By Anthony Breznican
Updated October 23, 2012 at 12:31 PM EDT

Iron Man 3

  • Movie

At the end of the first Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. hems and haws his way through the familiar superhero denial about whether he’s the guy who just saved the world, then bluntly decides to admit: “The truth is … I am Iron Man.”

In the new trailer for Iron Man 3, that leaves us wondering, okay — then who is it behind this mask?

Maybe it’s no one.

In the sequel, Tony Stark argued again, “I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one.” But this time around, he may be flexible on that point.

Either this suit is a piece of stolen tech. (S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t above doing that, as we learned in The Avengers.) Or it’s operating under its own control, rescuing Tony (or seducing him?) from the rubble of his blown-up Malibu home.

Or is this part of a dream sequence? Earlier in the trailer, we hear Stark describing how haunted he is after the events of The Avengers, in which he nearly sacrificed himself to stop the alien invasion and save the world. “I can’t sleep, and when I do I have nightmares.”

But his special lady friend Pepper Potts can’t sleep either, because the suit looms over her in bed as Stark slumbers, yanking her away from him. We can be certain that keeping him safe from “girl cooties” is not something our hero would ever program into a sentient suit. And moments before, we saw all the segments of the suit arrayed on the floor of his bedroom.

(FYI, the movie is out in the states May 3, not in April as this U.K. trailer says.)

As has been well-documented, director Shane Black’s third installment in the franchise borrows some plot lines from Marvel’s Extremis comic books, in which Stark implants himself with sensors that allow the Iron Man suit to snap onto his body remotely. My guess is that when it can’t just fly at him piecemeal as he stands before all the assembled parts, it assembles into a functional suit and seeks him out that way, perhaps in times of danger without him summoning it.

By the end of the trailer, we see Iron Man tangled in wires and being dragged to the bottom of the sea as his destroyed home slips off its cliff into the ocean. The photo at the top of Stark face-to-face with his creation seems to be happening in the midst of that attack, but if the suit were just empty as it sinks, what difference would that make?

It brings us full circle to the start of the trailer, well before Ben Kingsley’s villain The Mandarin lectures the world about how there “are no heroes.”

We see Tony alone, in the snow, pulverized and exhausted. “I’ve got a lot of apologies to make,” he says.

Whatever regret he’s feeling, it sounds like Tony agrees a little with his nemesis.

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Read more:

‘Iron Man 3’: First Look at Ben Kingsley as new villain The Mandarin

‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Thor’ 2 to be released in 3-D; ‘Ant-Man’ to follow ‘Avengers 2’

‘Iron Man 3′ back underway after Robert Downey Jr. injury

Marvel’s ‘Phase Two’ goes micro (‘Ant-Man’) and macro (‘Guardians of the Galaxy’)

Episode Recaps

Iron Man 3

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 129 minutes