For once, I'm going to have to agree with box office figures--Iron Man 3 is definitely far superior to Man of Steel. It may even have as many plot holes but they don't matter so much because the characters work.
Marvel has a really nice thing going with their Disney owned films largely because they follow the pattern set by Jon Favreau's first Iron Man film. Favreau is known as an actor's director and the time he spends with the actors developing characters really shows on screen and helps to create the organic quality of his films. In fact, it works so well that Iron Man 3, which was neither written nor directed by Jon Favreau, continues to reap the benefits from sheer momentum.
Director Shane Black, who's blessedly fond of single shots where multiple actors have lines, puts together what might be Iron Man's equivalent of the "superhero loses his powers temporarily" type of story. In this case, there's a sort of homage to Sullivan's Travels where Tony Stark is forced to slum it in a small Tennessee town without his suit.
Tony befriends a kid who helps him recharge his power depleted suit. An idea they stick to even after Tony directly tells the kid the suit's powered by the glowing reactor he has lodged in his chest. Robert Downey Junior can sell just about anything and the rich guy with little boy personality has some amusing ego sparring with an actual little boy. Downey Junior's line delivery is so quick that even the unnatural lines feel naturally unnatural, like they're Tony Stark being clumsy with his words rather than the screenwriters.
Gwyneth Paltrow has less to do in this movie than in the previous two but she manages to help sell an insubstantial source of tension written between Pepper and Tony--she's started to become jealous of the collection of specialised Iron Man suits he's been tinkering with. It does lead to a nice, creepy scene of Pepper and Tony in bed and one of the suits suddenly grabbing her arm because Tony accidentally remotely activated it in his sleep.
Both Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley work well as the film's villains. They both manage to get a satisfying foothold on relatively cliche characters--Pearce being the nerd who gets his revenge on the popular crowd.
There's not a lot of Avengers tie-in stuff this time except Tony now seems to be experiencing panic attacks due to having glimpsed the reality of an alien civilisation, which I really liked. It works with his character as a man who neurotically has to be in control of all situations finding one hopelessly outside his influence. And actually it makes the alien invasion work slightly better than it did in The Avengers, at least on a more human level.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series has kind of nicely played off the invasion, too, and it's great to watch this shared universe expand through movies and television. It feels like something fundamental to the nature of comic books is growing in motion picture media.
Twitter Sonnet #572
Sixteen apple ankles roll at matins.
A monk's moustache breaks two hours before.
Our stars rise halfway up Dick Van Patten's.
The sum of woman's suns and his make four.
Fifty horses cubed run research centres.
Seventy x times this size can cure cancer:
Twelve feet minus eighty millimetres.
Fourteen fetlocks divide by the answer.
Monkstache shards multiply by larger cures.
Two thirds of the horse legs prefer man feet.
Four rams draw half circles when the cat purrs.
How many circles can monk rams complete?
Then find four sunsets unanswered by five.
Divide by quatrain one vets still alive.