CATEGORIES Movies
This weekend, the summer movie season kicks off in spectacular fashion (remember when it used to be Memorial Day weekend?), with Disney and Marvel's "Iron Man 3." The third film in the series and the fourth featuring national treasure Robert Downey Jr. as genius billionaire playboy-philanthropist Tony Stark (after last summer's superhero free-for-all "The Avengers"), it raises the stakes considerably, to the point that, should RDJ never want to put on the robotic suit again, the story would be nicely and tidily resolved.

But what do you really need to know about "Iron Man 3?" Read on to find out! Excelsior!

1. It's the Best 'Iron Man' Movie Yet While the first "Iron Man" was an adrenalized blast, "Iron Man 2" seemed somewhat phoned in -- a collection of contradictory plot threads that didn't add up to much (also: Mickey Rourke's parrot). Thankfully, we're back on more solid ground with "Iron Man 3," which takes a comic book-meets-Tom Clancy approach to the material, which is full of terrorists, nanotechnology, and endless scheming. It's easily the best of the three, more emotionally and thematically complex than ever before, and just as thrilling.

2. It Might Be the Best Marvel Movie, Too More than just being the best "Iron Man" entry, "Iron Man 3" might be the best Marvel movie. Period. While the Marvel movies are never letdowns (they're all competently made and wonderfully entertaining), this feels like it goes above and beyond.

3. You Can Feel Shane Black's Hand Most of the reason for "Iron Man 3" being so damn good has to do with its director/co-writer Shane Black, who used to be the king of Hollywood, known for his expensive spec scripts for movies like "Lethal Weapon" and "The Last Boy Scout." A number of Black hallmarks appear in "Iron Man 3" (its Christmastime setting, snappy voice-over, and things that it would be criminal to spoil...) and you can just feel an authorial voice in the movie, which is rare considering how the Marvel movies often veer dangerously close to blank-faced anonymity.

4. More Man, Less Iron For whatever the hell was going on in "Iron Man 2," there was clearly more of an emphasis on the technology than the human aspects, and in "Iron Man 3," things are tipped the other way -- it's much more Tony Stark's movie than Iron Man's. For a large swath of the movie, he doesn't even have his suit and essentially becomes an unlicensed private eye, trying to put the pieces of a vast international conspiracy together using little more than his wits. It's a refreshingly low-tech approach.

5. Gwyneth Actually Has Stuff to Do The appearance of Gwyneth Paltrow, who usually associates herself with big-time Oscar bait, in the "Iron Man" movies has always been a little puzzling, although in "Iron Man 3" she actually gets to, you know, do stuff. Her Pepper Potts is a complex character with her own set of motivations and insecurities and (brief spoiler alert!) she even gets to put on the suit, which is a callback to a larger storyline in the comic books, where Tony builds her a suit of her own and she becomes a hero in her own right (named Rescue). That doesn't happen in "Iron Man 3." But this is obviously not the last entry...

6. The Less You Know, the Better There are a lot of surprises in "Iron Man 3" -- like, jump out of your seat, I-didn't-see-that-coming surprises. So stop reading reviews (except for this one -- you've only got a couple more paragraphs left) and watching television commercials. Just go opening weekend and get blown away.

7. The Action Sequences, While Few and Far Between, Are Truly Spectacular The scaled-down action approach to "Iron Man 3" doesn't mean that there aren't some truly amazing action sequences -- because there are. We don't want to give away too much (see #6) but we will say there's a sequence that involves Air Force One that is literally jaw-dropping and that the fiery climax, featuring a whole squadron of robotic suits, is wonderfully intricate and multi-tiered. Just because he's out of the game, doesn't mean that, when the time comes, he won't bring the heat.

8. Robert Downey Jr. Gives It His All Robert Downey Jr.'s experience on "The Avengers," which featured a larger ensemble cast and nimble direction by fan-of-actors Joss Whedon, seems to have invigorated the performer. He didn't seem all that interested in being a part of "Iron Man 2," and you felt it in his half-committed performance, but with "Iron Man 3," he's re-teamed with "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" director Black, and is back to expertly channeling that Tony Stark vibe -- half huggable hero, half barb-wire-ringed jerk.

9. Ben Kingsley Is Deliciously Over the Top It would be very bad to tell you anything about Ben Kingsley's villainous Mandarin, who uses pop culture iconography and a kind of pirate broadcast to distribute his message of terror, but he is so deliciously over the top that you can't help but love him. And his voice is so iconic that everyone will be doing it. All summer. So get ready for that.

10. Stay Until After the Credits There is another little Marvel nugget after the closing credits, which is (mercifully) less "Hey, 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is coming next summer!" and more "Schwarma is funny." These are the kinds of codas that all the Marvel movies should have -- knowingly goofy and fun and not trying to sell us on whatever the next Marvel sequel is.