If that wasn't bad enough, the curse of the "threequal" hangs over Iron Man 3. Superhero franchises traditionally go off the rails on the third installment, and whilst The Dark Knight Rises avoided it, its pretty much a lone exception in an ill-distinguished rollcall. Part of the problem, I think, is that there isn't a clear narrative for a third movie in the way that there has for the first two - origin stories are so rote as to be almost sleep-written these days, and second films tend towards the "crisis of confidence/renunciation of power" theme, along the lines of Superman II, echoing down the decades. Third films just tend to go for "more of what previously worked", which is probably the root of their problems.
Iron Man 3, to its credit, does try something different. Ditching the shoe-horned "wider world" elements that dogged Iron Man 2, here we have a much more stand alone movie that aims to go back to basics for the character. At the start we have Tony Stark at the height of his powers; new suits, settled love-life, a genuine hero - but at the same time suffering from his near-death experience in Avengers, unable to sleep, driven to be more prepared, to work harder, against the next threat, whilst missing the one looming under his nose. A brash public challenge later and (if you've seen any of the trailers) the house is trashed, the armour is trashed, and he's pitched up with only his wits to protect himself and those he cares about.
Its a film that remembers that Tony Starks superpower is his brain.
It's good fun stuff for the most part - the pacing is a little off, I think, and the story weaves around uncertainly before picking up some propulsive energy in the final third. Everything comes to together, but - it's hard to put into words, but it has moments where it doesn't feel like it knows where its going, even though ultimately it clearly did. But it does a lot of things right along the way. For a start it lets Pepper Potts in on the action, which was about time, and it has one outstanding, fan-boy baiting twist, which I really liked, both for its execution and the sheer ballsy choice behind it.
If Iron Man was the marker down for Phase 1, Iron Man 3, as a marker for Phase 2 seems to herald business as usual - quick, confident and entertaining movies that are focused on what makes their characters unique and distinctive. It doesn't show signs of developing serialisation in the films, but a keenness to keep them apart, whilst in a wider, cross-referenced world, which is a smart choice, on balance, with a clear eye to the mass market success that has marked the film series to date. Next up on the Marvel slate is Thor: The Dark World in November, and I look forward to it with interest.