Another film trilogy has come to an end, but this trilogy has done what few before have been able to accomplish, save the best movie for last.

Taking place after the events of “The Avengers”, “Iron Man 3” opens with a flashback to New Year’s Eve 1999 where a very drunk and cocky Tony Stark is speaking at a symposium in Sweden, laying his moves on thick to scientist Maya Hansen, and blowing off disabled scientist Aldrich Killian who is promoting his think-tank, Advanced Idea Mechanics.  Fast-forward to present day and Tony Stark is struggling to keep himself together after the final battle in “The Avengers”.  Tony’s near-death experience traveling through the wormhole at the end of the battle has left him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and insomnia, filling his sleepless nights by making new Iron Man suits numbering in the 40s, the most recent can be summoned to him piece-by-piece with a flick of his wrist.  Pepper Potts is still running Stark Industries, meeting with the formerly-disabled Aldrich Killian to discuss his healing project known as “Extremis”.  Meanwhile, a terrorist known as The Mandarin has taken credit for a series of bombings across the world and Stark’s friend Col. Rhodes has been tasked with taking down the leader of the Ten Rings, using his War Machine suit repainted and rechristened “The Iron Patriot”.  After Stark’s former bodyguard Happy Hogan is caught in a blast caused by The Mandarin, Stark publically challenges The Mandarin to a fight, a challenge which is answered by an airstrike on Stark’s home.  Believed to be dead, Stark escapes to Kentucky to find the source of the Mandarin’s bombings, and the link between the Mandarin and Killian.

“Iron Man 3” had the potential to actually kill the trilogy with a change in direction and writing.  The first two films were directed by Jon Favreau who also played the part of Happy Hogan, but for the third film writing and directing duties were turned over to Shane Black, writer of films like “Lethal Weapon”, “The Long Kiss Goodnight”, and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, starring Robert Downey Jr.  Luckily, Black was able to bring his humorous and action heavy style and mix it with the preset world of the Iron Man films to create a movie that fits perfectly in what we already know to be Tony Stark’s world.  Tony Stark is a sarcastic and arrogant character, and without the proper writing that type of character can lose the audience appeal by not being likable or sympathetic.  But Black’s writing combined with Downey’s performance made for an enjoyable scene every time Tony Stark is on the screen.

Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow (and her abs), and Don Cheadle were all at top form in their respective characters, giving their best performances in the series yet.  Paltrow is finally given more of a role to play apart from the concerned girlfriend, getting into the action, and an Iron Man suit.  After being captured by Killian and forced through the Extremis procedure, Pepper Potts steps up to the action and actually has an active and pivotal role in the climactic final battle.  Don Cheadle spends less time in the armor than he did in “Iron Man 2”, but this wasn’t a bad thing as it allowed Cheadle to strut his stuff as a trained Air Force Colonel.  Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian comes across as a cliché villain by the end of the film, but that works perfectly in this kind of film.  The tongue-in-cheek humor was to such a specific level that even a cliché villain didn’t feel overdone and was an actual threat.  Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin was honestly the highlight of the film for me, being an impressive threat in his television spots threatening America and the President, but also being a pleasant surprise when he comes face-to-face with Tony Stark.  The only two downsides of the film are Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan and Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen.  Hogan has always been a nothing character with very little importance to the overall story, this time coming across as so annoying that it’s difficult to feel sympathy when he’s caught up in an explosion from the Mandarin.  Rebecca Hall as Hansen just comes across as extremely bland, not adding anything to the film beyond a pretty lady to look at and a necessary character to advance the Extremis portion of the story.

If I had any complaints about the movie, they ended up being minor.  First, it seems like the Iron Man suits are “one size fits all” as FOUR characters other than Tony Stark and Col. Rhodes end up wearing an Iron Man suit at some point during the film.  Though it was interesting to see Pepper end up in the new suit for a scene, overall it gave the impression that these amazingly intricate and complex suits have no security features preventing others from using them, even though Stark makes reference that his suits are only programed for him.  Also, there is a major plot resolution with Tony Stark that comes across as contradictory to something he said in “The Avengers” and brings up the question as to what his role will be in “The Avengers 2”.  Going into this movie I was aware of a major plot twist regarding the villains that I wasn’t too pleased with.  The Mandarin has been Iron Man’s long-time nemesis, and I believed the change made to him in this movie was being disrespectful to that history and the fans that love the comics.  Though I can see where passionate fans will be disappointed, the twist was handled in such an entertaining way that the scene became possibly my favorite of the film.

This film gets just about everything right, going full circle and bringing the story back to the first film.  Shane Black’s writing and directing style was so great that it made me wish he’d been doing these movies all along.  The movie is almost two and a half hours long, but the pacing makes it feel like barely two hours.  The action was very impressive, using CGI when necessary to complete physically impossible scenes, but relying on live-action stunts for authenticity, such as a free-fall rescue accomplished with a stunt skydiving team.  What you have with “Iron Man 3” is the best “Iron Man” movie yet and the best Marvel film second only to “The Avengers”.  This is a movie I recommend to everyone; even shelling out the extra to see it in IMAX 3D if you have the chance.