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Trusty sidekick: Robert Downey Jr. breathes new life into Iron Man

<p>Iron Man 3</p>

Iron Man 3

The modern Robert Downey Jr. was not a creation of Iron Man. Three years earlier, he starred in a much smaller film, one that even with his massive success since, people have unfortunately avoided. But Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was the first place all this current Downey stuff came together. The character he plays in Sherlock Holmes and these superhero movies — they’re just Robert Downey. But it took Shane Black to write Downey for himself.

Black (whose first credit was as the 25-year-old writer of Lethal Weapon) reteams with Downey for Iron Man 3, and it’s kind of a revelation, particularly after The Avengers gave this character promise again after the so-so Iron Man 2. This is no longer a superhero franchise; it’s now officially a Robert Downey Jr. franchise. Every scene is built around how Downey the actor — and less so Tony Stark — will react to it. Under most circumstances, this would fail miserably.

What’s at stake in the story, of course, is the fate of the world. The big picture never changes in these things. The specifics are interesting enough when they make sense, but even when they don’t, it’s pretty irrelevant. An evil genius (Guy Pearce) has figured out how to engineer genetic code into both an apparently infinitely powerful regenerative furnace and an awe-inspiring nuclear weapon. He has teamed with a terrorist known only as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) to wage all-out war against the U.S. and our metallic hero. There are the requisite explosions and things you expect a huge franchise to update and refine as it goes. And while liberties taken with The Mandarin will outright anger diehard comic-book purists, those people are of no interest to Marvel Studios. All they care about, and rightly so, is Robert Downey Jr. doing this. Over and over again. And if it remains this exciting and entertaining, why not?

IRON MAN 3 Robert Downey, Jr., Guy Pearce, Ben Kinglsey, directed by Shane Black, PG-13