Iron Man was the movie that really kick started the recent comic book surge. Sure, there were the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight movies and the X-Men and Spider-Man movies doing gangbusters, but with Iron Man, the Marvel Universe looked like it could actually live as one giant organism. Iron Man changed how Marvel made their movies, plus it was one of the best comic book origin stories to ever hit film.

Nothing that came out since by Marvel, whether it was The Incredible Hulk, Thor or Captain America: The First Avenger, really reached the level of the first Iron Man movie. Unfortunately, that also includes Iron Man 2, which was a fun movie, but seemed to lack the special ingredients that made the first one so great. I think part of the reason Iron Man 2 remains lacking is because Tony Stark went from someone who was fighting to be a hero into someone who was just an arrogant hero. Plus, the story relied too much on fighting robots and less on the most interesting character in the movie – Tony Stark.

After The Avengers, the game was changed and there is no way anything reaches that level of excellence, which put Iron Man 3 at a strong disadvantage. Fear not. Not only did Iron Man 3 succeed despite the quite large shadow The Avengers cast over it, but it succeeded BECAUSE of the shadow of The Avengers. Iron Man 3 succeeded because it reeled things back in and did not fall into the same trap that Iron Man 2 fell into. This was a story about Tony Stark first and foremost.

Thank Shane Black for that.

Black is the man who brought the world Lethal Weapon, arguably the greatest action movie in cinema history and one that relied on the characters to make the story instead of the set pieces. What Shane Black did for Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, he did for Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 3.

After the events of The Avengers, Stark is suffering from PTSD. He can’t sleep and spends all his time in his workshop building things. Forget about Mark 3 and Mark 4. By the time this movie starts, Stark is up to Mach 43. This is what Stark is doing to keep from going insane. He also is suffering from panic attacks, especially when someone wants to talk to him about worm holes and aliens. He is a complete mess and it is really starting to come between him and Pepper Potts.

This is made worse when a terrorist leader known as The Mandarin starts taking credit for bombing attacks across the United States. The U.S. Government does not want the superheroes to help them deal with this, because, as James Rhodes tells Tony, the military can deal with terrorists on their own. Only problem is that they can’t because there is no idea how the explosions are happening and no evidence of any explosives. When a new attack almost kills Happy Hogan, Tony is pissed and basically tells The Mandarin that he is coming for him.

This puts Tony in a tough place because The Mandarin takes his attack to Stark’s house, blasts it with missiles and almost kills him and Pepper Potts. It also buries all his armor under the rubble and leaves Tony defenseless and alone with only his latest armor, which has malfunctioned the entire movie. At this point, Tony has to use his brains and his instincts to figure out how to survive and how to stop The Mandarin.

To reveal any more of the plot would be to give away spoilers that would ruin the entire experience of the movie. Forget everything you think you know about Iron Man 3 because Shane Black plays with all your expectations and then gleefully turns them on their head. Nothing you think you know about the movie is true, and the best part of the Iron Man 3 experience is just to watch the movie and enjoy the ride.

Easily the highlight of the film is the fact that, as dark as this movie is, Shane Black presents us with a hilarious film. This movie is funnier at points than many comedies, and Stark has the best lines. There is a precocious kid that he meets who helps him, and while most lesser directors use kids for sappy, horribly cringe worthy moments, Black makes the kid one of the highlights of the film. A great example is when the kid is telling Tony about how his dad left home when he was a child and never returned and Stark comes up with a response that proves that he should never, ever, be a father. It was brilliant.

Also a highlight is Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin. I will just leave it at that, because you have to see the character that Shane Black and Ben Kingsley created with this iconic villain to understand its brilliance. Once again, forget everything you think you know about the movie, because The Mandarin is one of the best characters to exist in a comic book movie in a very long time.

Guy Pearce is also great in the film, similar to the Sam Rockwell bad guy in Iron Man 2, but thanks to Black’s writing, he takes the character one step further and makes him pretty unique. Don Cheadle also gets a lot of screen time as The Iron Patriot, after the U.S. Government decided War Machine sent the wrong message. After seeing the performance Cheadle delivered here, I want to see him get his own movie.

There were some problems, including an overlong script, checking in at over two hours. There just seemed to be so much in this movie that honestly, by the time it was over with, it was hard to bring up some of the earlier details in the story. A lot was needed because this movie was a real story, with twists and turns and actual plot devices used properly, but there were moments that could have been trimmed to make it a tighter experience.

Also, the final fight with all the Iron Man armors coming to aid Tony and Rhodey seemed a little similar to the finale of Iron Man 2, where there were almost too many things happening at once to keep track of. However, unlike Iron Man 2, each of the armors had its own unique characteristics and to see the Hulk Buster armor running into the picture was awesome. Black really directed the final all-out battle much better than Favreau did in the last movie.

This movie was all about Tony Stark understanding what he had become in Iron Man 2 and realizing what he learned in The Avengers. This was the perfect conclusion to his story, taking him back to the beginning. Honestly, this reminds me a lot of how Christopher Nolan structured his Dark Knight trilogy, with the character fulfilling his destiny set out in the first movie. If there is never another Iron Man movie, that would be okay, because this one was a perfect conclusion to Tony Stark’s story.