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05/06/2013 08:26 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

ReThink Review: Iron Man 3 -- How Do You Top A Megamovie?

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Iron Man 3 is probably the closest you can get to a sure thing when it comes to predicting blockbusters, but I'm guessing that even the folks at Marvel wouldn't have guessed that they'd be more than two thirds of their way to one billion dollars after the opening weekend in the U.S. But with a worldwide box office of $680 million already, Iron Man 3 might possibly pass the $1 billion mark after its second weekend in the U.S. -- a truly mindboggling feat. Iron Man 3 actually had the second biggest U.S. debut in history with $175.3 million, not only besting all other superhero films (The Dark Knight Rises is next with $160.8 million), but also Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($169.1 million).

The film that refused to give up the #1 spot is Marvel's The Avengers, where Tony Stark/Iron Man is (arguably) the main character, though he shares the spotlight with the stars of other Marvel franchises. This presents Iron Man 3's biggest problem -- while it's an entertaining film, it lacks the size, stakes, and star power of The Avengers, which could be considered cinema's first megamovie. Watch my ReThink Review of Iron Man 3 below (transcript following).

Transcript:

It feels like a long time since the first Iron Man came out in 2007, when Marvel Studios was just beginning its multi-franchise campaign for summer movie superhero domination. Back then, Robert Downey Jr. was better known as a recovering addict and a major on-set liability before director Jon Favreau decided to take what was then considered a huge risk by putting the Iron Man franchise and a big part of Marvel's future on Downey's shoulders. As we know, that gamble paid off huge, with Downey's Tony Stark not only becoming perhaps the most popular of all current movie superheroes, but also helping set the comedic tone that made 2012's megahit The Avengers so refreshing. And now, with the third and final chapter of the Iron Man series, it seems that Downey and the character of Tony Stark are now a single entity, much as Stark claims he and his armor are indistinguishable.

Iron Man 3 takes place after the events of The Avengers, and one of my favorite things about Iron Man 3 is that Stark acts like it. Having not only learned that gods and aliens are real and barely staving off an invasion of earth, Stark has been shaken to his core and is showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress like panic attacks, insomnia, and an obsessive desire to build more Iron Man suits. All of this has strained his relationship with his girlfriend Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) who's now running Stark Industries.

Meanwhile, there's been a string of terrorist bombings around the world, with a shadowy middle-Eastern-looking terrorist with an American accent incongruously called the Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley) taking responsibility. This coincides with the return of Aldrich Killian (played by Guy Pearce), a scientist from Stark's past who's developed a new procedure called Extremis that will help amputees regrow missing limbs. Stark challenges the Mandarin, leading to a devastating attack on Stark's home that leaves Stark stranded in Tennessee and presumed dead. But when Stark starts investigating the Mandarin and a seemingly unrelated suicide bombing, he uncovers a conspiracy that could lead to the assassination of the president of the United States, with grave implications for the rest of the world.

Don Cheadle returns as Colonel Rhodes piloting the repainted War Machine suit (now dubbed the Iron Patriot), and as you saw in the trailer, there are about a dozen new Iron Man suits, though their main feature seems to be how to get in and out of them. And there are plenty of big action scenes that are as big or bigger than the ones in the first two Iron Man movies. However, there isn't anything that really matches the size or stakes of the action scenes in The Avengers, which is perhaps Iron Man 3's biggest problem.

With the possible exception of some of the Lord of the Rings movies and perhaps The Dark Knight, The Avengers may be the biggest and I'd say the best giant action movie I've ever seen, accomplishing the seemingly impossible task of combining the stars of multiple franchises into a coherent, satisfying, and wonderfully witty film that gave every hero a chance to shine. After that, a movie with only one Avenger where the fate of the earth isn't directly at risk just doesn't seem as exciting. And even though Iron Man 3 is supposedly the end of the Iron Man series, it doesn't feel like it since we know Stark will be back for The Avengers 2, which has already been scheduled for 2015.

Obviously, part of the goal of a movie like Iron Man 3 is to leave you wanting more to build excitement for The Avengers 2, but it also means that Iron Man 3 isn't as satisfying as I'd hoped it would be. But it's still a fun movie, primarily due to Downey's performance as a man much like his past self, who had it all, lost it, and must reevaluate what's most important to him and his obligations to others. And in case you're wondering, stick around through the closing credits.

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