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Robert Downey Jr., left, as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts in

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Robert Downey Jr., left, as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts in "Iron Man 3."

Iron Man 3

FIRMLY ensconced as the No. 1 box office hit of 2013, Iron Man 3 is also reportedly the fifth-highest-grossing film of all time.

The salient point made from that success is that Marvel’s movie universe trumps the comic-book universe. Grumble all you want, comic geeks, about the liberties this movie took with the character of the villainous Mandarin. Marvel can respond: $1.2 billion worldwide, suckas. And that’s pre-DVD.

With a witty and unexpected screenplay by director Shane Black and Drew Pearce, this sequel takes place after the events of Marvel’s The Avengers, finding tech billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) freaked out about the gods and aliens he encountered. In his version of post-traumatic stress, he responds by forsaking sleep in favour of creating more and more Iron Man armoured suits.

That turns out to be a good move after Stark’s security guy Happy Hogan (played by Iron Man 1 & 2 director Jon Favreau) is seriously injured in a terrorist attack at the instigation of a mysterious, media-savvy mastermind known as the Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley).

An angry Stark challenges the Mandarin himself, a foolhardy move when his lush Malibu compound comes under air attack. Stark survives and finds himself with a non-functioning suit in rural Tennessee. There, he makes an unlikely ally in Harley (Ty Simpkins), a young boy who happens to share Stark’s technophilia.

Eventually, a more serious threat emerges in the form of rival technotitan Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who has joined forces with comely scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) on a project for developing superhumans dubbed Extremis.

Downey/Stark does not have all that much screen time in full Iron Man guise, roughly equivalent to how much time Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne spent in the Batman costume in The Dark Knight Rises. In fact, the movie relinquishes the Iron Man costume to other characters, including Stark’s pal Col. Rhodes (Don Cheadle), the President of the United States (William Sadler), and even Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Attribute this tendency to the director Black’s penchant for defying the cliché, not to mention his penchant for sardonic wit. (At times, the movie actually recalls Black’s 2005 noir-comedy collaboration with Downey, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.) But Black makes the most of outsized action, including a rescue scene involving an assortment of passengers plunging from Air Force One, duly deconstructed on the Blu-ray DVD bonus extras.

It’s a big, grand comic-book movie closer in tone to Joss Whedon’s witty, wild The Avengers, as opposed to the comparatively forgettable Iron Man 2 .

Three and a half stars out of five


The Kings of Summer

IN movies, when boys express an eagerness to become men, that craving is almost invariably expressed as sexual desire. It is the most dreary equation of Hollywood math: loss of virginity equals manhood.

One may be grateful for the off-kilter comedy-drama The Kings of Summer, in which three high school boys go in pursuit not of nookie (well, not exclusively) but self-sufficiency. It splices the teen angst of a John Hughes ’80s movie with the studied eccentricity of a Wes Anderson film: Ferris Bueller’s Moonrise Kingdom.

Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) is not solely motivated by an eagerness for independence. Mostly, he is looking to get some distance from his grumpy, widowed father Frank (Nick Offerman).

Conversely, Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is smothered by his folks (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson), who seem to be subjecting their offspring to death by a thousand nitpicks.

Fed up, the two hatch a scheme to break away by building a house in the woods from scrap materials and live off the fat of the land. They are joined in their piecemeal retreat by Biaggio (Moises Arias), an odd boy who speaks in riddles and just simply shows up with his machete to join this masculine commune.

It turns out to be an idyllic good time in the woods, in stark contrast to the dilemma of the parents. Patrick’s folks focus their nitpicking on the police. Frank is obliged to do some soulsearching.

But trouble surfaces in paradise when Kelly (Erin Moriarty), the object of Joe’s affection, inconveniently chooses the wrong paramour.

There is much to admire here. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and screenwriter Chris Galletta bring a freewheeling energy to the movie with their penchant for the oddball montage and snarky-witty dialogue.

Offerman, freed from the broader comic constraints of Parks and Recreation’s über-male Ron Swanson, nicely essays a bruised masculinity. (The DVD does include a whole montage of Offerman’s one-liners.) In the role of enigmatic weirdo Biaggio, Moises Arias (evidently eager to leave his Hannah Montana character behind him) just goes for it.

In the lead role, Nick Robinson is an awkward fit by virtue of his lack of awkwardness. His character doesn’t register as a boy trying to become a man. He seems as a man already, albeit with a couple of personal issues. That damages the coming-of-age dynamic: what should be a twisting, looping character arc is a hard bunt down the centre. Three stars

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