Where has Robert Downey Jr. gone? There's no doubt he’s the star of Iron Man 3
; he sprints through the picture like a neurotic panther. And yet he's curiously absent, detached in a Zenlike way from the whole affair. The nakedness that defines his best performances has become, paradoxically, a kind of mask, not unlike the sleek, airbrushed-looking one he wears as the superhero incarnation of cocky kajillionaire Tony Stark. Today, Downey could play Stark in his sleep. The jittery self-doubt, the look-at-me hubris, the Boy Scout cluelessness about women: He's become so proficient in his believability that you can hardly believe a minute of it. Maybe you don't need to believe much in Iron Man 3
. This is the first in the franchise to be directed by Shane Black, and only the second picture the prolific action screenwriter has made. (The first was the marvelously nerve-jangling Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
, also starring Downey.) On the plus side, Black has a puckish sense of humor, and shows a healthy resistance to the comic-booky self-seriousness of the Batman movies. The villains in Iron Man 3
, for example, include the Mandarin, a pointy-bearded sage who’s half Osama bin Laden, half Ming the Merciless. He's played with bug-eyed hamminess by Ben Kingsley, and the movie is spooky, silly, or both whenever he's onscreen. But the big problems with Iron Man 3
are less specific to the movie itself than they are characteristic of the hypermalaise that's infected so many current mega-blockbusters-- too much plot, too much action, too many characters, too many pseudo-feelings. The mechanics of Iron Man 3
are complex and rambunctious, like Keystone Kops, bouncing off one another and ultimately canceling one another out.