Marvel Studios, and in particular the “Iron Man” franchise, have a long and storied history with Comic-Con and Hall H. Nearly all of their films have had a presence at the show, oftentimes debuting footage shot only days before the convention. “Captain America” famously debuted an impressively polished reel two years ago after only one week of shooting. But the film that started it all was the first “Iron Man.” At the time, the film, based on arguably amongst the lesser known of Marvel’s canon, wasn’t on many people’s radar outside of the hard core. But director Jon Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr. changed that in a hurry, debuting a show-stopping reel that garnered quite possibly the biggest reaction in the history of Comic-Con and Hall H. Having been there myself, the moment was positively electric. When Favreau offered to run the reel again, the crowd erupted, cheering almost as loudly the second time around.
So, needless to say, as Downey Jr. prepares to step into the shoes of Tony Stark for the fourth time (including “The Avengers”) he understands expectations are high. As Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige led his presentation into the “Iron Man 3” portion, the sweet sounds of Luther Vandross interrupt and echo across the hall. Suddenly, from the back of the arena, Robert Downey Jr., dressed in a flashy designer suit and tinted sunglasses, a la Tony Stark, dances into Hall H. Paraded by security, Downey Jr. hams it up to the max as he dances his way all the way to the front and up onto the stage. At the end he reveals he’s wearing the Iron Man hand.
“I’ve got three questions,” says Downey Jr. from center stage. “Question one, how much do I love you? Question two, how much do you love me? Question three, why aren’t we watching any footage yet?”
The footage begins with Tony Stark in his lab running some tests with Jarvis. He asks for some seasonal music and Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” spins on the record player. Stark gets into fighting position and pieces of the suit fly at him one by one. It doesn’t all go smoothly, however, as Stark must deflect a few misfires and even takes a bit of a crotch shot. He finally manages to assemble the full costume on his body, finished by the face plate which he retrieves upside down before crashing down into the classic stance, kneeling down with one fist to the ground. Up next is a Skype video chat between Stark and Happy (Favreau).
“My grandmother lives in Manhattan,” says Happy. “She jumped out of the second story window last year because she saw giant snake robots.”
“Relax, we handled it,” reassures Stark.
From here the footage picks up with a collage of action and set piece visuals, including what looks to be a devastated Hollywood. We get a glimpse of Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian before the booming voice of Sir Ben Kingsley echoes, “I consider myself a teacher.” We finish with some bits of disjointed action footage including what looks to be a detained Iron Man underwater and sinking fast. After the logo for “Iron Man 3,” we get the first look at Kingsley in full glory as The Mandarin, adorned in green and gold and sitting in waiting.
The crowd loves it. Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau and Shane Black join Feige and Downey Jr. on stage. Here are six highlights of their conversation.
1. Shane Black’s challenge of following in Favreau’s footsteps
Stepping into an established franchise isn’t always the most enviable task, especially when it comes to one as beloved as “Iron Man.” Luckily, Shane Black has been around the block a bit and, at least as a writer, has successfully handled some of the biggest projects of the past few decades. “That’s the issue of how to take a three,” says Black. “There’s two before which is a lot. So you need to make it seem like it’s something that was started but not concluded. That’s the definition of a trilogy. How do you dig in, reach back and touch base with what’s come before? And I think we’ve succeeded. To stay on top, you always have to touch bottom. We’re actually going back to the roots of this thing and trying to dig out the myth of it. The secret of it is, and don’t tell anybody because it stays in this room, but he is Tony Stark.”
“So I’m an asshole,” says Downey Jr. (Laughs)
“A rich asshole,” says Cheadle through a laugh.
2. Sir Ben is starting to get into The Mandarin
Asked about working with Sir Ben Kingsley, Shane Black smiles and says, “Sir Ben is lovely and he’s going to be absolutely terrific. He came up to me and he said, ‘The most lovely thing happened in my hotel room. My voice.’ And then he did this kind of voice. It’s one of those things that’s evolving, watching this guy perform. This guy is The Mandarin.”
3. The difficulty of putting on the suit might be down to racism…
During the audience Q & A section, one fan asks Downey Jr. how long it takes him to get into the suit.
“They keep making them better and better,” says Downey Jr. “What’s your time?” he asks Cheadle.
“Half hour,” says Cheadle.
“Oh, mine’s about 3 minutes.”
“Racism,” deadpans Cheadle.
Always ready with the final quip, Downey Jr. responds, “Well, he has bigger guns.” The crowd laughs and applauds.
4. Happy birthday from the cast of Iron Man
When a 15-year-old girl mentions it’s her birthday before her question, Downey Jr. convinces the cast, Black, Feige and the rest of the Hall H arena to participate in a spirited, 6,500 person chorus of the Birthday Song. Not a bad memory for that little girl.
“Happy Birthday, Honey,” says Downey Jr.
The birthday girl’s question? “If you could have Iron Man’s suit be any color without offending Stan Lee, what would it be.”
“Does mauve offend anyone?” asks Downey Jr.
5. Favreau is perfectly happy to be just Happy
“When I did the first two movies with Jon,” says Downey Jr., “He was playing Happy as well and he would always shoot his coverage last. This time, ladies and gentleman, Happy Hogan is so off the chain. The things he says. It’s like ‘Swingers‘ at 40.
“I have to say,” says Favreau, “It’s a very interesting dynamic going on. At first it was very odd walking onto the set of an ‘Iron Man’ movie. But Shane made me feel very comfortable. I never got a chance to really have fun with the role before because I’m always worried about everybody’s feelings because I’m the director. And now I get to really just have fun. Now I get to play opposite Robert which I never really got to do. And as far as executive producing, as opposed to directing, I feel like a proud grandfather who doesn’t have to change the diapers but gets to play with the baby.”
6. The size of the money truck will determine Downey Jr.’s involvement in future Iron Man films
Another audience member asks Downey Jr. the question on many fan’s mind, namely whether he’s thinking of returning to the character for an “Iron Man 4” or for another Marvel project since he will have fulfilled his original contract after this film.
“Here’s what I know,” says Downey Jr. “My deal runs out after we do ‘Iron Man 3’ and then we’re going to figure out exactly what Brinks truck we want to continue.” (Laughs) “The future is uncertain. I’m super happy. This has just been an amazing journey.”
“Iron Man 3” opens May 3rd, 2013.