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Marvel’s ‘Avengers’ Threatens Cameron at Top of Blockbuster Charts, ‘Iron Man 3’ Starts Production

Marvel's 'Avengers' Threatens Cameron at Top of Blockbuster Charts, 'Iron Man 3' Starts Production

There is much rejoicing in Marvel land, as “The Avengers” has grossed an estimated $552.7 million domestically and $802.5 million internationally, for a stunning $1.36 billion worldwide total. Thanks to premium 3-D prices, domestically and worldwide, “Avengers” is now the third-highest grossing film of all time, behind only James Cameron’s “Avatar” and “Titanic”; internationally it’s the fifth-highest.

Marvel built carefully to the “Avengers” perfect storm, and adding more sequels to their properties is part of their ongoing long-term plan.  As promised by Marvel president and producer Kevin Feige, production has started on Shane Black’s “Iron Man 3″ in Wilmington, North Carolina. The production will also move to locations in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, Miami, Florida and China. Let’s hope this film marks an improvement on “Iron Man 2,” which was a serious let-down after the original.

Marvel will churn out two films a year for the next five. “Thor 2” starts at summer’s end and “Captain America 2” starts in January. There are two beyond that including “The Avengers 2.”

Based on the Marvel comic book series first published in 1963, “Iron Man 3” returns Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man along with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle as James “Rhodey” Rhodes and “Iron Man” series director Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan. Disney will release the film stateside on May 3, 2013, the second Marvel film to be completed from scratch at Disney since the studio acquired Marvel in 2009.

Marvel has tended to be a lot sharper about its movies (protecting their intellectual property and respecting their fans) than DC– and that includes Marvel’s “Spider-Man” (whose producer Laura Ziskin sadly passed away at age 61 after a long battle with cancer), last year’s “Thor” and “X-Men: First Class” and the original “Iron Man,” which along with “The Avengers” is one of the best examples of how to make a smart movie for everyone rather than a silly movie for young folks.

2008’s “Iron Man” illustrates why originals are so often more brilliant than their sequels–unless they closely follow existing literary material. In a 2011 Hero Complex Q & A in which he praised such collaborators as Feige, cinematographer Matty Labatique and ILM, Favreau described the ideal scenario in which he and Downey Jr.–who had to test and fight for the role of Tony Stark that made him a star–were creatively free, flying by the seat of their pants, dreaming things up, yet still working within the constraints of the Marvel universe. The minute Downey came on board everything changed, said Favreau, his whole personality informed Stark, and Paltrow and Bridges wanted to play opposite him. On the first film, said Downey, “when you have nothing to lose you sometimes take risks. You might as well really make it trippy.”

Favreau believed strongly in hanging on to a real-world grounding, mixing CG with practical effects, and telling his story from the point-of-view of his protagonists. “You have to use CGI to augment reality,” he said, “and not drift to fantasyland…the minute it becomes spectacle it’s no longer a subjective experience.” Favreau liked starting off the movie with Stark in deep trouble, because it built good will for the character.

When Favreau stuck the Samuel L. Jackson cameo as Nick Fury on the end of “Iron Man,” it was a last-minute Easter Egg joke thought up by an ILM artist. Director Edgar Wright, who was the first person to see “Iron Man” advised Favreau to place the tag scene after the endless closing credits. But it had long-term consequences.

There was no down time at all between the first and the second “Iron Man,” which had to follow all the crazy stuff they invented in first one. It was harder to ground the second film in reality, said Favreau: “When it’s not real, you’re juggling chainsaws.” They could no longer do whatever they wanted on “Iron Man 2,” including two irreverent openings, one written but rejected and one filmed, because “now we had something to protect,” for Marvel and the studio, and had to fit in superhuman “The Hulk” and SHIELD elements to advance “The Avengers.”

“It will be difficult for whoever does Iron Man 3” said Favreau, who gets to play a juicy supporting role this time.

Executive producers on “Iron Man 3” include Favreau, Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Stan Lee, Charles Newirth, Victoria Alonso, Stephen Broussard and Dan Mintz. The production team includes director of photography John Toll, ASC (“Braveheart,” “Legends of the Fall”), production designer Bill Brzeski (“The Hangover,” “Due Date”), editors Jeffrey Ford, A.C.E. (“Marvel’s The Avengers,” “Captain America: The First Avenger”) and Peter S. Elliot (“Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer”), and costume designer Louise Frogley (“Quantum of Solace,” “Contagion”).

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