Considering Iron Man’s roots in themes of war and subterfuge, it’s fitting that the film adaptation back in 2008 was – in retrospect – something of a ticking time bomb.
The story of Marvel’s genius engineer superhero Tony Stark, who forges a power suit and uses it to save the world, was perhaps not the most obvious choice for the big screen treatment at the time.
Spider-Man was about to swing for a third time. Ghost Rider was in the making. And other more popular Marvel characters would have been a far safer choice for an adap.
Doubters', well, doubts were confirmed when filming began, with verging comebacker Robert Downey Jr in the title role and Jon Favreau directing. Things didn’t look any more promising; there was no complete script, which required improvisation and on-the-spot thinking.
“They had no script, man! They had an outline,” remembers Jeff Bridges, who starred as Obadiah Stane. “We would show up for big scenes every day and we wouldn’t know what we were going to say.”
Then, something called Comic Con happened. When the first footage of Iron Man finally exploded onto screens at the geek-stuffed event, the reaction was immense. Suddenly, Favreau’s hard work and Marvel’s decision to push ahead with the production was validated.
“Since Comic Con, everything just started to build,” said Favs at the time. “People got excited by it. You could tell by the reviews and box office that everybody seems to have jumped on board and really loves the movie.
“That is really, really gratifying for all of us who worked so hard for so many years on the thing.”
So, um, sequel? Being the underdog is easy, as Favs has himself noted on numerous occasions. But to come out top dog and find you’re being asked for me... Where do you go from there? Let’s find out...
“I’m getting the old-timers together again and introducing them to new cast members,” Favreau says. “We’re gonna shake the Sherlock outta Junior! I’m a little nervous because the first one set a high bar but we have put our all into this so far.”
Next: Iron Man 2?[page-break]
Iron Man 2?
“It was scary coming in. That’s the problem,” says Favs. “Remember that Bugs Bunny where Daffy Duck drinks the gasoline, lights himself on fire and it blows up and everybody claps?
“It’s like what do you do for an encore? Last time around, we put it all out there because we had a lot to prove...”
He's talking at Comic Con 2010, where he's about to unveil five minutes of footage for Iron Man 2. But before we get to that, let's rewind a bit. In fact, let's rewind to about two years previously...
So you’ve got a hit under your belt, and the franchise police (not to mention millions of suddenly-converted Iron Man aficionados) are demanding a follow-up. What next?
Well, initially, nowhere. In the wake of Iron Man’s $585m haul at the world’s united box office, distributor Paramount were keen to get the ball rolling on a sequel as soon as possible.
Mere days after the flick’s May 2008 release, the studio set an official release date for the follow-up: 30 April, 2010. Yep, they wanted to create and distribute the sequel in the space of two years.
Okay, doable (ish). The question that remained was: where was Jon Favreau?
With Robert Downey Jr, Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow all signed in for a three picture deal, where did their director stand on a sequel that was set to leap into pre-production faster than a speeding bullet?
“We’ve been speaking informally about it,” Favreau told EW a few days after Iron Man’s release and initial haul weekend of $100m.
“In concept we would all love to work together again. There’s no formal arrangement yet, but in theory we would all love to see it happen…. There’s definitely a lot of ideas that we all have now.
“This type of movie is based on serialized materials, so it lends itself very easily to [many different sequel possibilities]. There’s definitely a level of enthusiasm from myself and the cast to tell more stories.”
But that release date was bothering him.
“I am concerned about the announced release date of April 2010,” the director revealed. “Neither Robert nor I were consulted about this and we are both concerned about how realistic the date is in light of the fact that we have no script, story or even writers hired yet.
“This genre of movie is best when it is done thoughtfully and with plenty of preparation. I also think we owe it to the fans to have a great version of IM2 and, at this point, we would have less time to make it than the first one.”
Meanwhile, rumours stirred that the next film might take the Demon In A Bottle storyline from the comics as a launching pad – which saw hero Tony Stark having to confront his alcohol addiction.
“Demon In A Bottle is one of the very strongest story lines of the of the series, and Iron Man is not a comic book character who is known for having wonderful storylines,” said Favs.
“Politically, much of it doesn’t hold up well. And the Mandarin is incredibly challenging in that respect. So we have challenges ahead of us. Demon In A Bottle tends to be one that, from a storytelling perspective, is compelling to all of us.”
The director also acknowledged that “it’s very difficult to keep these franchises from running out of gas after two movies”, citing the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises and their stellar second outings. Those were invariably followed by stodgy third rounds.
Adding confusion to who would be involved in the second Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr told Entertainment Weekly that all might not be quite as rosy as we’d imagined.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “What I’m on board for right now is the ride home. I don’t want to start talking out of my league, because that would have certainly been my inclination in the past. I kind of know how to keep my teeth together a little better than I used to.”
Next: Demon In A Bottle?[page-break]
Demon In A Bottle?
By June 2008, reports began circulating that Marvel weren’t willing or able to pay Favreau a decent salary to helm Iron Man 2. Said IESB:
So bottom line, Jon Favreau has not been locked in to direct Iron Man 2 for the simple reason that Marvel is being cheap - this is 100% accurate folks, no bullshit.
Come July, two months of chitter-chatter was curtailed when it was announced that Jon Favreau had finally signed on to Iron Man 2. Deadline reported that Marvel made a “richer offer” that Favs accepted.
Meanwhile, the director was playing havoc with the numerous reports about where the plot of the sequel might go.
Despite having expressed an interest in the Demon In A Bottle storyline, the release of Hancock was getting him antsy.
“I haven’t seen Hancock yet,” he said. “From what I’ve seen it seems there is a lot of imagery that seems to be shared. Him flying through billboards and things.
“The idea of the hero whose biggest enemy is himself, and him fighting through his demons, you want to come at the audience with something fresh. You don’t want to feel like you are echoing something that somebody else is doing.”
No biggy, though, as Favs insisted that “there are plenty of story lines to explore from the 40 years of history from that character”, while hinting that the Mandarin elements – Mandarin being the popular supervillain – in the first Iron Man (check out the Ten Rings) could be explored further.
“There is a lot that is very relevant about that character, in the pool of the landscape that we find ourselves in,” he said.
In July 2008, Tropic Thunder scribe Justin Theroux signed on to script the sequel, and by August Jon Favreau confirmed that they had already begun pre-prod development work.
And with the confidence of a consummate professional, he showed that he knew what he was doing by acknowledging why some superhero movies end up on the scrapheap.
“Either the director was unfamiliar [with the] source material or the director chose to depart from it for personal reasons,” he explains.
“Another reason is that the studios that had the rights to a particular franchise would never think twice about compromising the source material if thought it would enhance the commercial appeal.”
How about that fast-approaching release date?
“The date is daunting,” the director conceded. “We are making much faster progress than the first time around and have much less to design and fewer casting issues.
“I am confident that 2010 is achievable if we continue working together as we have for the past few months. It has to be great, though. It has to be great.”
Next: Casting Cheadle[page-break]
Before Favs had even signed on to direct Iron Man 2, Terrence Howard - who had appeared in the first film - announced in June 2008 that the sequel was going to be shooting in March 2009.
Reprising his role as Colonel James Rhodes, it seemed likely that the sequel would see him transform into the feted War Machine. In the comics, he wears his own power suit when Stark lapses into alcoholism.
Come October 2008, though, Howard was off the flick and Don Cheadle had been drafted in to replace him.
Considering Howard was already locked in to a three picture deal, this was an odd development. So just why did Howard leave?
The Hollywood Reporter claimed that Howard’s departure was all down to finances. After the money fuss about Favreau’s pay check, it looked like Marvel were pulling the same trick with Howard - unwilling to pay their stars more money, and viewing the characters themselves as the real stars. How convenient.
“It was the surprise of a lifetime,” said Howard of discovering he’d been dropped. “There was no explanation. Just... up and vanished. I read something in the trades implicating that it was about money or something.
“But apparently the contracts that we write and sign aren’t worth the paper that they’re printed on, sometimes. Promises aren’t kept, and good faith negotiations aren’t always held up. Even friendships, people you support...”
In the blink of an eye, a new petition website was launched by fans who wanted Howard re-instated.
HowardNOTCHeadle.com acted as a forum for angry fans to vent their rage at Paramount and Marvel. Which, of course, did nothing but unite a lot of pissed off people in the same place. Cheadle remained.
Howard must’ve been especially annoyed when, the very same month that news broke of his dumping, concept art for War Machine was revealed. And it looked wicked cool.
Sketched by Phil Saunders, the images showed various alternate suit designs. Though Saunders was quick to warn fans that they were strictly preliminary, and “if there is a War Machine in [Iron Man 2], it’s unlikely to be this one”.
By the end of the month, reports suggested that Howard had been dumped not because of monetary disagreements, but because he was difficult to work with.
“Favreau and his producers were ultimately unhappy with Howard’s performance [in the first], and spent a lot of time cutting and reshooting his scenes,” claimed EW sources.
In light of this, Marvel reportedly offered Howard a “drastically reduced offer” in expectation that he would bail on the project.
But let's forget about all. Was Favreau excited about the prospect of War Machine being in Iron Man 2?
“The thing that’s fun about War Machine is it's over the top,” says the director. “It’s like you know when Travis Bickle buys the guns in Taxi Driver... you know some shit’s gonna go down at the end of that movie.
“And so, Iron Man is the sleek elegant version where everything is contained under the airframe and War Machine is, you know, the over-the-top, everything hangin’ out and… you know, some people like chocolate, some people like vanilla, you know.”
Next: Black Widow[page-break]
In January 2009, Variety reported that Emily Blunt was in negotiations to play Russian Natasha Romanoff in Iron Man 2.
The character in the comics is a Soviet spy trained in sniping and martial arts, and who wears a special suit that turns her into the Black Widow, and endows her with super powers. According to Variety, Black Widow would be one of Iron Man’s adversaries.
Mere weeks later, though, it was reported that 20th Century Fox might action a contract that would prevent Blunt from taking the part. The studio wanted the actress to star in Gulliver’s Travels for them, and the March shoot of both projects would have clashed.
As doubt was rallied, Eliza Dushku made a (albeit light-hearted) play for the role when she appeared on the Howard Stern Show. She said:
“They’re doing Iron Man 2, and I’m so perfect for the Black Widow character, that they just need to get into it. They need to understand… I just learned Russian because I had to play a Russian girl in Dollhouse.”
By February 2009 it was official: Emily Blunt was out, and within weeks it was confirmed that Scarlett Johansson had taken on the part. Apparently Johansson originally screen tested for the role alongside Blunt, but lost out to the Brit.
Favreau admits that “the jury was out on Scarlett for a while. A lot of people were like, 'Really? Her hair's wrong, she's not the right build, she's not...' And, then she transformed herself and - I mean, she really did the work.”
“Scarlett changed the dynamic between Robert and Gwyneth,” the director reveals. “One of the traps you don’t want to fall into is just repeating the same dynamics and turn it into Hart To Hart.
“You don’t want it to be Moonlighting. You don’t want to have the same thing over and over again. It’s not a television series but I don't know that you would like it for these guys.”
Downey Jr goes on to elaborate on Black Widow’s role in the film, and how she differs to other filmic femme fatales.
“We essentially started off saying it’s a love triangle,” the actor says. “And then we realized that love triangle is done in these superhero movies, all the time. What we wanted to do was something just a little bit freakier than that, and I believe we have succeeded.
“Black Widow is a great character because she is not what she appears to be.”
Meanwhile, Samuel L Jackson struck a nine picture deal with Marvel to play Nick Fury in various superhero films. The actor appeared as Detective Fury in a post-credit sequence of the first Iron Man, discussing his desire to instigate the ‘Avenger Initiative’, a sly nod to The Avengers.
Jackson will show up with a bigger role in Iron Man 2, while reportedly making appearances in Thor, Captain America, The Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D.
As well as Jackson’s deal, Marvel enlisted Garry Shandling to play Senator Stern, while also signing Kate Mara. Clark Gregg jumped back into his role as Agent Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D.
And, in a bizarre bit of reporting that could only have come from the Daily Mail, returning player Gwyneth Paltrow was rumoured to be filming a “risqué scene”.
A supposed insider told the newspaper: “Iron Man imagines Pepper in a dominatrix outfit. Gwyneth had to be filmed in a very revealing black leather corset complete with a bullwhip.” No confirmation or denial of that one yet.
Described as “Tony Stark’s Russian alter ego, a heavily tattooed bruiser who is in the arms trade and battles Iron Man in his own nuclear-powered armored suit”, the character of Ivan Vanko in the Iron Man universe is sort of the Yin to Stark’s Yang.
An imposing, hulking villain, he’s a brilliant weapons designer who works for Stark International Cincinnati but then goes rogue designing weapons for himself.
Who to play the part in the film? Why, Mickey Rourke, surfing a comeback wave after the successes of The Wrestler and Sin City.
In January 2009, Variety broke the news that Rourke had signed onto Favreau’s sequel to play Whiplash (real name the aforementioned Ivan Vanko), the character who first appeared in Tales Of Suspense #46.
But, as was becoming trend for Iron Man 2, reports of monetary negotiations muddied whether or not Rourke had actually signed.
According to the trades, Marvel’s starting offer to Rourke was $250,000, which seemed a little low for somebody whose profile had been raised demonstrably by The Wrestler.
Come February, Rourke told Vulture that “right now, we’re not doing Iron Man 2,” with a face as grim as the reaper. Which hinted that he wanted more money than Marvel were stumping up.
Then in March 2009, just before shooting was originally set to commence, Rourke finally signed the dotted line.
Deadline reported the news, adding that the actor had landed a “significant” payload. Learnt anything from this, Marvel?
In typically Rourke fashion, the actor then went on to spend time in Russia researching his role in a real life prison, leading fans to speculate that his character would be doing some hard time in Iron Man 2.
“With Mickey Rourke, I didn’t want to just have two guys in robot suits hitting each other again,” Favreau revealed of his plans for the character.
“I wanted to have a different type of villain that used the same technology, existed within the same framework and rules of our world, but that was going to present not just a challenge physically but also in how dark he was and also how he’s related and how his fate and Tony’s fate are connected.”
Adds Robert Downey Jr: “How bad-ass was Mickey Rourke with those whips?”
Next: Blasting Off[page-break]
Shooting for Iron Man 2 jetted off on 6 April 2009 under the faux working title Rasputin.
The very next day, SpoilerTV leaked set photos of Don Cheadle in his new role of Rhodey, and Robert Downey Jr. in a suit (above). Meanwhile, Terrence Howard again spoke out about his ill feelings on the re-casting.
“[Marvel] made a choice. They made a very, very bad choice. They didn’t keep their word. They didn’t honor our contract,” he condemned.
“They sent everyone out into a field and told them to work and produce a great bounty. You produce a great bounty, and then when it’s all in the storehouse, you are not allowed into the storehouse.”
On 7 May Scarlett Johansson shot her first scenes as Black Widow, all suited up in her figure-hugging superhero outfit. Favs tweeted: “You’ve never heard a crew get so quiet so fast.”
Meanwhile, Samuel L Jackson strode onto set to shoot a scene at Randy’s Donuts with Downey Jr. Wearing the same black trench coat that he donned in the first film, he shot a scene where he yells up at the giant donut on the roof of the restaurant - we assume a CGI Iron Man will be added later.
That same day, the very first photo of Downey Jr in the Iron Man costume was leaked, and Screenrant noted the small alterations for the sequel:
“The gauntlets are much beefier on top of his hands, there are some gold highlights in the rib cage area and the chest piece looks redesigned as well. Looks like the tricep area is beefed up along with the shoulders, too, giving the impression (to me, anyway) of a more powerful armor.”
By June, things were in full swing. And in expectation of leaked photos, Paramount themselves released the first image of Mickey Rourke as Whiplash from the shoot at the Monaco Historic Grand Prix (see previous page).
There is still confusion over how Rourke’s character relates to the comic incarnations. Favreau doesn’t help by saying: “We like to play into and against the expectations that people might have so, we mixed it up a bit.
Later, stuntman Garret Warren would reveal a few titbits about just how powerful Whiplash really is.
“[The whips] are going to be these super whips that have an awful lot of power,” he said. “They can cut through cars, they can do an awful lot of damage. And when the movie comes out, you’ll see that he doesn’t do just whip-cracks and grabbing people.
“He lays waste to an awful lot of vehicles and street pieces and other things. At one point, Whiplash had to get hit by a car, and Mickey did the lead up to the stunt, and I did the stunt where the car came in and hit me and took me to the fence. So yes, you’ll see a combination of Mickey and myself.”
On 19 July, filming completed on Iron Man 2. Marvel Studios producer Kevin Feige issued a statement regarding the completion:
“Shooting Iron Man 2 was a fantastic experience and we couldn’t be happier. Although there were many challenges in making this film, having Jon Favreau, Robert Downey, Gwyneth Paltrow and almost the entire crew from the first film back on board, allowed us to hit the ground running as everyone was instantly familiar with each other from day one.
“This dynamic allowed us to get done what we needed on a day to day basis and was a big factor in why we finished slightly ahead of schedule. Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell and especially Don Cheadle all stepped right in and meshed well with our returning cast.
“From our experience on the first film, we learned what works and doesn’t work in terms of shooting practical versus CGI especially with the Iron Man suit. This enabled us to be much more efficient in many departments, making it a much smoother experience.
“The next step for us is beginning the post production process which is extensive and filled with its own set of challenges. It is also a very exciting time because you get to see all the hard work from the hundreds of cast and crew members begin to come to life.”
Next: Going Viral[page-break]
Two years after Iron Man caused a massive stir at Comic Con, Jon Favreau and his team returned to the convention to premiere footage of the follow-up. Not that they were any less nervous the second time around.
"It was tough walking into that room after what happened last time, and hoping that they would be as enthusiastic about what we brought this time,” said Favs.
“We came out of nowhere, y’know? Now everybody saw what we did last time and you can only do it the first time once. So, it was really a matter of saying, ‘Hey, we’re still here, thank you for putting us on the map and here’s what we’re thinking.’”
Lucky for them, the five minutes of footage that they screened for the 6,000 breath-bated fans went down like a house on fire.
Comic Con also helped to launch the first Iron Man 2 viral. Down on the show floor, Stark Industry ‘assistants' handed out business cards which were printed with StarkIndustriesNow.com.
If you went over to the site, there was a hand-written note from Mr Stark himself scribbled on a napkin, announcing that Stark Industries no longer manufacture weapons.
This was just the beginning of the Iron Man 2 viral campaign, however, with clues in posters and the launch of another website, this one starexpo2010.com, which features images of fairgrounds and an interactive map of the expo. These images are mostly locations from the film’s trailer.
On 6 April, the Stark Expo website opened a new branch for AccuTech Research & Development, a subsidiary of Stark Industries.
While the viral side of Iron Man 2’s marketing campaign was whole-heartedly embracing the trend for online hype-mustering, the film’s production itself stopped short of jumping onto the 3D/IMAX band wagon.
Back in September 2008, and again after the film completed shooting in July 2009, Favs addressed the idea of 3D for Iron Man 2.
During an interview with AICN, he stated that while he was keen on going the 3D route back then (remember, this was before Avatar’s success), it’s something that failed to materialise. The same applied to IMAX.
“I think [IMAX] works well for Dark Knight because a lot of that was just practical shots and helicopter shots or shots where there’s CGI in the background, set extensions things like that,” said the Favs.
“But you didn’t have a CGI Batman running through the frame all the time. The difficulty with our film is that our main character is CG a lot of the time. And when you start shooting in IMAX format... it’s a bit unwieldy on the set first of all and second of all, I’m not convinced yet that CGI is going to look.
“I’m not sure at that resolution CGI is convincing yet. So, there are a lot of drawbacks, but in meeting with them the blowups to IMAX format are as effective in many ways, so we’ll see where we land on it, but I doubt that we’re actually going to have IMAX cameras on the set. It becomes very difficult for processing and all of that.”
Next: Iron Man Forever[page-break]
Iron Man Forever
After a barrage of media, including various posters, a behind the scenes peek courtesy of Entertainment Tonight (above), and a slew of cool-looking trailers (see below), Iron Man 2 is finally upon us.
But as we lead up to its 30 April release date, talk is already turning to the future, and a proposed Iron Man 3.
“There’s an Iron Man 3,” Favs has said. “Here’s how I know. When they make the option deals, they include Iron Man 3. So I know they’re planning on 3.”
Which, of course comes with its own set of unique challenges. The first Iron Man delivered on zero expectations. The second comes with higher expectations, but trepidation over the quick production. Could a third be stretching the material until it snaps?
“We had to walk a fine line,” Favreau has said. “I think you’re good for number two. Two seems to be the charm because you got your origin story out of the way. You can add some complexity to it and you have room, because you don’t have to tell the origin story, to introduce the characters.
“When you get to number three, you can get hidebound. You’re like a beached whale sometimes because you have so much, you collapse under the weight of the complexity that you’ve created.”
Though Mandarin (above) was eventually discarded as the main villain in Iron Man 2 (after Mark Millar convinced Favs the character was too ‘out there’ for a first sequel), the second film still definitely works toward the Mandarin story.
“We’re not feeling any pressure right now to rush to the whole Mandarin sub-throughline,” says Favreau. “It’s still intact. We’re consistent with it. We know where it’s going, but I think audiences are pretty sophisticated.
“I watched the whole first season of Lost and of Heroes not having to know every thing about what was going on but I felt there was a consistency to those worlds.
"So in this case, with Mickey [Rourke], we definitely did want to have an origin story because we wanted an origin story to shadow and mirror Tony because he’s introduced this technology into the world and how does that affect the world?”
But this is bigger than just Iron Man alone. This is also about Thor and Captain America, who are both expected to unite with Tony Stark and Nick Fury (among others) in the cinematic version of The Avengers.
With Joss Whedon reportedly close to signing a deal to helm that flick, and Thor and Captain America already both well into their production, an Iron man 3 would have to be juggled in somewhere around all the other Marvel products making their way to cinemas.
It’ll be a tough one to map, but we’re pretty sure Favreau is the man for the job...
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