Iron Man faces the Mandarin in Marvel’s latest movie

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Before the much-hyped release of Iron Man 3, many fans were sure the film would face one of two fates: it would either live up to the wild success of The Avengers or be as pathetic as Spider-Man 3. Iron Man 3 isn’t as good as its predecessors, but it isn’t abominably bad either; it is merely a tepid new installment in a popular franchise.

Tony Stark is back after saving the world in The Avengers, but is suffering from post-traumatic stress. He copes by building upgraded versions of his classic Iron Man suit.

At the same time, the Mandarin, a terrorist who has detonated explosives across the country, has threatened the U.S. president by hacking into television networks. The Mandarin’s lifelong project involves mutating humans so that they can heal from any injury, but are also turned into living bombs. Tony declares it his mission to take him down.

Tony, played by Robert Downey Jr., loses steam as the movie progresses. He starts off with his signature swagger, but by the end, he’s a watered-down shell of a character, sacrificed for commercial appeal. After traveling to Rosewood, Tennessee to investigate The Mandarin’s bombings, Tony befriends a young boy named Harley, who has as many daddy issues as Stark himself. Scenes with the kid, coupled with the anxiety attacks and toned-down one-liners seem out of character.

Stark’s hubris puts longtime girlfriend Pepper Potts in danger, but there is nothing new or authentic about their relationship. While Pepper has the potential to be a great character, she’s used by director Shane Black as a prop in Tony’s adventures. The only thing that seems to define her personality is, of course, Tony. She fills the classic damsel-in-distress role well, but doesn’t add much to the film. Gwyneth Paltrow does her best as Pepper, but she and Downey have little on-screen chemistry. Although Pepper’s life is routinely threatened, this major plotline is bland and predictable.

Jon Favreau, who directed the last two films, returned only in a minor role as Happy Hogan, head of security for Stark Industries. Current director Black doesn’t reach the bar set by Favreau in the previous movies, nor the one set by Joss Whedon in last year’s Avengers. The screenplay, written by Black and Drew Pearce, is so-so, but the film moves from explosion to explosion often enough that it doesn’t matter much. The story follows the same structure as the last two movies—Tony saves the world and Pepper from a terrorist—but it’s worn-out and lacks suspense. Despite a lackluster plot, Iron Man 3’s digital effects are fantastically gripping, though the film could make better use of the 3-D.

Iron Man 3 is not completely awful, however. Downey is a convincing lead, and Don Cheadle’s return as Colonel James Rhodes, now suited up as “Iron Patriot,” is a pleasure to watch. Ben Kingsley also provides plenty of comic relief in his role. Killian, played by Guy Pearce, sure knows how to hold a grudge, though his interest in Tony is less personal than it first seems. The fights between Iron Man and Killian’s crew are entertaining and lively.

Iron Man 3 has a clear cause-and-effect plotline with a predictable ending, but it’s still worth seeing for fans of the franchise, who will appreciate that Iron Man is, once again, back in action. Those less attached to the series won’t be as thrilled, as the movie isn’t what audiences have come to expect from the films. Save a few bucks and see the regular version instead of the 3-D. Iron Man may not be the best he’s ever been, but he still knows how to save the country in super style.