Despite all the hype over director Shane Black taking the reins, Iron Man 3 succeeds for one reason: Robert Downey Jr.  This shouldn’t be a
surprise to anyone given the venerable actor has been elevating films for years.  Now in his fourth performance as eccentric billionaire
Tony Stark, Downey Jr. has solidified his portrayal as the greatest in superhero film history.

Although this third entry still can’t match the 2008 original (A film I grossly underrated) or last year’s The Avengers, Downey Jr. is better than
ever and absolutely carries this film from beginning to end.

Even more than the previous installments, Iron Man 3 is a Tony Stark film much more than it is an Iron Man movie.  Until its over-the-top
closing setpiece, this film devotes itself almost entirely to the Stark character.  Black (Who co-wrote the film with Drew Pearce) takes full
advantage of an actor at the height of a great performance and delivers a character-based story that provides satisfying development of
his ongoing arc.

Stark’s honest and genuine opening and closing narrations serve to nicely humanize the character, belying his often brash, narcissistic
projection.

The film’s best moments involve a young boy who takes in Stark following the destruction of his palatial Malibu estate at the hands of
terrorist leader The Mandarin.  The battered and defeated Stark bonds with the child despite his best efforts.

These scenes are well-written and performed and demonstrate the best the series has offered in terms of balancing humor and heart.

Unfortunately, Iron Man 3 is held back by just about everything else.

The previous films have never been anything special in terms of plot and the same can be said here.  This is particularly disappointing due
to the presence of Extremis, a regenerative medical breakthrough with destructive side effects.  This story arc from the comics was
particularly memorable thanks to its extremely dark tone.  Here it is simply a plot device to give enemy’s superhuman strength.  None of the
original spirit remains.  I, for one, would have liked to see the film go a bit darker, as the film’s trailers suggested.

Perhaps there was a bit of that same conflict in Black, as he is constantly wrestling with the tone of the film.  The drama and comedy don’t
mesh as well this time around.

The returning supporting cast also has less of an impact.  Gwyneth Paltrow has less interaction with Downey Jr. and therefore her role feels
diminished despite being more involved in the action.

Don Cheadle and Jon Favreau provide awkward comic relief.  I wouldn’t have minded if Favreau (Who directed the first two films) was left
out altogether.  I’ve never found his character to add much.

The most notable work may be from Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin.  He turns in a very good performance, but his character fizzles out
rather abruptly.

Guy Pearce is suitably menacing as Aldrich Killian and Rebecca Hall is also good as Maya Hansen.  Both of their characters are a part of the
Extremis storyline, and once again, it seems like they should have been given a bit more weight.

Despite Stark being out of action and reflective for much of the film, there is never a suitable sense of dread or threat.  I understand not
wanting to shake up the established formula too much, but I do think there was potential to be something more than that.

Despite its failures and holes, Iron Man 3 is consistently enjoyable and entertaining.  It may not hold up under a truly critical eye, but
Downey Jr. is just too good in this role.  He delivers the humor with his usual punch, explores some of his character’s inner demons and
the journey has a satisfying, redemptive quality.

As usual, the visual effects and sound are exceptional.  And it took three films, but Iron Man finally gets an appropriately heroic theme
thanks to composer Brian Tyler.

Iron Man 3 is a lot of fun and can hang its hat on a legitimately phenomenal performance from Downey Jr.  It doesn’t exceed our lofty
expectations, but it still makes for a worthy sequel.

* * *
(out of four)
IRON MAN 3
Directed by: Shane Black

Written by: Drew Pearce & Shane Black

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don
Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Ben Kingsley

Music by: Brian Tyler

Cinematography by: John Toll

Released: May 3, 2013; 130 Minutes