In the wake of two enormously successful “Iron Man” films (and an accompanying superhero mash-up, “The Avengers”), Marvel could have rested on its laurels with “Iron Man 3,” extending the series’ legacy as lucrative but tepid summer entertainment. Yet, remarkably, the series’ latest entry flies in the face of everything that came before it, resulting in a wonderfully imaginative (and frequently bizarre) riff on the superhero genre. Some audiences won’t know what hit them, but “Iron Man 3” is a picture of absolute infectiousness – and a nearly perfect piece of summer entertainment.

“Iron Man 3” is an embarrassment of riches, raising the stakes for future superhero films – Marvel, DC, or otherwise. Rather than being tied down by self-seriousness, the film uses that weightiness to free itself. By not belaboring Tony Stark as a broken, moody hero and instead using his story as a backdrop, the pic’s energy never dips, allowing for a nonstop barrage of verbal and visual fireworks. It’s certainly not the film people are expecting, but I loved it for that. Its absolute refusal to fit inside any kind of box is what makes “Iron Man 3” so exciting, and I can only hope that other filmmakers take note of its freewheeling enthusiasm. This is how you kick off the summer movie season.

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Excellent)

Full review: Iron Man 3

-J. Olson