MANHATTAN BEACH, California — Sure, Spidey takes in all the big box-office dough, Supes is the strongest, and Batman has all those wonderful toys. But with the smash success of
"That was [Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige's] thing, and it was funny ha-ha as an out," actor-turned-filmmaker Favreau said of the first film's now-classic finale, in which Downey reveals to the world's media that he is Iron Man. "And then now, the exciting action of the sequel is asking, 'What does that really mean to a real person in a real world?' And then we heighten it for our superhero reality."
This superhero reality had us visiting Stark's iconic underground garage — now new and improved with infrared sensors in the floor that allow him to operate his "Minority Report"-esque virtual computer anywhere, not to mention an Obama-inspired Iron Man poster on the wall that was approved by Shepard Fairey himself.
"Half the stuff [Stark] does, he doesn't ever really know why he did," Downey said of the billionaire industrialist's newfound notoriety, which has him entering the sequel (six months later) as a sort of superhero/ reality-show star/ politician-like celebrity. "He does it in the moment."
"Essentially it's an inner game, rather than it is about who the nemesis or nemeses are," Downey said of his own worst enemy in the new film — himself. "But obviously Mickey [Rourke as Whiplash] figures into that, and there's other challenges as well."
On the day we visited the set, Stark seemed obsessed with power — but rather than his own, it was a newer, more powerful force whose origins were buried in a message left behind by his deceased father, Howard ("Mad Men" star John Slattery, joining the cast in a series of flashbacks).
"Essentially, there's a whole energy crisis thing, and he's having his own energy crisis of sorts," Downey laughed. "[His suit] was always powered by a spectacular energetic source, but it's not a Duracell, it's more of a Rayovac. And so, there's this crisis of energy and this legacy of his dad and these expos [of Howard's] occurring every decade or so. [The Stark Expo] is a bit of a grail, the grail of the movie."
"Yeah, [his father had] technical innovations that take everything that he's involved with to the next level," Favreau agreed. "Because it's still a flaw in the technology that he's working on, and [Tony's work] is still a life-support system of sorts."
Somewhere in the middle of all this talk of energy, fame and fatherhood is a storyline involving Rourke, Sam Rockwell ("He is just insane," Downey laughed), a sexier Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), leather-clad Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and a there's-something-different-about-this-guy James Rhodes (previously Terrence Howard, now Don Cheadle).
"There's a lightness to Robert's heaviness," Favreau said of the film's most powerful weapon, one they're continuing to embrace as they keep production on track for a May 2010 release date. "We're trying to maintain the tone that we've grown comfortable with. ... We've never missed an opportunity at all those tension releases, which were not written into the first film. The robots, the crashing into the desert after the escape, the joke at the press conference after the plane shot down — those are all [comedic] opportunities we find, and we don't pass them up.
"Because," Favreau added with a grin, "that's the way we roll."
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