Phase Two of Marvel's movie universe kicks off on May 3 when "Iron Man 3" rockets into theaters. This time we find Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who is still traumatized by his near-death experience in "The Avengers," forced to face a more personal threat when his Malibu mansion is destroyed and he embarks on a quest to find those responsible. As he fights his way back after his world literally crumbles around him, Tony is forced to consider if the man makes the suit or the suit makes the man.
We sat down with Marvel president and "Iron Man 3" producer Kevin Feige and "Iron Man 3" director-writer Shane Black to discuss what sets this "Iron Man" apart from the previous films, which Marvel character Feige feels most protective of, and if moviegoers can glean any information about "The Avengers 2" from the post-credits scenes like the one in "Iron Man 3."
Robert DeSalvo: Kevin, for Iron Man's third stand-alone movie, what specifically did you want to do differently from the other "Iron Man" films?
KEVIN FEIGE: Well, the most important thing was to make a good part three. The curse of the threequel is something that people write a lot about, and I didn't want to fall prey to that. One way to try to not fall prey to that was do something different and not rely on making things bigger, bigger, bigger. Although, ironically, this has some of the biggest action set pieces in any of our movies. But, knowing that it would come a year after "The Avengers," we wanted to focus on Tony again. What we found in "Iron Man" and less so in "Iron Man 2" was that audiences really respond to Tony—as brash and egotistical as he is. When he's knocked down a peg and he's backed into a corner, they like watching him get out of it. With one of our first conversations with Shane, we said we want to metaphorically put him back into that cave and convoy from the first one. People see in the trailer the house coming down, and that is the start of a journey that I hope is very unique and unexpected for a superhero.
RD: Shane, your script is the best "Iron Man" yet—there is a lot of action, but there are great comic moments. Did your work on the first two "Lethal Weapon" movies influence any of the interactions in "Iron Man 3"? There is a similar vibe at times.
SHANE BLACK: There is a similar vibe and a similar pace—the notion of checking in with people and seeing as their lives are progressing as things start circling around them and the net gets tighter and tighter until they are in over their heads. There is tossing in of different characters like the ["Lethal Weapon"] Joe Pesci character… in this case we have the little boy. There are escalating set pieces until they are in the most desperate situation and have to pull out all the stops. So, yeah, the shape of it is not that dissimilar, but having this kind of a canvas to paint on with this much spectacle was pretty neat.
RD: Kevin, was Jon Favreau at all interested in directing this installment or did he only want to reprise his role as Happy Hogan?
KF: Early on, it was clear that he was going to go do other things right after "Iron Man 2" came out. That being said, he's an executive producer on the movie, "Avengers" and the upcoming "Avengers 2." He wanted to stay in the family and help. It was important to all of us that Happy be the catalyst that sends Tony on this mission. It's certainly the best Happy performance and storyline.
RD: Shane, abduction is a recurring theme in a lot of your movies. Is there something you want to tell us?
SB: [Laughs] I think I try to stay away from it as much as possible. There was a version of the script where Pepper went along knowingly or unwittingly with these guys and was sort of just traveling with the bad guys at some point. Eventually, it came down to the simplicity that she is going to become subdued, so it became this abduction plot. We saw that coming—the damsel-in-distress potential—so we had to take the curse off. She doesn't stay captive for very long.
RD: Kevin, out of all the great Marvel characters in all the big Marvel movies that you've produced, do you have a character that you love most and feel most protective towards?
KF: Well, I like to think that I'm protective of all of them because the truth is that when we got the financing to become our own studio—I was excited that we had Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow—I said, "I can't believe this. This is great." Then the "L.A. Times" said that we had the B-team and that Marvel was scraping the bottom of the barrel. I thought, these are all A-list—they just don't know it yet. The fact that "Iron Man" is arguably bigger than them makes me pleased and even more protective of all of them, but certainly "Iron Man" kicked it all off. "Iron Man" was the first movie we had the final say on—from the choice of Favreau to the choice of Downey and playing with real life like convoy attacks in Afghanistan—it was sort of all of our instincts wrapped into one movie. So I would say "Iron Man" is the most representative of the birth of our studio.
RD: Shane, Sir Ben Kingsley steals scenes in "Iron Man 3." Did you have more laughs writing his dialogue or the banter between Tony Stark and the young boy?
SB: Those were all fun. Tony Stark and the boy were fun days because Robert and the kid had a chance to bond and you could really see it happen. Sir Ben was probably my favorite actor to have met and work with just because I've never met a more competent, effective and yet gracious and absolutely humble man. You hear stories about these actors that come in and have all these demands. From the beginning, this guy was just everything about the elegant, artful British actor.
KF: Sir Ben is an amazing human being. Often times when actors sign up for our movies they don't read the scripts because either we're being overly cautious and security-minded or the script hasn't been written yet. I was in London at a press junket for "Avengers" and Sir Ben had signed up to do the movie. It occurred to me that he didn't know what he was doing in the movie, so I went out to visit him and pitched him what the storyline was. To his credit, he got it instantly. He said, "Tell Shane that I get it completely and I'm completely on board," including what to say and not say in interviews. He just overdelivered.
RD: Warner Bros. yanked "Gangster Squad" out of theaters and refilmed a theater scene because of the Colorado theater shootings. "Iron Man 3" involves terrorist bombings. Did you consider changing anything given recent events in Boston?
KF: I was never privy to any of those conversations if they were had. Our first thought was just Boston and is everyone OK. My wife and I were both born in Boston, I have family in Boston, so that's all we were thinking about. The truth is that what happens in "Iron Man 3" is a very different thing.
SB: There were explosions and the word "terrorist," but that's about the sum of it in "Iron Man 3." As opposed to, say, a shooting in a movie theater.
RD: Is there some connecting thread viewers should look for in the post-credits scenes that you will have with all the Marvel Phase Two films leading up to "Avengers 2"?
KF: The tags certainly have less pressure as connective tissue because everyone knows the movies are connected now. We were educating the audience as much as anything else in the Phase One films, so I think we're liberated to allow the tags to be anything if we do them at all. It all depends on when inspiration strikes. I would say that there is an overall arching theme to the movies, but it won't become apparent until you see "Avengers 2." I don't think there is anything obvious in "Iron Man 3" that you can see, but it connects.