The last few weeks have been filled with back-and-forth on the "Iron Man 2” movie news front, from stars being added to, subtracted from, or campaigning for roles in the sequel to Marvel's 2008 blockbuster, to various bits of "Iron Man 2” story and character info randomly popping up around the 'Net. With that in mind, we thought this would be a good time to slow down, catch our collective breath and take a more concentrated look at what we know about director Jon Favreau's current lineup for the much-anticipated follow-up -- and find out if putting the pieces together gives us a better look at the "Iron Man 2” puzzle.
Read on for a breakdown of casting news, relevant story points and some "fact or rumor" analysis of Robert Downey Jr.'s potential cast members when he returns to the Iron Man armor.
- Sam Jackson as Nick Fury: As of yesterday evening, the status of Sam Jackson's return as Nick Fury, the leader of the super-secret government taskforce S.H.I.E.L.D., is no longer in question. The actor had previously said his future in the Marvel movies was uncertain, and all clues seemed to point to the current economic climate and subsequent financial haggling between the studio and potential cast members as the source of this and other elements of casting drama.
- Mickey Rourke: Robert Downey Jr. shot down the rumor that Rourke would play the villain Crimson Dynamo, but Rourke has also been linked to the role of Whiplash -- a casting Downey "neither confirmed nor denied." While Rourke said he wasn't doing "Iron Man 2” last week, ambiguous reports this week said Marvel made Rourke an offer, and recent comments from Favreau seem to confirm this.
- Emily Blunt as Black Widow: After it was announced back in January that "Devil Wears Prada" actress Blunt would play The Black Widow in "Iron Man 2," the actress ran into some scheduling conflicts that put that role in jeopardy. A recent conversation with Favreau seems to confirm that Blunt is no longer in the running to play Black Widow, Marvel's resident Russian femme spy.
- Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow: "The Spirit" star and Hollywood A-lister Johansson reportedly met with with Marvel Studios about playing Black Widow, but nothing has been announced thus far.
- Eliza Dushku as Black Widow: A "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" slum and star of Joss Whedon's new series "Dollhouse," Dushku said she would be perfect for the role of Black Widow, and she already knows Russian thanks to research she had to do for an episode of the Whedon series.
- Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer: He's in, it's official, and he's playing Justin Hammer, a rival businessman who opposes Downey's Tony Stark. What isn't certain, however, is whether Rockwell knows enough about his "Iron Man 2” character yet.
- Tim Robbins as Howard Stark: Rumors have Robbins pegged to play Tony Stark's father for a flashback sequence. Robbins would be replacing Gerard Sanders from the first film because Favreau wanted someone who could "carry such an important scene." We haven't heard anything one way or the other on this one, folks.
- Don Cheadle as James Rhodes: The switch from Terrence Howard to Cheadle in the role of James "Rhodey" Rhodes for "Iron Man 2” still reigns as the most unexpected, still-mysterious casting move thus far for the film. Heck, even Howard doesn't seem to know what happened, and Downey told MTV he wasn't entirely certain, either. We do know that Cheadle is officially in, however -- and that nothing's changed on that front since the initial change-up.
- Who's Left to Cast? Well, we know that Gwyneth Paltrow is returning to play Pepper Potts (even if she hasn't seen a script yet), but what other characters can we expect to see in the film? Along with Black Widow and Justin Hammer making their debut, rumors also claim that Avengers archer Hawkeye will have a big role in "Iron Man 2." And while we know that that Rourke won't be playing Crimson Dynamo, that doesn't mean someone else won't play the role. A recently posted "Iron Man 2” casting call seems to indicate that Russian guards and a "Mongolian gangster" could factor into the story -- so along with Crimson Dynamo (a Soviet-era version of Iron Man), there could be some chance of a character like Chinese supervillain The Mandarin making an appearance. Favreau's already hinted at Mandarin's importance in the "Iron Man" movies in past interviews.
So, what do you think it all adds up to? Who will make the cut, who will play the roles and who will we see in "Iron Man 2”? We've brought you up to speed -- so now it's your turn to sound off with your thoughts!