‘Iron Man’ Details Ironed Out: Hilary Swank’s Cameo, Terrence Howard’s Evil Future And More

'My inner nerd has found excellent company,' Robert Downey Jr. says of eager Comic-Con crowd.

SAN DIEGO — It wasn’t a blessing afforded to “Titanic,” the first “Harry Potter” movie or “Kill Bill.” The original “X-Men” angered fans when its costumes were leaked, and the revelation that “Spider-Man” would feature organic webs on Peter Parker caused near-rioting.

But somehow, every single casting announcement, leaked plot point and piece of footage from “Iron Man” has been met with seemingly unanimous approval (see ” ‘Iron Man’ Set Visit: MTV News Gets First Glimpse Of Stark Office, The Mask” ).

“We’ve been very fortunate, in both the images we’ve released and the images we didn’t want to get out there — everybody seems to be digging the way we’re going with it,” beamed director Jon Favreau over the weekend, as he unleashed a drool-inducing montage clip at Comic-Con (see “Comic-Con ’07: Big News On ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Watchmen,’ ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Spidey 4′ Amid Carnival Atmosphere” ). “I attribute a lot of that to the way Marvel handles its properties. Now that they’re making their own movies, they can stay really true to what the fans want.”

If that is the case, then fans seem to desire a sarcastically devilish Tony Stark; eye-popping scenes of the red-and-yellow tin man battling F-22 jet fighters; powerful dramatic stars like Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard; and cameos from Marvel table-setters Samuel L. Jackson (as Nick Fury) and Hilary Swank.

“We showed [the Comic-Con fans] a couple minutes that pretty well outlined Tony Stark’s journey to becoming Iron Man,” Downey explained. “There’s a little bit of smartass to him going on, but you can tell that he’s obviously a big weapons manufacturer. And then he goes through this ordeal and has a change of heart.”

That change of heart also impacts his friend Jim Rhodes (Howard) and secretary Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Paltrow), a formula potent enough to make the Con crowd members offer up their ultimate compliment: The footage was so nice, said their applause, that they had to see it twice.

“It was amazingly fun,” Downey said of the reception. “My inner nerd has found excellent company.”

“[Stark] doesn’t have superpowers; his brain is his superpower,” Paltrow said of what sets the character apart from Spidey, Supes and the Silver Surfer. “He builds his superpower, as opposed to being converted into having a superpower or being born with a superpower. It’s his brilliant mind that enables him to become this amazing superhero.”

“Any one of us can become Iron Man,” insisted Howard, citing the brief clip of Stark escaping from an Iraqi cave in a crude Tin Man-like costume. “All we have to do is use our ability to think and have a willingness to step outside from the boundaries that technology says we’re in. … It’s a real-life superhero.”

“The suit that he builds evolves over time,” said Favreau, who insisted on staying as close to the character’s 44-year-old Marvel story line as possible. “The first suit has flamethrowers in the hands and armor plating and superhuman strength. Then the suit slowly develops into something that could fly and actually evade F-22s or dogfight with them. There are missile systems that are hidden under armor panels, and then there are the repulsor beams that come out of his feet and his palms. They could be used to fly, or as a weapon.”

So not only will the May debut of “Iron Man” yield some kick-ass Halloween costumes, but the suit will also set the stage for plenty of groundbreaking special effects.

“It’s always great when you show footage and they call for an encore,” Favreau said. “These fans, they study that — they look at every frame, and they want to know everything that they can about the movie. We have a lot of stuff ready [to screen], so it’s just a matter of what you choose to show, knowing that you’re still 10 months out from premiering.”

Among the rest of the positively received news that leaked from the weekend is the confirmation that Howard’s character will become War Machine in the “Iron Man” sequels. “With War Machine, you’ve got to remember that after Tony Stark made the new Iron Man suit, James Rhodes put on that suit,” the “Hustle & Flow” star said of the comic books. “But it’s been programmed to Tony Stark’s neuro-net and the frequency by which his brain communicates, which allows him to not have to push buttons but just think things. But now [once he puts it on], that drives Jim Rhodes crazy.

“Judging from how that audience responded,” Howard added with a grin, “we got a pretty good shot of having some War Machine go down.”

“I’m excited about the prospect of moving forward and seeing War Machine appear,” Favreau confirmed. “And exploring the rogues gallery that Marvel has to offer.”

Paltrow, meanwhile, said she’ll develop her own antagonistic relationship with Downey as the series progresses. “Pepper and Tony have an amazing dynamic, it’s very charged,” she explained. “They love each other a lot, but yet she’s his assistant. So she’s his subordinate, but she’s the closest person to him, and she is kind of his boss in a way, getting him here and there on time and guiding him in one direction or another. Then occasionally, they also have a bit of a romantic tingly thing that happens.”

As Stark develops his substance-abuse tendencies (Favreau has said the second film will depict the character’s alcohol dependency), the relationship with Pepper will become even more complex. “There is a lot of love,” Paltrow said of the series. “Sometimes it’s fraternal, and sometimes it’s a bit more.”

Then there’s the double-foreshadowing duties of Favreau, a longtime comics fan who has agreed to not only set up his own sequels, but also the future adventures of other Marvel characters. “Right now, our job is to make the best version of ‘Iron Man’ that we can,” he insisted. “But because Marvel is regathering the rights to all their heroes and their properties little by little, it’s going to allow for them to cross-pollinate between franchises. [Then they can] have heroes guest in other heroes’ movies, as they do in the comic books.”

Pushed a bit further, Favreau would only acknowledge Swank’s cameo, but refused to reveal whether it will set her up as She-Hulk, Black Widow, the Wasp or someone else. “There’s a lot of rumors online right now, and I’ve only honestly read one that’s true,” he hinted. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there. But I’m not about to get up and start confirming or denying things, because there is so much of a swirl of speculation that it’s kind of fun!

“It’s funny to watch the fans try and piece this thing together,” he added. “They are right about a lot of things — but there are also a lot of things that they are way off-base with.”

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