Not only does Iron Man 3 return the franchise to its glory, which I didn't find was as diminished by Iron Man 2 as many of its detractors did, but I even enjoyed it slightly more than The Avengers. Granted, that's due in part to IM3 having the advantage of taking place in a known cinematic world and not being bogged down having to set up the relationships of so many characters the same way Avengers did.
Set around Christmas time after the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. whose performance captivates throughout again) is going through some type of combination existential crisis/post-traumatic stress disorder. He deals with it, or more accurately avoids dealing with it, by submerging himself in his lab, where he has tinkered with variations of Iron Man armor and developed some type of tech he injects into his body that allows him to command armor to him. His time in the lab has caused friction between himself and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow).
The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is terrorizing The United States with random bombing. Even with the assistance of James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), newly dubbed "Iron Patriot" and painted red, white, and blue for PR purposes, United States intelligence agencies are at a loss to stop him. When someone close to Tony gets injured, he lets it be known he is coming after the Mandarin. But the Mandarin makes the first move, and it’s a devastating one, leaving Tony alone and with crippled armor to take on the Mandarin and his forces, which includes scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who Tony briefly met once at a Swiss science convention back in 1999.
The investigation of the bombings takes Tony to Tennessee, where he meets a young boy named Harley (Ty Simpkins), who provides him great assistance. Teaming with Rhodes, Tony uncovers the villain's operation, which has objectives on a national scale as well as a personal one for Tony, and they strive to defeat it.
Director/co-writer Shane Black, new to the franchise, continues to show a great talent for action films and has set a high bar for the remaining summer blockbusters of 2013. The script contains great humor, good character moments as we see them evolve, and the story offers a few surprises in the plot, particularly with the Mandarin's character, which Kingsley handled quite well. My only complaint is I never again need to see the hero being responsible for creating the villian.
There are number of memorable action sequences, though the extended one that finds Tony repeatedly jumping in and out of armor is a bit much. It's over the top and borders on ridiculousness but it's easy to get caught up in the action by this point in the film and let it go. What doesn't make sense is Tony's ability to encase someone else in his armor and comes off like a cheat.
I saw the 2D version of Iron Man 3 and don't feel I missed out on anything. I look forward to seeing the film again and would consider the 3D version, depending on the feedback. Highly recommend for fans of action and/or Downey as Stark. There's a post-credit sequence that's mildly amusing but don't look for any hints at what's to come in the next Marvel film.