The brand-new trailer for Iron Man 3 opens with something we've never seen before in any of the Iron Man movies: snow. Tony is lying on the ground in a forest, removing the mask of the Iron Man suit to reveal a filthy and bleeding face, with the arc reactor on his chest blinking like he's in trouble. We've seen Tony look defeated in the previous films, of course, but never quite this existential or lonely. What's he doing in a snowy forest? Why does he look so despondent? And why on earth did Marvel Studios choose to reintroduce their flagship hero this way?

(Before we go any further, you can watch the new Iron Man 3 trailer here)

We've known all along that Iron Man 3 was in a deeply tricky position, not only following up a disappointing sequel but The Avengers, which was such a phenomenon with fans and general audiences that pretty much anything after it would be labeled a disappointment. Director Shane Black, taking over for Jon Favreau, has just one film to his name, and as writer and director he's leaping into an intensely complicated cinematic universe, needing to give Tony not just convincing bad guys to stand up against, but convincing reason not to call on his newfound cast of super friends to knock out the trouble.

This new trailer doesn't tell us exactly how Black will accomplish any of that. But it arrives with its tone firmly in place and a distinct emphasis on breaking away from the past, capped off by that stunning sequence near the end of the iconic Malibu mansion crumbling into the ocean, Iron Man trapped within the wires and going down with the ship. It's hard to get a read on Ben Kingsley's Mandarin villain from this-- other than that oddball voice, one in a seemingly endless trend of villain performances based on vocal quirks-- but the attacks on Tony's house and what looks like a government plane establish him as a villain with specific goals, something both of the earlier Iron Man films distinctly lacked. And while Tony surely will wind up squaring off against his own personal flaws, we seem to be finally seeing him facing his biggest challenge from outside-- the guy has finally accepted his role as a superhero, and after muddling through the alcohol binges and squabbles of the second film, it's about damn time.

When you see Iron Man knocked down in the snowy forest, with no context to understand if he's exhausted from winning the fight or losing it, you're brought immediately back to his side. This is no longer a guy fighting inside his house in a drunken fit, or seeming to give up when the arc reactor is poisoning him from the inside; whatever is wrong in that opening shot in the snow, it's from trying too hard to fix something. That snowy forest takes Tony Stark out of his comfort zone in the most literal way possible, something we see happen over and over again throughout this trailer, including that unnerving shot of an Iron Man suit interrupting him and Pepper in bed. Kevin Feige has hinted that we'll see Stark brought to his lowest moment since rebuilding himself in that cave in Afghanistan; this trailer, for all its flash and excitement, seemed to follow through on that perfectly.

It seems likely Iron Man 3 will be the last in this series, at least with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, given the way Marvel's contracts work and how many other characters they have to focus on. But of course, we'll see Tony again in The Avengers 2, and maybe further along-- the roster of the Marvel cinematic universe is deep and only getting deeper. That puts Iron Man 3 in the fun position of not needing to tie up loose ends (like the sputtering ending of The Dark Knight Rises) or even "go out with a bang," since the character isn't actually going anywhere. Shane Black may be under enormous pressure to steer the Iron Man movies out of that brief skid and give the character renewed purpose-- but he's also got a lot of room for maneuvering. And from the looks of this trailer, he's taking that breathing space and flourishing.

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