Kicking things off, the panelists were asked if there was pressure to try and make a bigger film in size and scope than "Marvel's The Avengers." Both Feige and Black said they weren't "aiming for bigger," but something "different, fresh and new."
"There's an idea about being big, but it's an idea about capturing and redoubling the intensity of 'Avengers,' that lightning in a bottle feel of stuffing so much into a limited space," said Black. "Robert refers to it as leaving it all on the field. That's what we're aiming to do." The director added that Marvel is allowing him to "take some risks" with "Iron Man 3," which is "pretty admirable in a superhero movie, to take some risks."
The Iron Patriot armor glimpsed in spy photos was the next topic of conversation. Feige said he wasn't thrilled that these photos exist online, but he looked at the bright side: "The fun thing is that it's a practical suit. It's an awesome suit, that Mr. Cheadle does get to wear in the movie." Black added, "What's also fun is how much of the guessing [about Iron Patriot] is so wrong and completely off base! We love the rumors. We love that. That's fun."
"I do suit up," Cheadle later added about his return as War Machine. "There are some different iterations that War Machine goes through in this film that I don't want to give away, but it's fun seeing these things morph and shift."
Downey was asked about the sides of Tony Stark he was hoping to explore in "Iron Man 3." For him, the relationship between Stark and Rhodes was something that he wanted to investigate in the future. "In the comics, that's at the heart of what's great about it." He also wanted to explore how Stark exists in a post-"Avengers" world, the types of limitations that can now be put on him, and how Tony can find new ways of ignoring those limits.
Asked about how he approaches the third film in a series, Black said, "The way to go about doing a [third film] is you have to find a way the first two aren't done yet. By the time you finish three, you want something resembling the culmination of a trilogy. I think we're finding ways of making this organic and new based on what's happened before."
As he's wont to do when given a microphone, Downey hijacked the panel momentarily and asked the room, "Any questions for Captain Planet?," referring to Cheadle's hilarious Funny or Die sketch where he stars as a homicidal version of the eco-friendly hero. "I mean, what were you thinking," Downey laughed.
"I obviously wasn't thinking," a shamed Cheadled replied.
Black's suitability for "Iron Man 3" was another topic during the panel. Though he's written big budget blockbusters in his day, this is certainly the biggest film he's ever worked on as a director. Both Downey and Feige credited Black's "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" as a movie that proved his worthiness as an "Iron Man" director. Indeed, Feige even admitted that he and Jon Favreau looked at "Kiss Kiss" frequently when deciding to cast Downey as Tony Stark in the first "Iron Man."
Both Black and Downey are creative minds who work comfortably in darkness, and they each noted that they wanted to find ways of making Tony work in a shadowy story. "We realized at the beginning of 'Iron Man 2,' he's dying and he goes and has a party, so some [fans] didn't like him," admitted Downey. "There's a way to enjoy all that shadowy stuff. So we kept thinking about, 'What is it like if this guy is in this country? Where else could he go?'"
"He won't fall off the wagon," Black was quick to point out, referring to the famous "Demon in a Bottle" comic books that forced Tony to confront his growing alcoholism.
"You haven't seen my rewrites," Downey retorted. "Rhodey picks him up at Betty Ford, scene two."
In addition to darkness, "Iron Man 3" will have its fair share of romance to work with as well. "The remarkable thing that Jon Favreau managed to do is establish a precedent of espionage, top gun style thrills coupled with romantic comedy in a strange way," observed Black. "It's always been a mainstay of these movies, and that's part of my favorite thing about it, too. So romance is definitely a part of this. Time has passed. In 'Avengers,' Pepper and Tony are living together and doing great."
"However, Rhodes is single," Downey added to a roomful of laughter.
The panel came to a close with a question from a young "Iron Man" fan sporting a drawn-on Tony Stark goatee. "How does it feel to be a hero in all of these movies?" he asked Downey, eliciting audible "awws" from onlookers.
"I think I speak for any of us who get to live in this world," Downey began after a long pause, before stopping and shifting gears a bit. "There was just one of these photo things with a bunch of kids where they dressed up as Iron Man. There were a couple of War Machines, too. There's something about it that's just ... wow, a great opportunity. It's an odd thing. I take this as seriously as Shakespeare."
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