Why are you reading this review of "Iron Man 3"?

I'm genuinely curious. Because I suspect that you made the decision whether or not to see the latest Marvel film before you even opened up this newspaper. You probably decided before you'd even seen last year's "The Avengers," the supergroup superhero film that featured Iron Man, along with a few of his friends.

I doubt anything I say will change that decision, whatever it is. But "Iron Man 3" will be one of the highest-grossing movies of the year, and film critics are expected to give their opinions on the big-budget blockbusters. So here we are. (You are still reading, right?)

"Iron Man 3" aims to meet expectations. That is, it gives fans everything producers think audiences want: lots of stuff blown up, an extra-villainous villain, references to past films in the franchise and "The Avengers" to make fans feel smart, tons of technological tricks, and plenty of shots of Gwyneth Paltrow's abs.

On screen
'Iron Man 3'
» Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
» Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce
» Director: Shane Black
» Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content
» Running time: 129 minutes

What it doesn't offer is much in the way of originality -- or lucidity.

It's unfortunate, because the film starts out with such promise. We're taken back to the days when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) was still a hard-living playboy, rather than the ethical industrialist he's become. It's 1999 -- we're there as soon as we hear one of the year's most popular and worst songs, which won't leave your head for days -- and Stark is ringing in the new millennium (ignoring those who say it starts in 2001) with a lot of alcohol and one beautiful woman. But Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) isn't just a pretty face. She's a talented scientist, and we'll see her again, though Stark doesn't call her after their one-night stand.

Back in the present, Stark has been ignoring the new Osama bin Laden -- and not paying enough attention to girlfriend Pepper Potts (Paltrow -- until the stateless Mandarin (Ben Kingsley, in a stroke of casting genius) takes responsibility for an explosion that injures Stark's friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). He unwisely gives the Mandarin his address on national television, and the bad guy's henchmen lay siege to the place. Stark will have to go low-tech this time -- at least for a while. But it turns out the Mandarin has nothing on the film's real baddie, think-tank head Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). (He's a villain made for Washington!) Like that of the upcoming "Star Trek," the plot of "Iron Man 3" revolves around genetics, a perennially popular trope.

Basically, "Iron Man 3" is mostly an excuse for Robert Downey Jr. to look cool -- that and make a handful of Hollywood types a lot of dough -- and it mostly succeeds in the task. There's no denying the man is exceedingly charismatic. Paltrow has none of his cool, as good as she looks -- she's too aware of herself and her role as eye candy in every scene. It's disappointing, however, that such a handsome couple actually plans a weekly "Date Night."

Downey gets a few excellent lines, as do some other members of the cast. But "Iron Man 3" ultimately bites the hand that feeds it. The tricks start to become cheap, and, worse, the movie finally rejects all the fun that made the franchise such a success in the first place. I suppose it's an age-old problem, a beautiful partner who wishes you'd spend less time at work. But when your work saves her life and yours, well, I wouldn't be so quick to blow it all up. As impressive as that might look onscreen.