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The third movie in a franchise is tricky—it's when you need to decide whether the entire set of movies tells a story (such as in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies) or go purely episodic, with each movie essentially standing alone and having only the barest connective tissue (such as Indiana Jones—go ahead and ignore the last movie; it hurts nothing).


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In tone and outcome, Iron Man 3, feels more like it's in the Batman camp of wrapping up a story. Everything comes to a pretty tidy ending. But then, because Iron Man is a franchise bigger than just Iron Man (there are, after all, already two more Avengers movies in the pipeline) that has to be undercut to reassure everybody that the end doesn't mean what it wants to mean.

Taken completely on its own, though, Iron Man 3 is what most people are going to want from a comic book movie; what they want from Robert Downey, Jr., in a comic book movie; and what they will want from a comic book movie directed by Shane Black (screenwriter of the first two Lethal Weapon movies and other self-aware action comedies like The Last Boy Scout and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).

Iron Man was about how Tony Stark became the suit. Iron Man 2 was, in something of a failure, about more suit. Iron Man 3 is about Tony Stark figuring out how to live outside of the suit. Many will be surprised at just how little time Stark spends flying around, but thanks to Shane Black's ability to write sharp dialogue and Downey's deep sarcasm in delivering it, it actually ends up working better than most of the big action set pieces.

Strip out the superhero stuff, and Iron Man 3 is actually something of a standard returning-soldier movie. It is more a sequel to last year's The Avengers than Iron Man 2, and the late events in that movie have left Tony Stark scarred in a very real way. Before those events, he'd found a happy spot in his life, both professionally (as Iron Man) and personally via his normalizing relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). But he returned home from the events in New York knocked off his equilibrium, slowly crumbling those important relationships.

While we're being brought up to speed on all of this, in the background we are learning of a new terrorist threat targeting the United States in the form of a new quasi-Middle Eastern threat going by the name of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who seems to have a new kind of bomb and isn't shy about using it.

Terrorism is too small of an issue for S.H.I.E.L.D. to deal with (after all, they just saved the planet from invading aliens and gods), so Stark is paying it all no never mind—until one of the attacks seriously wounds Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), his former bodyguard-slash-chauffeur. Then it is about revenge, and that is the hook for how you can have Iron Man without the rest of the Avengers.

Forced to spend much of the movie with just his latest prototype—and therefore functionally limited—suit, Stark spends much of the movie showing off his brains instead of his mechanically enhanced brawn. This is a good thing, as it allows for a maximum of great lines at the expense of watching CGI creations blow each other up.

Eventually, it's time to take on the bad guys—plural, because joining The Mandarin is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearch) as the simultaneously bland yet scenery-chewing brains behind the villainous operation. And taking on the bad guys means getting everybody back into zippy suits, finding a nice dark setting to make the CGI cheaper, and zooming everybody around really fast while things blow up and people yell a lot.

For an action movie, this stuff holds together pretty well, and it is a good thing that compared to the non-action parts, it is still a bit of a letdown.

If you really liked Iron Man and The Avengers while tolerating Iron Man 2, you'll almost certainly have a great time with Iron Man 3. If you really liked Iron Man 2 while tolerating Iron Man and The Avengers, then your way of viewing the world is so different from mine that we'll just have to walk slowly past each other. If you didn't care for any of them, then you should not expect to have your opinion changed by this latest entry (and you should probably save some money and stop trying them).

The movie is filled with your typical action blockbuster violence. People do die and they die on screen, although generally, they do it without gore and remain in one piece. So keep that in mind when trying to gauge appropriateness for your children.

As is usual, seeing the movie in 3D does not add a whole lot. But to build some promotional hook for it, theaters that are offering moviegoers with Iron Man-branded glasses will have four different models for you to choose from: A Tony Stark glamour pair (think Vegas Elvis), and then three different ones based on the faceplates of various Iron Man suits. So perhaps that is a good hook to justify spending a couple extra bucks.


  • Iron Man 3 is a Paramount/Marvel release.
  • Wide theatrical release on Friday, May 3, 2013
  • Directed by Shane Black
  • Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle
  • Running time: 130 minutes
  • Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content
  • Alex's rating: 8 out of 10


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Alex Stroup works in Web functional design and married his way into this Disney thing. He currently focuses on movie reviews for Disney theatrical releases and other family-friendly films.