Iron Man 3

This fun if ultimately slight chapter in the Iron Man franchise gets a significant goose in the comedy factor, thanks to director/cowriter Shane Black, taking over for Jon Favreau after Iron Man 2's tepid critical response.

Black, who made his name as the screenwriter for Lethal Weapon and who later cast IM3 star Robert Downey Jr. in his overrated (in my opinion) action-comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, hadn't been working in any official industry capacity for years. (I'm sure he'd been doing plenty of uncredited script doctoring in the meantime.) Maybe he landed this choice gig only after heavy lobbying by his old friend Downey, but Black still proves to be a capable comic book movie director, and his script (written with the formerly unknown, suddenly ubiquitous Drew Pearce) brings plenty of his expected glibness to the table.

Iron Man 3 thrives on an impressively convoluted plot involving a technology that transforms ordinary people into, basically, human Terminators. Behind it all is the nefarious, vaguely Middle Eastern villain The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), though Guy Pearce is along for the ride as a nerdy hacker turned uber-successful (if slimy) entrepreneur.

Several wild twists ensue, but without giving anything away, the plot's sound and fury winds up signifying pretty much nothing. The stakes may be high, but the motivations are all kind of silly. Kudos, however, to Black for packing his cast with lots of day players, something I wish more blockbuster directors would do. All the bit parts serve to expand the story's universe, and prevents the kind of low-stakes claustrophobia that brought the first Iron Man to an underwhelming climax - basically just two guys duking it out.

Iron Man 3 is two hours of summer popcorn fare, and not much more than that. It's still an entertaining diversion, but aside from the laughs and some clever story mechanics, it doesn't offer anything new. In fact, it may primarily serve as evidence that, after the spectacular performance of 2012's The Avengers, there may now be nowhere for Marvel superhero movies to go but down.