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“Iron Man 3” review: Shane Black gives Marvel’s armored Avenger an upgrade

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Historically, the third chapter of superhero movie franchises tends to be a disappointment. “Superman III” was too goofy, “Spider-Man 3” was too crowded, and “Batman Forever” was too, well… Bat-nipply. Heck, even “The Dark Knight Rises” had a fair share of detractors.

And now “Iron Man 3” comes along and destroys our expectations with a high-powered repulsor blast.

Co-written and directed by franchise newcomer Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), “Iron Man 3” picks up an unspecified time after the events of “The Avengers,” with billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) burying himself in his work in order to cope with everything that’s happened since the first “Iron Man.” It doesn’t take long for a new threat to emerge – this time in the form of The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), an international terrorist with a vendetta against the U.S. government. Drawn into The Mandarin’s world after a series of attacks that take a personal toll, Tony soon finds himself facing an enemy that may be more than his armor can handle.

As a writer and director, Black has always shown a knack for blending intense action with clever comedy in films like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (his directorial debut) and his scripts for “The Last Boy Scout” and “Lethal Weapon.” Still, there was some uncertainty whether he was the right choice for a big-budget blockbuster like “Iron Man 3” when it was first announced that he’d be taking over the franchise from previous director Jon Favreau.

Fortunately, Black seems right at home in this corner of the Marvel movie-verse, and his involvement likely has a lot to do with “Iron Man 3” offering the most entertaining version of Tony Stark that we’ve seen so far.

Where Downey seemed to have something to prove in the first “Iron Man,” then go darker than he was comfortable with in “Iron Man 2,” the third film gives us a significantly more clever, genuine Tony Stark who makes it clear why he’s more than just a man in a suit of high-tech armor. Whether it’s his level of comfort with the script or the person behind the camera, Downey packs a lot into each scene without any of it feeling too rushed, too ad-libbed, or too tonally incongruent with the rest of the franchise or the Marvel movie-verse.

Possibly the greatest evidence of this new-and-improved Tony Stark is how much time Downey spends out of the Iron Man armor over the course of the film – and how these scenes not only make perfect sense for the story, but are just as entertaining (if not more so) than the armored action sequences.

Without giving anything away, Marvel deserves a lot of praise for its handling of The Mandarin in “Iron Man 3,” with Sir Ben Kingsley delivering what’s likely to be remembered as one of the most memorable characters in the Iron Man franchise up to this point. Gwyneth Paltrow also does a great job with an expanded role in “Iron Man 3,” handling Virginia “Pepper” Potts’ action sequences like a natural and continuing to be the perfect complement to Downey’s eccentric hero.

As far as villains go, it’s refreshing to see the “Iron Man” franchise finally get away from armored bad guys challenging Tony to heavy-metal slugfests, and the super-powered soldiers Iron Man faces this time around mix things up nicely.

“Iron Man 3” does suffer from a few relatively minor plot holes that could leave you wondering what was left out of the final cut, but it still manages be one of the most entertaining, enjoyable films in Marvel’s growing movie-verse. Not quite as complete a package as “The Avengers,” but better than “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” (which both rank higher than “Iron Man 2” and “The Incredible Hulk” in the Marvel movie hierarchy), “Iron Man 3” defies typical third-chapter drop-off and makes it clear that the franchise is in good hands with its new director.

“Iron Man 3” hits theaters May 3 and stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, and Sir Ben Kingsley. The film is directed by Shane Black.

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Holiday Extra Special

Make The Holidays ’80s Again

Enjoy the holiday cheer Wednesday December 21 at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Whatever happened to the kind of crazy-yet-cozy holiday specials that blanketed the early winter airwaves of the 1980s? Unceremoniously killed by infectious ’90s jadedness? Slow fade out at the hands of early-onset millennial ennui? Whatever the reason, nixing the tradition was a huge mistake.

A huge mistake that we’re about to fix.

Announcing IFC’s Joe’s Pub Presents: A Holiday Special, starring Tony Hale. It’s a celeb-studded extravaganza in the glorious tradition of yesteryear featuring Bridget Everett, Jo Firestone, Nick Thune, Jen Kirkman, house band The Dap-Kings, and many more. And it’s at Joe’s Pub, everyone’s favorite home away from home in the Big Apple.

The yuletide cheer explodes Wednesday December 21 at 10P. But if you were born after 1989 and have no idea what void this spectacular special is going to fill, sample from this vintage selection of holiday hits:

Andy Williams and The NBC Kids Search For Santa

The quintessential holiday special. Get snuggly and turn off your brain. You won’t need it.

A Muppet Family Christmas

The Fraggles. The Muppets. The Sesame Street gang. Fate. The Jim Henson multiverse merges in this warm and fuzzy Holiday gathering.

Julie Andrews: The Sound Of Christmas

To this day a foolproof antidote to holiday cynicism. It’s cheesy, but a good cheese. In this case an Alpine Gruyère.

Star Wars Holiday Special

Okay, busted. This one was released in 1978. Still totally ’80s though. And yes that’s Bea Arthur.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special

Pass the eggnog, and make sure it’s loaded. This special is everything you’d expect it to be and much, much more.

Joe’s Pub Presents: A Holiday Special premieres Wednesday December 21 at 10P on IFC.

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It Ain't Over Yet

A Guide to Coping with the End of Comedy Bang! Bang!

Watch the final episodes tonight at 11 and 11:30P on IFC.

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After five seasons and 110 halved-hour episodes, Scott Aukerman’s hipster comedy opus, Comedy Bang! Bang!, has come to an end. Fridays at 11 and 11:30P will never be the same. We know it can be hard for fans to adjust after the series finale of their favorite TV show. That’s why we’ve prepared this step-by-step guide to managing your grief.

Step One: Cry it out

It’s just natural. We’re sad too.
Scott crying GIF

Step Two: Read the CB!B! IMDB Trivia Page

The show is over and it feels like you’ve lost a friend. But how well did you really know this friend? Head over to Comedy Bang! Bang!’s IMDB page to find out some things you may not have known…like that it’s “based on a Civil War battle of the same name” or that “Reggie Watts was actually born with the name Theodore Leopold The Third.”

Step Three: Listen to the podcast

One fascinating piece of CB!B! trivia that you might not learn from IMDB is that there’s a podcast that shares the same name as the TV show. It’s even hosted by Scott Aukerman! It’s not exactly like watching the TV show on a Friday night, but that’s only because each episode is released Monday morning. If you close your eyes, the podcast is just like watching the show with your eyes closed!

Step Four: Watch brand new CB!B! clips?!

The best way to cope with the end of Comedy Bang! Bang! is to completely ignore that it’s over — because it’s not. In an unprecedented move, IFC is opening up the bonus CB!B! content vault. There are four brand new, never-before-seen sketches featuring Scott Aukerman, Kid Cudi, and “Weird Al” Yankovic ready for you to view on the IFC App. There’s also one right here, below this paragraph! Watch all four b-b-bonus clips and feel better.

Binge the entire final season, plus exclusive sketches, right now on the IFC app.

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Everybody Sweats Now

The Four-Day Sweatsgiving Weekend On IFC

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This long holiday weekend is your time to gobble gobble gobble and give heartfelt thanks—thanks for the comfort and forgiveness of sweatpants. Because when it comes right down to it, there’s nothing more wholesome and American than stuffing yourself stupid and spending endless hours in front of the TV in your softest of softests.

So get the sweats, grab the remote and join IFC for four perfect days of entertainment.

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It all starts with a 24-hour T-day marathon of Rocky Horror Picture Show, then continues Friday with an all-day binge of Stan Against Evil.

By Saturday, the couch will have molded to your shape. Which is good, because you’ll be nestled in for back-to-back Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

Finally, come Sunday it’s time to put the sweat back in your sweatpants with The Shining, The Exorcist, The Chronicles of Riddick, Terminator 2, and Blade: Trinity. They totally count as cardio.

As if you need more convincing, here’s Martha Wash and the IFC&C Music Factory to hammer the point home.

The Sweatsgiving Weekend starts Thursday on IFC

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