Back in 2008 Marvel's Cinematic Universe repulsor-blasted it's way to box office and the cinema-going zeitgeist. With Avengers book-ending Marvel's Phase 1 your common-or-garden popcorn chomper was now able to navigate the impressive cannon of stories and characters that populated the primary colored milieu.
So then it seems fitting that Tony Stark draws up the blueprint of Phase 2 of the superhero shenanigans. Not wanting to continue directing the universe he created once someone else had their hands on it in Avengers, Favreau steps aside for sometime collaborator Shane Black to direct for this installment. Having given input into the previous chapters and directed Downey Jr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, no one seemed particularly worried about Iron Man 3. However, Black and fellow screenwriter Drew Pearce had to straddle a fine line of developing the character further after saving the whole planet at the end of Avengers and still find a compelling way to close a trilogy. It's quite a feet of storytelling engineering - one that will buckle if the wrong tools are used.
At this point Tony Stark has re-evaluated and redefined himself after emerging from that Afghanistan cave in his MK 1, by rebuilding his company, establishing his relationship with Pepper, rebuilt the one with Rhodey and flown a nuke into a worm hole created by the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe. Where else is there to take him?
For all intents and purposes our Man-In-The-Can goes back to a cave, albeit a post traumatic one. However, not content with emotionally tearing down Tony and seeing how he deals with those that wish him harm, he also has that which makes him Iron Man stripped away...the amours.
"Alright, I admit it! I'm a pipping-hot mess," Stark finally admits to the persevering Potts. However, the circuits of Tony's problem are soldered early on with JARVIS exclaiming that Tony has been up for nearly 3 days. Then, just before Stark's admission, Pepper asks if the current armor is MK15. Tony vaguely confirms while the MK42 glints on the metal glove. Tinkering may be Tony's way of ignoring his problem, but insulating himself from it by wearing the suits is how he's come to deal with it. It's easy to miss amongst the pyrotechnics and effects, but the suit is where Tony goes to shelter the storm. When two children remind him of the wormhole Tony charges outside to the weathered Iron Man suit to protect and gather himself. During the Mandarin's attack on his home, Tony may be quick enough to protect Pepper with the suit, but once he returns it to himself and the HUD boots up there's a gasping draw of breath, like someone just coming back to life. More subtly, Tony sends in the MK42 as a decoy to avoid the discomfort of asking Pepper about Aldrich Killian. It's a satisfyingly covert framing device before Stark lands battered and bruised with a defunct Iron Man suit. However, despite his triumphs in Tennesse, the mere thought that his armor won't charge is enough to send the eternal egoist into a paralysing anxiety attack, forcing him to pull off the road.
Despite the title being Iron Man, it's surprisingly exhilarating watching Tony MK 0 mix it up with the bad guys. Using his brain pan to out maneuver the extremis soldiers and still squeeze in a "cheap trick and a cheesy on-liner" is one thing, but storming the Mandarin stronghold like a secret agent armed with a tool kit to put MacGyver to shame is something else entirely. It's a great way to dismantle your character and build him up while keeping the viewer entertained. Black and Co. also do well to make sure that while it's a rough ride for Tony, his unrelenting hyper-verbia remains intact.
Since Stan "The Man" Lee committed these characters to paper Marvel has always been a band apart by deconstructing the person under the costume/power/armor, and while Iron Man 3 follows that tradition with aplomb, they don't forget that we still want to see the Shellhead go heavy metal. While the melee in Malibu serves the story and is still plenty exciting, the sequence in which our Golden Avenger saves 13 Air Force 1 staffers from decorating the Miami coastline is overwhelmingly air-punching. Amidst the explosive climax the movie still manages manages to bring together the catharsis of 42 JARVIS-controlled Iron Men, while still giving credit to those involved in Stark's very human journey to overcome his own demons and not just the bad guy.
4* - How Tony Got His Groove Back
Others in the series:
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
Thor: The Dark World
The Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War