So is the third film the decider in a series? Two out of three good enough for immortality?
In the case of Iron Man Three (as the closing credits have it), I'd say it's probably too close to call. Jon Favreau's first two Iron Man films were a split decision, the second a bloated, jokey expansion from the witty, dynamic first film.
It's up to Shane Black, once an important name in writing movie action, to take over for the third installment. And, in some ways, he pulls it off.
It's no fair comparing this film to Iron Man 2, which was an overinflated mess. Unfortunately, Black also chooses to pump up the action to a size that makes it hard to focus the film's actual excitement.
In IM3, we join gazillionaire inventor/super-hero Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), aka Iron Man, still struggling to deal with the existential trauma he suffered in The Avengers. (Yes, now all of these Marvel super-hero movies are interconnected, just like the comics.) After a near-death experience battling invading space aliens, he is troubled by the gigantic void that seems to await.
To distract himself, he hasn't been fighting villains but he has been building and refining Iron Man drones he can control remotely. He's retired as a crime-fighter, until a terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) begins a campaign of terror against the U.S. Part Fu Manchu, part Osama bin Laden, the Mandarin carries out a mission that injures Stark's old friend, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), putting him in a coma and provoking Stark to challenge the terrormeister to come and get him.
Which, of course, he does -- bringing down Stark's cliffside mansion and laboratory/workshop. Stark disappears with it, presumed dead but, in fact, still alive. With only one full Iron Man suit at his disposal -- and that one struggling against battle damage and power loss -- Stark must find a way to stay alive and defeat the Mandarin, without the use of his super-empowering armor.
That's a standard trope in the arena of super-hero stories: How tough are you without your superpowers? Downey spends a lot of time in jeans, t-shirt and hoodie, running from Kingsley and a smarmy geneticist-villain played by Guy Pearce.
This review continues on my website.