After the snooze-fest sequel, we weren't expecting much from a third Iron Man outing -- especially one that had to follow the hero-packed Avengers Assemble.
Thankfully though some fresh ideas make the step-down to just a single superhero an easy one to bear, and prove that the repetitive process of sequel-making doesn't have to feel repetitive to the audience.
Note: The following contains very mild spoilers. We wouldn't dare give away any serious movie surprises, but if you want to go into Iron Man 3 knowing as little about the film as possible, skip ahead to the section below, '2D or not 2D'.
Indeed, the smartest move Marvel's latest movie makes is acknowledging that post-Avengers, there's no going back to the cheery, simple, superhero jollies of yesteryear. Having voyaged through a wormhole and stared a galactic god in the face, Iron Man 3 finds the once-irrepressible Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) plagued by insomnia, and prone to panic attacks if he dwells on the New York alien assault, or finds himself too far from his all-important suit.
Hounded out of his emotional and physical safe-zone by the maniacal Mandarin -- played to absolute perfection by Sir Ben Kingsley -- Stark is forced to bolt himself back together, a process that ditches sky-spanning dust-ups in favour of claustrophobic diner brawls and low-tech infiltration. Witty lines throughout and one completely unexpected turn are the icing on the cake, resulting in a blockbuster sequel that, against impossible odds, manages to surprise.
The Iron Man suit meanwhile has been tweaked, in a canny move that makes for more interesting on-screen action. Rather than a being single hunk of metal, the third film's suit bolts onto Stark in pieces, so you'll see him fighting the forces of evil with just an Iron fist, or one Iron arm and an Iron leg.
When the action eventually becomes more grandiose, director Shane Black gets creative with this limb-popping trick. It keeps the fights feeling fresh, and gives Downey Jr. more screen time.
The film is far from perfect, with an opening half-hour that's low on excitement, and some glaring -- and often baffling -- product placement (seriously, how did Speedtest.net get squeezed into this movie?). It's still good fun though, with some laugh-out-loud moments and some creative comic-book action.
2D or not 2D?
So, is Iron Man 3 worth seeing in 3D? I saw the movie in three dimensions in ideal settings -- a central seat at a massive screen in the Odeon in London's Leicester Square -- and didn't think the 3D added much to the movie.
That said, the 3D itself is very good, with nothing popping out or dipping into the screen more than it should. This is particularly impressive because Iron Man 3 wasn't shot in 3D, but post-converted, a process that often results in ropey visuals and jarring depth mistakes.
Unlike the simply gorgeous Life of Pi, 3D doesn't bring anything extra to Iron Man 3, and there's no sense that it was written, directed or imagined with added visual depth in mind. Having donned my daft 3D spectacles at the start of the film, I stopped noticing the effect entirely after only a few minutes.
That speaks to the subtlety of the film's 3D efforts, but also means there's no added value in a 3D viewing, especially as tickets for these triple-dimensional screenings are more expensive.
Ultimately I'd recommend saving a few quid and seeing Iron Man 3 in 2D, but if your local flea pit is only offering 3D -- or is reserving the really massive screens for 3D viewings -- then there's little harm in seeing Tony Stark blast baddies in one extra dimension.
Will you see Iron Man 3? What did you think of the last two? And if you've seen the movie, what did you think? Stick your own critique in the comments, or over on our Facebook wall.