"I am Iron Man," Tony Stark tells an assembled group of reporters in the last scene of the superhero movie, which soared into the stratosphere with an astronomical $100 million at the box office this past weekend. But it's the question mark after the credits, and not the exclamation point before them, that had all the fans talking on Monday (May 5).
As in, now that he's forged a suit of indestructible alloy, shifted his business priorities and saved the world, just where does Iron Man go next?
Turns out, we're all a little like Nick Fury, since what we really want to talk about is "The Avengers Initiative."
Lucky for us, so does "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau, who first hinted that Marvel's Mightiest Tag Team would find its way to the big screen when he chatted with MTV News in January.
"The idea of doing an Avengers movie is really compelling," he told us.
Too compelling to pass up, apparently. In a recent press release, Marvel Studios announced that "The Avengers" would hit the big screen in July 2011, following solo efforts from Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America (four of the six founding members, minus Ant-Man and Wasp).
It's a colossal comic consortium whose time has finally come, Favreau insists, thanks to the fact that Marvel Studios now controls so many of its own properties, enabling cross-pollination. And much like the team itself, which was formed to fight evils no single super can face, the barrage of comic book flicks will add up to a sum greater than its parts.
"And I'll tell you why," Favreau grinned. "You got the first movie, the first movie you do the origin story. Number two is always better — 'Spider-Man 2,' 'X-Men 2' — now you get to number three. Now you're starting to run out of ideas. You start to have to add more characters. And the third ones inevitably feel like they're trying to live up to the second one. And so the Avengers would afford us the opportunity to bring together a bunch of characters established in other Marvel movies and bring 'em together to tell a story together that feels more organic as opposed to the [usual] number three."
An organic story that would almost certainly be set up in one or more of the solo efforts, which include "Iron Man 2" and "Thor" in 2010 and "Captain America" in 2011.
For instance, we know that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) appears briefly in the upcoming "The Incredible Hulk," offering to help General Ross (William Hurt) with his little green problem. Could the setup for "The Avengers" be a rampaging Hulk, too powerful for just one man to tackle?
"I haven't spoken to ['Hulk' star] Ed [Norton] since Comic-Con last year when we all appeared together," Favreau said when we asked about the Hulk setting up the Avengers in the original comic.
We don't know if the threat will come from the Hulk, but given his druthers, "Iron Man" star Terrence Howard thinks it should definitely follow some sort of rogue super, and the balance between those with powers and those without.
"That department, S.H.I.E.L.D., seems to be more on the side of the American people or the world's interests. Like we have the CIA, but many of their operations are for the sake of maintaining political stability," he said. "I think S.H.I.E.L.D. is more about maintaining a social balance. The power comes back to the hands of the people. To be a part of that [would] mean a lot."
But before he can allow himself to get excited about "The Avengers," Howard is positively giddy over "Iron Man 2," which has already been announced for April 30, 2010.
"Now I'm anxious to get into the next one. I don't want to be a sidekick, I don't want to be a wingman. I want to have my own thing," he beamed. "I want to be War Machine."
War Machine's appearance, set up in the film when Howard's Jim Rhodes looks at a suit and says, "Next time," is just one of the many sequel nuggets foreshadowed in the first film — none more heavily, perhaps, than Tony Stark's bout with alcoholism.
For his part, Downey can't wait to develop that aspect of the character.
"If he's drinking, there are so many reasons he would. It could be because it's his 40th birthday and he's looking at his mortality," he said of the character's inner demons. " ... Then you can start playing with those ideas a bunch."
But who would Iron Man face? Unlike the first film, in which the true villain isn't revealed until late in the movie, Downey promised that the second villain will be front and center from the very beginning.
"We think about the opening sequence for 'Iron Man 2' that we want to see. And we got a badass one," he revealed. "As you would hope and expect, we reveal who the nemesis is."
Mandarin? Spymaster? Ultimo? With two years to wait, for comic fans everywhere, right now the villain is time.
Check out everything we've got on "Iron Man."
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