The pressing question for fans of the Iron Man film series is probably, “Is it better than Iron Man 2?” The answer is an unequivocal “Yes”, but that isn’t saying much, considering how disappointed the second film left audiences. It still entertained of course, but it felt hollow and artificially stuffed with too many characters and plots. Now, free from the burden of having to tie in to a group film property like The Avengers, Iron Man 3 gets to tell its own story that ends up being much more satisfying than the previous film. But even so, it doesn’t capture the magic of the original despite having breathtakingly stunning visuals.

Iron Man 3 begins as a flashback. In 1999, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) was still a playboy. He was having one-night stands with gorgeous women – on this particular night with botanist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), who may have discovered a way to regenerate limbs. Stark also didn’t suffer fools, like awkward inventor Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), choosing to instead send them away in humiliation. In present day, Tony Stark stays true to his sweetheart Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and he spends his days and nights tinkering with new Iron Man suits. Unfortunately, the events of The Avengers have rattled him, and he can’t get over the anxiety of battling aliens, falling through worm holes and nearly dying. To complicate matters, Aldrich Killian has returned as a devastatingly handsome and powerful businessman, who makes it clear that he wants both Tony’s empire and his girl. Finally, a mysterious terrorist called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is wreaking havoc across the globe, targeting the President of the United States specifically with his “lessons”.

The character of Tony Stark and his life is largely consistent with the previous films. He still has cool gadgets, a smart mouth and a graphic user interface in his workshop that defies belief. His bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) makes a return as does Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who now wears a rebranded Iron Man suit that looks much more patriotic. Thankfully, Tony also has some new tricks up his sleeve that are sure to impress audiences in both their creativity as well as their potential for awesome action sequences.

Moreover, the visual effects in the film – namely the CGI – are phenomenal. Even challenging sequences, like one where people are falling out of the sky, look completely believable. A hallmark of great visuals is when audiences stop looking for the imperfections, and just focus on the movie. To that end, the visual effects team deserves special praise for their work in Iron Man 3. Their attention to detail and their technical wizardry unleashed the creativity of the filmmakers, allowing for a truly spectacular climax to the film. The 3-D work, however, is largely a non-issue, and audiences will be better served watching the movie in 2-D.

Despite the film’s rich world and fantastic looks, questionable choices by the filmmakers hold Iron Man 3 back from realizing its full potential. The most glaring issue is that Stark spends too much screen time outside of his suit. Everyone loves Robert Downey, Jr., granted, but it’s the suit that audiences want to see kicking ass. Unfortunately, Stark does way too much sans suit, which fosters some interesting cinematic and thematic moments, but becomes belabored after a point. There is also too much comedy peppered throughout, especially during dramatic moments that need to be taken seriously. If the hero has time to crack jokes, how dire is the situation? Finally, the film doesn’t quite shake off the ghost of too-many-characters from the previous film. The filmmakers even threw in a kid (Harley Keener) who usually sap films of any mature themes, but thankfully isn’t too bad here.

The cast is enjoyable to watch all around, but Gwyneth Paltrow’s talents seem wasted once again with too little to do, while Downey, Jr. gets to play himself one more time. That seems to be his main attraction, so audiences probably won’t be disappointed. Guy Pearce, however, does an outstanding job, and plays the only character that has any real arc. His charisma fills the screen in every scene he’s in.

Iron Man 3 does what it needed to do: It got the franchise back on course in a thoroughly entertaining way. It’s misshapen in parts, but not fatally so. As Shane Black’s sophomore directorial effort, he doesn’t disappoint. There are even echoes of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, in which he directed Downey, Jr. If nothing else, Iron Man 3 offers the spectacle audiences crave from comic book films, making this weekend’s entertainment choice an easy one.