‘Iron Man Three’ pumps up the action

The 2012 blockbuster “The Avengers” was the culmination of an ambitious strategy: Launch a bunch of Marvel comic-book characters in their own movies and then put ‘em together in a big superhero hootenanny.

It worked like gangbusters. But if you thought that “culmination” meant “finale,” think again. There’s still gold in those capes and tights and Thor’s mighty hammer, so hang on for another round of all that.

The first post-“Avengers” picture returns to the franchise that kicked off this cycle. “Iron Man Three” checks in with billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who is drawn into another larger-than-life adventure, this time involving a super-villain called the Mandarin.

I am not convinced that the film makes logical sense, nor that the Mandarin’s plot adds up to anything more complex than his desire to (dare I say it?) rule the world. Maybe that’s all we need. (Somebody thought we needed 3-D, which looks superfluous here.)

Director Shane Black, who wrote the “Lethal Weapon” series and made the dandy action-comedy “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (which starred Downey), puts in more psychological complications than the situation probably requires.

Since the “Avengers” adventure, Tony Stark has been bothered by anxiety attacks and a restless urge to tinker with his many Iron Man suits, those armored skins that allow him to soar above the clouds and absorb an incredible amount of damage.

Tony’s playboy past comes back to haunt him, in the form of a long-ago fling (Rebecca Hall, from “The Town”) and a disgruntled inventor (Guy Pearce).

Meanwhile, the world is suffering terrorist attacks and listening to the ravings of a bearded weirdie (Ben Kingsley, having a high old time) who breaks into our previously scheduled programs and informs us of the doom that lies ahead.

The story line isn’t the point, of course. The point is the amazing red-and-gold suit that Tony Stark wears, and the amazing beard and smirk that Downey has parlayed into a major career.

“Iron Man Three” (the number is spelled out in the opening credits) is a distinct improvement over the slipshod “Iron Man 2,” and there are even a few action-movie opportunities for Gwyneth Paltrow, as Tony’s patient girlfriend.

Downey looks like he’s ready to move on: Now that Tony’s settled down, the character has lost much of the brash, self-centered humor that made him pop in the first place. This denies the actor his full range of snark, a terrible thing to waste.

More tiresome is the flexibility of the Marvel universe’s internal rules; these rules are annoyingly inconsistent when it comes to the durability and indestructibility of heroes and civilians alike.

I’m no stickler for superpowers being believable — hey, they’re superpowers — but it would be nice if the occasional laws of physics were applied around the edges of these things.

“Iron Man Three” (3 stars)

Another go for billionaire Tony Stark, who becomes Iron Man when he puts on his red-and-gold suit of armor. A distinct improvement on the second part of this series, this one nevertheless looks tired, and Robert Downey Jr. isn’t allowed his full range of snark. Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley are among the villains.

Rated: PG-13 for violence.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Olympic, Stanwood, Meridian, Sundance, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.

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