This is the third time around we meet Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) on the screen in Iron Man 3 – not counting his marvelous appearance in The Avengers. This time, Stark is a man who has some serious doubts about who he is. He is completely disconnected from the business of Stark Industries and is making his Iron Man suits as a hobby. His right hand and girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), is sitting quite lonely but steadily at the rudder of Stark Industries.

This story picks up all the way back on a festive New Year’s eve in Switzerland, in 1999, some years before all the events in the first Iron Man movie, when Tony still knew how to party. At the party, Tony Stark is approached by another bright, however miserable looking scientist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who wants them to work together. Tony manages to stand the man up and soon forgets about him, while spending the night with another brilliant scientist, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), who is a bit more his type: female.

When we get back to the present day, Tony is a troubled and brooding former superhero, looking a lot like a turtle without its shell. He has anxiety attacks, and seems more human than ever before – even when dressed in a metal suit. The Iron Man is quite literally falling down and there is a vulnerability present behind the jokes and action. It seems obvious we are closing in on the end of this unofficial ”trilogy” of the Iron Man franchise. Early on there is a lingering feeling that things will change by the climax of this film.

While Tony is at a low point in his life, a series of terror bombings shake the American soil. A terrorist who calls himself Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) claims responsibility for the bombs. Mandarin, who looks like a classic cliché of a madman, threatens the world with his wrath through hijacked TV network appearances. He appears to have unclear motives for his actions. But as it soon turns out, the real enemy of the state is far more mysterious, anonymous, and harder to find. Tony, who feels inadequate and doesn't understand his own purpose in life, makes things personal with this terrorist. After vowing revenge for the bombs, he starts chasing both himself and the terror-mongering Mandarin with jet speed.

The action scenes in this installment are slightly different from the previous ones. Though super-developed, the flying robotic suits are not used as frequently, and they malfunction, much like a human would, more frequently. Both Tony and Iron Man are unpredictable, and that makes the film more interesting, especially since the bad guy is more up to the task this time, and much more likeable. There is more walking and running, and the tech gadgets, just as many and spectacular as before, are more effectively used to accompany the plot, rather than supplementing it.

Seriousness finds its way in between Tony’s funny comments and Downey Jr.’s light action acting. We get to deal with both panic attacks and identity crisis issues. Despite this, the combination of comedy and drama is well balanced with a splendid action backdrop. The villain transforms from an easily hated head of a terror organization, to one with a perfectly understandable, yet questionable agenda. Guy Pearce is really the best bad guy so far, with far more character than most others, and it is only fair that his part is bigger than in most hero-driven stories. He is definitely not some guy off the street with a strange accent.

The visual effects in this film are even more handsome than before, but there are only a few moments where the 3D makes up for the more expensive ticket. This is definitely a story worth watching even without this expensive extravagancy. The cinematography in itself surpasses most of what we’ve seen in Marvel films thus far, beginning with the total destruction of Tony Stark’s home, and ending in formidable fireworks.

The plot is deeper-rooted and less dependent on action in this film, but the climax makes up for everything action-wise. The characters are more complex and the plot – for a Marvel story – makes the two hours seem shorter. There is a lot more room for actual acting, and the characters develop rather nicely throughout the story. Pepper really grows in this story, and is the biggest surprise. She gets a lot of space – not to mention spice – and by the end of this film, she is hotter than ever. Tony gets a young personal helper, a fatherless boy by the name of Harley (Ty Simpkins), who adds to the emotional involvement of the story. The interaction between Harley and Tony almost creates a little moisture in the corner of our eyes. But some more flying and a few explosions make sure there is no room for mushy feelings behind the 3D glasses.

This movie certainly challenges the success of the previous two. It’s an ambitious example of ”action with emotion.” By the end of the story, the set has indeed changed and we have a whole new beginning. The most important question is answered: Tony Stark is Iron Man.

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