Iron Man 3 is arguably the most divisive film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some hailing it as the very best film in the franchise and others as one of the worst. It's certainly one of the more interesting films, taking as its starting point the idea that the idea of saving the world, fighting alien monsters and being aware that the universe is a much bigger and weirder place than most realise, is quite stressful. For Tony Stark, whose arrogance, womanising and boasting has already been established as hiding a less confident and more self-doubting character, it's clear that such revelations might push him and his established issues (including borderline obsessive-compulsive behaviour) to the breaking point.
Of course, whilst these elements add depth and character development, it's also the case that we've already followed Stark's journey of self-reflection through three previous movies and piling yet more stuff on him might make the film feel self-indulgent, and it has to be said it does, at times. A lengthy side-sojourn as Stark meets up with a young kid who helps him reconnect and overcome his newfound anxiety issues feels decidedly random (cute kids being a trope most modern superhero movies avoid, and its intrusion here makes us appreciate why), and the film puts most of the regular cast (and even the iconic armour) on ice for half the film as Stark goes on a road trip through Tennessee and Florida.
As usual, it's Robert Downey Jr.'s charismatic performance that keeps the interest going whenever the pacing dips. There is a much stronger-than-normal cast on the antagonist/guest star side of things, with great performances by Rebecca Hall, Guy Pearce and Sir Ben Kingsley, although they all suffer from the early MCU villain problem of not being given enough time for real character development. Peace in particular, a canny and subtle performer, is reduced to lunatic villainous ranting, which is disappointing. Hall has very little to do, apparently the result of a last-minute rewrite that saw her role reduced from the main antagonist because focus groups revealed her toy wouldn't sell!
The film also suffers a little from the traditional post-Avengers issue of there being a big threat going on, but for some reason only one of the team is involved. The film certainly doesn't address why Captain America and SHIELD completely sit out the crisis, when it feels very much in their area of interest.
Still, the film does remember it's as superhero action movie in time for some impressive set pieces at the end, including an impressive airplane rescue and a concluding dockyard battle. As spectacle, Iron Man 3 is reasonably successful and its decision to deep dive into Tony Stark's psyche is a laudable attempt at characterisation but one that feels a bit redundant at this stage. As such, Iron Man 3 (***½) is watchable, entertaining, but can't quite deliver on its ambitions to deliver a deeper-than-normal superhero experience, and has to settle for just being fun, if a little forgettable.