Iron Man III: Makes up for ‘Iron Man II,’ does not top original

“Iron Man 3” opened May 5, 2013 as the second largest box office hit of all time. In 10 days the movie had reached over $280 million. Although “The Great Gatsby” premiered with a strong $51.1 million this past weekend, “Iron Man 3” continued to reign supreme, drawing in over $72 million for its second weekend.

With the release of “Iron Man 3,” Marvel completed the first movie series developed as part of Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and introduced the world to Phase Two. The 2008 release of “Iron Man” introduced Robert Downey Jr. as “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” Tony Stark, a role that helped set a precedent for all superhero movies thereafter. This final installment, however, deviates at least slightly from the usual superhero norm – instead of developing the scope and power of Iron Man, audiences follow the internal struggles of Tony Stark.

As the first Marvel follow-up to the hugely successful cinematic venture that was “The Avengers,” “Iron Man 3” had more to live up to than most finales in a trilogy. And for the most part, I would say it delivers.

“Iron Man 3” finds Downey’s Stark in a rather humanizing position than any other of his film appearances. In the wake of the massive alien attack on New York and his fall through a wormhole, Stark is experiencing crippling panic attacks and PTSD. A threat made to the bin Laden-esque super villain The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) further exacerbates his problems when Stark is stripped of his gadgets, gizmos and house after the terrorist attacks him at home.

The film, instead of following the quintessential superhero format, is reminiscent of a detective movie. Stark begins investigating a series of explosions linked to The Mandarin, which also are connected to Stark’s past.

Instead of portraying his usual unrepentant self, Stark is forced to face “demons of his own creation” in the form of rival industrialist and genius Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who may or may not be The Mandarin’s benefactor, and former flame Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall).

Gwenyth Paltrow more than shines in her continuing role of Pepper Potts. She has remained the CEO of Stark Industries, despite resigning at the end of “Iron Man 3,” and is shown to be a capable and ethical leader. Her relationship with Stark is all too human – they are both forced to deal with Stark’s PTSD, like many other couples – and her character’s growth over the three movies is more than self-evident.

Surprising for many is that “Iron Man 3” actually passes the Bechdel Test, the benchmark created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel to gauge gender bias in entertainment by asking three simple questions: Is there more than one female character? Do they talk to each other? Is it about something other than a man?

In fact, “Iron Man 3” passes with flying colors. Potts and Hansen’s characters are integral to the movie, and Hansen’s role is practically the driving force behind the entire narrative. The two women are both unapologetically aware of who they are – or were – Stark’s life and they do not dwell on him at all. Instead, the pinnacle of their interaction comes into play with a conversation on the ethical implications of scientific and industrial development.

Director and co-writer Shane Black did what everyone hoped he would be able to – he created a movie that grew from the successes and failures of the previous two. Instead of attempting to do a smaller scale “Avengers” movie, with action at every turn and little plot to contend with, Black was able to seamlessly meld fiction into the Marvel Universe reality.

There were of course plot holes (where did the Norse Gods go? And why didn’t Stark ask for help from S.H.I.E.L.D. to deal with The Mandarin?), but those have become as much a part of any mega-movie as the story itself. They are endearing, really, and what is a superhero movie without the inherent need to suspend disbelief?

To say any more would reveal too much, and for those who have avoided the online spoilers, there are many surprises in store. Overall, this movie receives a stro

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