It looks like tough times are ahead for genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in his third solo adventure. We’ve been hearing for quite some time that writer/director Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 would include Stark’s greatest personal crisis since his kidnapping in Iron Man. Add to that the inclusion of Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin (leader of the Ten Rings group alluded to in the first film), and our hero is in for his greatest challenge yet.

The latest Iron Man 3 image released by Marvel only serves to support the personal nature of the film’s plotline. See it for yourself below.

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The above photo certainly calls to mind the opening moment from the film’s trailer, which shows a worn-out Stark sprawled out on the snow, apparently after some epic battle. It’s possible that this scene (assuming, of course, that this still is even from that particular segment of the film) is part of the final battle, but it could also serve as a mid-film defeat for Iron Man, wherein he must then regroup to take on The Mandarin on his own terms.

Regardless of its context, this image underscores the darker (but not too serious) tone that fans are expecting from Iron Man 3 – especially in the wake of Stark’s bid for self-sacrifice in the final act of The Avengers. Notice in particular the somber, reflective expression on the hero’s face, as if he has just suffered some deep personal failure. Could this be following a top-secret character death, or perhaps the kidnapping of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), as has been rumored?

As the Iron Man 3 trailer’s voice-over said, it indeed looks like “nothing’s been the same since New York,” at least where Stark is concerned. After the overall disappointment of Iron Man 2 and the phenomenal success of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 carries the fate of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“Phase Two”) on its shoulders. Thus far, it appears more than capable of handling that burden with ease.

Iron Man 3 blasts into theaters on May 3, 2013.

Source: Marvel