Opening with a narration by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), this chapter in the lucrative billionaire-turned-superhero franchise starts with a flashback to his earlier life as a brash-but-brilliant playboy, spending New Year's Eve 1999 in Berne, Switzerland, with scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), while giving an arrogant brush-off to her partner, nerdy geneticist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).

Moving into the present, Stark suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after his near-death experience in "The Avengers" and is obsessed with his ever-growing assemblage of multi-colored, metallic suits, each with different weaponry. His new Mark 42, for example, is modular and can be remotely piloted.

More Information

Fact box

This time around, the threat comes from an evil extremist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Filmed long before the Boston Marathon, The Mandarin's seemingly random, terrorist bombing attacks, nevertheless, strike a discordant note. Meanwhile, Stark's CEO and long-suffering/neglected girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), rebuffs devious entrepreneur Aldrich Killian with his game-changing, nanobot serum technology known as Extremis. But then Stark's security chief, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), is hospitalized and his magnificent Malibu beachfront compound is obliterated in a helicopter attack. Stark is presumed dead until he surfaces in Tennessee, where he's befriended by a resourceful youngster (Ty Simkins). As inventive Stark rebuilds his high-tech suit and adjusts the priorities in his life, his buddy James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), a.k.a. the Iron Patriot, pursues The Mandarin, discovering that duplicity and double-identity twists abound.

The imaginative screenplay by Drew Pearce and director Shane Black ("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang") contains surprisingly clever, whimsical dialogue and wisecracking one-liners. The jet-propelled CGI action sequences are awesome, including a free-fall in which an Iron Man transforms 13 passengers into an airborne daisy chain and escorts them to safety -- and having armor-clad, super-powered Pepper Potts bashing the bad guy in the explosive finale. Above all: irreverently droll Robert Downey Jr. is terrific!

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Iron Man 3" soars with an exciting, hugely entertaining 8, an eye-popping spectacle that culminates in a post-credits surprise.