Iron Man 3 is the final Iron Man movie (so far, though Downey Jr. is apparently wibbly on how much more he wants to do; Marvel might decide to give someone else a shot - I'd love a War Machine movie, frankly), and stars Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Ty Simpkins, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and Rebecca Hall.
Stark (Downey Jr.) is more reflective this time out; the events of The Avengers kind of messed with him. Suffering from panic attacks and insomnia, he spends his nights building new suits of armor. Pepper Potts (Paltrow), now his girlfriend and living with him, is also running his company, and his friend and former bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, not directing this time) is head of security.
The world has its own problems - a terrorist called the Mandarin (Kingsley) is blowing things up all over the US, and apparently SHIELD hasn't figured out how to find him (SHIELD is in fact entirely absent from this movie, and since this is before Captain America: The Winter Soldier I kinda think that's a bit of a plot hole). Meanwhile, Aldrich Killian (Pearce), director of Advanced Idea Mechanics, is trying to get funding from Stark to finish his "hack the body" program called Extremis. And Stark's buddy Rhodes (Cheadle) has been rebranded as the Iron Patriot, and kind of takes over the "police the world" thing that Iron Man used to do.
Of course we know the big twist - Mandarin isn't Mandarin, he's a British actor and something of an idiot, hired to be the bad guy by Killian, who is actually the Mandarin (kind of). After an attack on his house, Stark winds up in Tennessee befriending a young boy (Simpkins) and investigating the "bombings," and does a Lethal Weapon-style raid on Killian's compound before a climactic showdown on a boat with lots of Iron Man suits.
I'm conflicted about this movie. On the one hand, I like it. Everyone is comfortable in their roles, and it doesn't feel like a retread of the first movies (if anything it feels like a retread of Lethal Weapon 2; same director, and we'll get to the L's). Some things - Stark's fixation on the Battle of New York, the way other characters note that in the post-Avengers world, things are different - make it feel very much like an MCU movie. But again, the problem I have is: Where is SHIELD? I'm fine with Stark not being able to call up Cap or Thor for help; they have their own shit going on. But where is Romanoff? Where's Fury? They don't need to show up, but their absence might have been explained a little better, especially in light of the Mandarin kidnapping the President. It feels like they wanted the movie centered on Stark again, but the world has gotten big enough that it's hard to arrange that without some deft maneuvering, and I think there were some missteps here.
But, the effects are good. There are some nice emotional beats, though a lot of them (Happy Hogan getting put into a coma, Potts briefly getting superpowers) get lost in the general chaos. A lot of later superhero movies make the mistake of putting in too many villains, and I don't think that's the problem here. I thin the villains make sense, but the movie is messy thematically. Of the MCU movies, I think it's the weakest. (So, still good, just not as good.)
My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Medium
Next Up: The Great Gatsby