"Iron Man 3" will please fans of the franchise, which is said to be coming to an end with word that Robert Downey Jr. doesn't want to reprise his role as Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, although he is rumored to be on board for "The Avengers 2" (2015).

As Stark says at the conclusion – well the near-conclusion (for more on that, see this column's Credit Readers Anonymous) – of "Iron Man 3": "I am Iron Man."

True as that may be, Robert Downey Jr. is even more so Tony Stark. Unlike the perhaps interchangeable roles of Batman, Spiderman and, yes, even, Superman, one cannot imagine anyone else playing Tony Stark. That said, anyone could be inside the Iron Man full-metal jacket suit. At one point in "Iron Man 3," Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) even dons the suit.

Still, even when he's inside the suit, with a view of his luminous eyes overlayed with computer screen readouts, it's Robert Downey Jr.'s presence that is felt.

Downey's nervous energy – he's the most fidgety superhero this side of, well, Sherlock Holmes (which Downey also portrayed) – is put to good character use in "Iron Man 3." This time out, Stark is beset by anxiety attacks, which paralyze him into immobility. Not good when the United States and the world is depending on him to be the uber action hero to save the world from a mysterious and deadly terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).

Other attributes of Downey's that speak so well to his character include – pun intended – his voice, which has the right amount of self-knowledge, safe ironic distance from the world's woes to allow him to be a problem-solver and a good dollop of self-deprecating humor. Downey's voice is especially fine for the beginning and concluding voiceover narration in "Iron Man 3."

Adding to his big-screen presence are Downey's slight tilt of his head and his pouty lips, which are often in a rueful grimace which makes his grin and smile all more welcome when he breaks into it. These traits create in Downey – and thus, Tony Stark, who would otherwise be insufferable – a sympathetic character. We go along for the ride.

And what a ride it is. "Iron Man 3" has several big – no, huge set pieces, including the blasting of his Malibu cliff-hanging mansion (which has been shown often in trailers and previews, so no spoiler here), plus scenes that take place at a Miami estate, a container ship dock, Air Force One and Chattanooga, Tenn. (don't ask; even Stark couldn't figure out why).

Stark has lots of interaction with Jarvis, his robotic ward, but his best scenes are with his girlfriend Pepper Potts. Frankly, I could to without all the explosions, shootings, fisticuffs, fighting battle-bots and special effects – especially the holographic ones seemed geared mainly for the 3D and Imax formats and would enjoy a romantic comedy sort of an at-home with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.

Of course, if the film-makers would take my advice, they wouldn't have had the second biggest United States weekend opening ever.

These two seasoned actors really have chemistry together. Downey and Paltrow are the Tracy and Hepburn of contemporary cinema.

"What am I going to complain about now?" Pepper Potts asks Tony Stark at the conclusion of the film.

"Well, it's me. You'll find something," Tony Stark responds.

And then she asks, "Will I be OK?

"No. You're in a relationship with me," he responds.

It's good to see that in "Iron Man 3" Paltrow's role has been expanded. She has a captivatingly luminous screen presence.

In addition to Downey and Paltrow, the casting is smart in "Iron Man 3."

Kingsley plays a grim terrorist, who, ala Osama Bin Laden, videos his dastardly deeds ahead of time.

Don Cheadle has an important role as Colonel James Rhodes, a military commander who is at Tony Stark-Iron Man's side when the going gets rough.

Besides Kingsley, there are is also another great villain appropriately named Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce, who really pulls out all the bad-guy stops.

Rebecca Hall does a fine turn as Maya Hansen, an ex-girlfriend of Tony Stark who has a mysterious agenda.

Jon Favreau has a comic-relief supporting role as Happy Hogan.

Ty Simpkins as Harley Keener, a young boy who befriends and helps Tony Stark, is quite remarkable and provides Downey with a good foil for some of his best quips.

Director Shane Black (director, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"; screenwriter or writer, "Lethal Weapon" trilogy) keeps the action and the quips moving. The screenplay was written by Black and Drew Pearce (TV's "No Heroics") based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. There is a twist in "Iron Man 3," which is perfect for this age of screens when those who, rightly or wrongly, get their 15 minutes of fame, or infamy.

"Iron Man 3" – with Tony Stark in or out of the robotic armor – is one sci-fi action film that, you might say, should suit you.

"Iron Man 3," MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13) for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content; Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-fi; Run time: Two hours, 30 minutes; Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Stay to the very, very end of "Iron Man 3" end credits to hear and see Tony Stark-Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) continue his reflections on his personal life to a psychiatrist none other than Dr. Bruce Banner-The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Box Office, May 8: On Mother's Day weekend, "Iron Man 3" continued at No. 1, $72.4 million, $284.8 million, two weeks, as "The Great Gatsby" opened big at No. 2, with $51.1 million.

3. "Pain & Gain," $5 million, $41.6 million, three weeks; 4. "Peeples," $4.8 million, opening; 5. "42," $4.6 million, $84.7 million, five weeks; 6. "Oblivion," $3.8 million, $81.6 million, four weeks; 7. "The Croods," $3.6 million, $173.2 million, eight weeks; 8. "The Big Wedding," $2.5 million, $18.2 million, three weeks; 9. "Mud," $2.3 million, $8.3 million, three weeks; 10. "Oz the Great and Powerful," $802,000, $229.8 million, 10 weeks;

Unreel, May 17:

"Star Trek Into Darkness," PG-13: Director J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek," 2009; TV's "Aliens," "Lost") is back to helm the Starship Enterprise enterprise and ups the ante. This is not your William Shatner's "Star Trek." Chris Pine (Captain Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Benedict Cumberbatch and Zoe Saldana star in the sci-fi action-adventure.

"Frances Ha," R: Noah Baumbach ("Kicking and Screaming," "The Squid and the Whale") directs his girlfriend Greta Gerwig in a comedic script they cowrote about a young New York woman who can't seem to make her dreams come true.

"Erased," R: Aaron Eckhart and Olga Kurylenko star in the action-thriller about an ex-CIA agent and his estranged daughter who are targeted by an international conspiracy.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, lehighvalleypress. com and the Times-News web site, tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com

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Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes