Friday Flicks: Is Iron Man 3 the Best Blockbuster of the Year?

TIME breaks down which films to see and which to avoid this weekend.

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Iron Man 3

He’s back. Not content with bringing his industrialist figure of Tony Stark, who transforms into Iron Man, to the big screen on a bunch of occasions, Robert Downey Jr. returns for the dreaded threequel. Why dreaded? Because the third part of a well-established franchise can often fall flat (Spider-Man 3, The Godfather Part 3, to name but two examples). But with Iron Man 2 not exactly receiving gushing reviews, and the fact that Downey has teamed up again with director Shane Black (they made the entertaining Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005), perhaps all involved with Iron Man 3 are playing with house money.

As for the plot, Stark is in a spot of bother, what with his personal world coming crashing down around him, due to his latest enemy, the Mandarin (portrayed by Ben Kingley in quite possibly his best role since playing the terrifying Don Logan in 2001′s Sexy Beast). But Stark being Stark (as well as Iron Man), he makes it a personal mission to find those responsible.

TIME’s movie critic Richard Corliss has described Iron Man 3 as a movie of “nifty thrills and ruthless sauciness”:

Besides rehabbing a hero who overcomes anxiety to save the world and defeat the terror-industrial complex by the simple matter of cloning his body armor, the movie proves that there’s still intelligent life on Planet Marvel. As you’re propelled out of the theater on IM3′s hydraulic lift of pleasures, you’re likely to say, “That is how it’s done.”

Other reviewers are mainly calling the film a return to form. “Black proves the perfect blacksmith, forging smart new tech and scenarios for the swaggering super-genius. If this does turn out to be Downey Jr.’s final solo outing, it’s a very strong exit,” concludes Empire. “The movie has some claim on being the best of the series, thanks largely to the input of its co-writer and director, Shane Black … for the way it introduces into action movie conventions transformative aspects like bathos, deadpan comedy and humdrum detail,” notes the New Statesman. But the Village Voice can’t be persuaded by Downey, Black and the rest (which include Gwyneth Paltrow and Guy Pearce): “The big problems with Iron Man 3 are less specific to the movie itself than they are characteristic of the hypermalaise that’s infected so many current mega-blockbusters — too much plot, too much action, too many characters, too many pseudo-feelings.”

MORE: Marvel’s Pumping Iron Man Three Flexes Its Worldwide Muscles

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