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'Iron Man 3': Where Does It Rank In The Marvel Cinematic Universe?

While the superhero film may be a home run with moviegoers, does it come close to matching the heights of last summer's 'Avengers'?

The seventh movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "Iron Man 3," will be packing theaters all weekend long as it blasts its way toward a possibly record-breaking opening weekend.

The film is packed with more twists and turns than previous Marvel movies, with certain plot points offering up some of the biggest surprises in the franchise's history. But the specter of "Marvel's The Avengers" hangs over both Iron Man and "Iron Man 3." Tony Stark is haunted by the preceding film's alien invasion, while the film tries its hardest to differentiate itself by getting more personal.

But when the smoke clears and the armor is plugged in to charge, where does "Iron Man 3" rank? Is it the best of the "Iron Man" trilogy? Does it come close to "The Avengers"? Do Captain America, Hulk or Thor's solo films give it a run for its money? We rounded up a panel of specialists to put "Iron Man 3" in its place.

"It's a return to form after the stuttered, wandering second movie, and stands up to 'The Avengers.' Tony Stark's not even bothering with a suit anymore -- Iron Man has become a collection of bits and pieces which whizz onto him at random, seemingly of their own choice. His villains, as well, are scattered and impossible to predict and piece together, whilst his only constants -- Pepper, his mind and, uh, alcohol -- all come and go. But these disparate, complicated parts of the story are welded together fearsomely by Shane Black, whose script and direction keeps the Iron Man in fine form, without getting lost in the details. 'Iron Man 3' is the best of the trilogy, building on the high points of the original and moving on from the mistakes of the sequel in order to deliver a breathtaking, fast-paced piece of superhero action." -- Steve Morris, Comics Beat

" 'Iron Man 3' is easily the best Iron Man movie, and possibly the most consistently enjoyable movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I'm not saying it's the best -- I'd definitely rank 'Thor' and 'Avengers' higher -- but there's really no down points or lulls in the entire two hours. It's just good old-fashioned movie fun, with some great character moments." -- Alex Zalben, MTV Geek

" 'Iron Man 3' does three things extraordinarily well. First, it makes you laugh. Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. are a match made in comedic heaven. Between the '90s flashback, the little kid and the post-credits scene, you'll have chiseled abs from enduring that much funny. Furthermore, it re-establishes Iron Man as the premier Marvel big-screen superhero. 'Iron Man 3' is everything we wanted 'Iron Man 2' to be. It's 'The Dark Knight' of the Marvel cinematic universe, with Tony shedding his armor for most the flick and playing detective to solve a mystery involving technological terrorism. Thor, Cap and Hulk threatened to steal the spotlight from ol' Shellhead in their respective movies and 'The Avengers,' but here, Tony reclaims the Iron Throne. And finally, it makes you laugh!" -- Joshua Yehl, IGN

"It's hard to beat the charm of the first 'Iron Man' or the spectacle of 'The Avengers,' but 'Iron Man 3' definitely places high in the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a hero, Tony Stark is more charming than Thor and Captain America, so that helps his movies speed along faster than his peers'. It only helps that 'Iron Man 3' has one of the best stories in the MCU, which is a main reason why I'd place it as the third best film Marvel has released." -- Terri Schwartz, MTV Splash Page

"First of all, nothing is ever going to beat 'The Avengers' for me. But 'Iron Man 3' probably ranks just below that because it was such a pleasant surprise. It's full of hilarious, smart and really pleasant twists and surprises (Ben Kingsley! Adam Pally!). It balances character introspection and development with awesomely coordinated action sequences. In all the other Phase 1 movies, the heroes' weapons are often used more like battering rams. But in 'The Avengers', Joss Whedon brilliantly used the fight scenes to demonstrate each character's specific skill set and/or power, and 'Iron Man 3' continued that trend by really utilizing the unique capabilities of the Iron Man armor in the fight scenes. It was a good movie, plain and simple. 'Iron Man 3' also scores major bonus points in my book by sticking Pepper Potts in the Iron Man armor and, despite relegating her to a damsel in distress about two-thirds of the way through, still letting her (spoiler alert) rescue Tony in the end." -- Rebecca Eisenberg, Upworthy

"While it never surpasses the spectacle of 'The Avengers,' even with a fully stocked armory, 'Iron Man 3' deftly transcends the stutter step of 'Iron Man 2.' It's difficult, maybe inappropriate to weigh this one against the original. Shane Black doesn't so much adopt the Marvel method as he raises his arms and lets each individual piece of the tool box conform to his 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' pop-and-lock. Someone else may have designed the suit, but Black wears it masterfully. Still, Tony's yet to find an opponent more compelling in these solo outings than his own demons, and none of these guys have anything on the delicious menace of Loki in 'The Avengers.' 'Iron Man 3' is at its best while exploring its central themes, all that Tony the mechanic stuff. It's not pitch perfect, but at least the film's flaws fall in line with the distractions plaguing its protagonist. So by the roll of the credits, resolutions arrive in a refreshing rush." -- Paul Montgomery, iFanboy

Check out everything we've got on "Iron Man 3."