What happens when you take the superhero out of his super suit?
That's the main question at play in "Iron Man 3," which gives Robert Downey Jr. more face time (and less time in his armor) than any of his Marvel outings to date.
And that's a very good thing -- because, in my opinion, this is the best "Iron Man" movie yet.
After the events of "The Avengers," which saw the mighty man crashing back to Earth out of a worm hole in the sky, Tony Stark is a wounded warrior.
He doesn't sleep ... and when he does, he has night terrors that even put Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow) in danger. The movie shows Tony at his most vulnerable, a state of mind that gives Downey a lot more to do than deliver a killer comeback line.
Of course, a bad case of PTSD isn't his only problem.
This time around, a menacing terrorist known as The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) is taking responsibility for explosions all over the world -- and a team of supersoldiers who can regenerate missing limbs threaten Tony's every move.
Sinister scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) also factors into the plot ... but we're keeping spoilers to a minimum.
While it's hard to top the city sequence at the end of "The Avengers," there are some set pieces in this movie that are equally impressive. The destruction of Tony's gorgeous Malibu mansion is an explosive delight, while a race to save the ejected passengers of Air Force One (mid-air!) is exhilarating to watch.
Tony is forced to do a lot of his fighting outside of his armor or can only utilize parts of it as it flies onto his body. Near the end of the movie, he frantically jumps from suit to suit -- which all have their own special features.
All of this really works.
As for the cast, Robert is great, once again, in the title role. He's given a lot to work with -- including scenes with a young kid actor that are some of the best in the movie.
Both Gwyneth and Don Cheadle get some killer fight scenes of their own, with Paltrow and her enviable abs keeping up with the boys.
And while Rebecca Hall is largely forgettable as Maya Hansen, fellow newcomers Pearce and Kingsley are clearly relishing in their roles. The film's use of The Mandarin character is a risky one, but one that has a pretty incredible payoff.
Director Shane Black really makes the movie his own, bringing a fresh (and frenzied) take to the franchise in its third outing. And after the end credits, we really can't wait to see where it goes next.
And yes, stick through the credits. While there are no huge hints about "The Avengers 2" or any future Marvel movies, there is one familiar face many fans will still be happy to see.
"Iron Man 3" opens May 3 in theaters.
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