

"Iron Man 3" comes in 3-D, which means that in addition to dodging numerous explosions and punches, we've got to duck a plethora of witticisms, surprises and humorous asides coming at us like machine gun spray.

Writer/director Shane Black clearly doesn't want viewers moseying off to the powder room or concession stand during the 135-minute running time of his extended Marvel comics caper.

So, he straps booster rockets to every scene, climaxing with a frenetic, fiery fight sequence so intensely unrelenting and visually busy that tedium, if not downright numbness, threatens to set in.

This hardly can be viewed as a deficit after 2010's rusty "Iron Man 2" barely got off the ground, weighed down by clichés, conventions and sloggy direction by Jon Favreau, who surprisingly enough finessed the first "Iron Man" with bomb aplomb.

The film series (including last year's super hero ensemble hit "The Avengers") continues to be propelled by its not-so-secret weapon, star Robert Downey Jr., whose polished performance as zillionaire industrialist Tony Stark wraps glib bravado around a giddy adolescent core.

He twists the dialogue (by Black and Drew Pearce) with wry inflections and cocksure intonations. He laces every word with sassy fun.

Downey also pumps Stark full of impressive physicality for a member of the Bill Gates/Mark Zuckerberg club of intellectual visionaries. He looks to be in better shape now than ever before.

He's buff. He's tough.

And he's rough when it comes to dealing with America's newest terrorist threat, the Mandarin. Ben Kingsley plays the Mandarin as a shadowy Fu Manchu-like character with the ability to address all Americans on all media outlets simultaneously to warn them about some horrific act he's plotting.

Then, in an event recalling the recent Boston Marathon tragedy, a human bomb goes off at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, instantly vaporizing the people standing within 12 feet of the explosion.

Here, "Iron Man 3" lets Tony Stark do something rare in a superhero movie, something humanly stupid. He calls out the Mandarin in a fiery public denunciation, fueled by anger and ego. Stark boldly gives out his home address and dares the Mandarin to come get him, never thinking about the danger he places upon himself and his beloved corporate executive Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, who makes an exceptionally good action star here).

Three armed helicopters show up at Stark's seaside home, and the foolish industrialist loses everything. Almost everything.

Stark narrates this movie like a personal diary, chronicling significant moments in his growth as a person. Usually, this would be the result of lazy screenwriters. Here, it humanizes Tony Stark.

He begins in 1999 when he first meets ultrasmart Maya (Rebecca Hall) and only views her as a conquest.

"We create our own demons," Stark tells us. He has no idea how on that same night in 1999 his rude and callous dismissal of nerdy looking science genius Aldrich Killian (super actor Guy Pearce) will come back to bite him in the metallic buttocks.

"Iron Man 3" also recognizes celebrity in ways other superhero movies don't. As in the scene where a van techie recognizes Stark and proudly shows off his Tony Stark tattoo -- taken off his Tony Stark action figure doll.

(How come nobody ever does that to Superman? Or Spider-Man?)

Don Cheadle reprises his role as Stark's buddy Colonel Rhodes, who has his own Iron Man suit and goes under the blunt nickname of War Machine, although the official brass prefers the generic name "Patriot something."

The most memorable moments in "Iron Man 3" involve Stark's brief and hilarious, yet touching relationship with a young boy (Ty Simpkins) whose own father deserted him at 6 years old.

He helps Stark survive several attacks from the Mandarin's superhuman lava warriors, capable of generating enough heat to melt steel.

Simpkins and Downey mesh their characters perfectly, and in any other movie, they would provide the kind of warmth capable of melting the heart of an Iron Man.

Here, the kid's a pleasant pit stop on Tony Stark's road trip to self-enlightenment.

And nothing slows Iron Man down.

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