Topping the epic action set pieces of Avengers Assemble was always going to be problematic. Sequels and follow-ups make their money on being bigger, louder, more spectacular than their predecessors. Without the help of Hulk, Thor and the rest of the crew, this was always going to be difficult to do. After being led to the brink of world domination by an invading alien army, any other threat is going to look a little tame in comparison. The stakes have been higher before, and it’s a problem.
That is not to say that there are not plenty of exciting moments here. Ben Kingsley’s sinister terrorist The Mandarin, and Guy Pierce as the slimy Aldrich Killian offer a significant threat to Stark, eclipsing former foes played by Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell in the previous films. The action scenes are a mixed bag, with the attack on Stark’s Malibu mansion the standout, while a later scene in which Iron Man attempts to catch airline passengers in free-fall fails to live up to the vertigo-inducing premise.
Following a strong opening act the film hits a lull as Stark goes underground allowing the bad guys plenty of time to put their evil plan into motion. This slow paced middle section is the low-point, rescued only by a major swerve that turns the plot on its head. The final battle of robots versus lava-spouting super soldiers is impressive, but sadly many of the best moments in this showdown have been spoiled in the film’s trailer.
Iron Man 3 fails to reach the heights of Avengers Assemble, lacking the excitement, scale and sense of fun that made it a standout in the genre. It is however, an assured return to the Marvel universe, one that lays the groundwork for future releases that will lead to the inevitable Avengers sequel. Up next on the horizon are Thor: the Dark World, and Captain America: the Winter Soldier, and it will be interesting to see where the superhero studio goes from here.