Warning -- Minor Spoilers Ahead
Barring some sort of cinematic apocalypse, Iron Man will rule the box office in its opening weekend, with some analysts projecting a three-day tally of well over $100 million for the uber-anticipated comic book flick. With all of Iron Man's principal players already signed on for potential sequels (as is now the industry norm for tentpole franchises of its ilk), expect Marvel Studios to officially unveil plans for a second (and possibly third) chapter sometime in the coming weeks.
What does the future hold for Tony Stark and his armor-clad alter ego? New villains, new allies, some team-building and a battle with the bottle.
Terrence Howard has made no bones about why he accepted the supporting role of fighter pilot/Tony Stark bff Jim Rhodes in the first Iron Man. "In the next one they make a suit for me and I become 'War Machine,'" said Howard last year in an interview to promote Pride, "so I'm a sidekick." In an interview given during the Iron Man shoot, director Jon Favreau also confirmed that a War Machine appearance is priority number one for a potential sequel. "People don't think far enough in the future to have a great movie and then they say 'How do we do it again?'" Favreau said of the decision to reserve War Machine for the follow-up. "That's the difference between a sequel and a chapter. So in looking at chapters, you could go War Machine with Terrence Howard, and we want to."
While the primary villain of the first Iron Man flick is Jeff Bridges' Obadiah Stane, the storyline also lays the groundwork for a future nemesis: Mandarin, a sinister warlord, reputed to be a descendent of Genghis Khan, who eventually becomes Iron Man's archenemy. In the comic book, Mandarin draws his powers from ten rings culled from a crashed starship that he uncovers in a cave in mainland China. Look for Mandarin's powers to be of a less otherworldly origin in an Iron Man sequel.
Given that Iron Man is a very human superhero, it's fitting that his greatest weakness -- his kryptonite, so to speak -- be a very human one as well. Tony Stark's struggle with alcoholism was first introduced in the comic with 1979's groundbreaking "Demon in a Bottle" series, and has been revisited several times since. "Tony Stark has been known to go bonkers and be so irresponsible that he's like too hammered to put on the suit," remarked Downey at a recent press event. The one-time Hollywood bad boy hasn't failed to notice the obvious parallels between the character's affliction and his own well-publicized struggles with substance abuse. "I get it." he deadpanned. "In a way it's ideally suited for me, and I'm ideally suited for it."
Though Stark's drinking is addressed at briefs points throughout the flick, Favreau chose not to explore the topic more deeply, preferring instead to depict the character as more of a hard-living party animal than a problem drinker. "The good thing about an origin story is that you have a whole Joseph Campbell journey that the guy goes through in becoming a hero," explained Favreau. "The problem is you have so much story to tell that it starts to get clogged up with too much stuff and you end up rushing through beats or villains." Expect Stark's alcoholism to play a greater part in future chapters in the Iron Man saga.
Known in the comics as the "Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage Logistics Directorate," S.H.I.E.L.D. is an elite counter-terrorism agency led by super-soldier Nick Fury. S.H.I.E.L.D. representatives make a few brief appearances in the Iron Man movie, bearing the slightly tweaked moniker of "Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division." Samuel L. Jackson reportedly shot a cameo for the film as Nick Fury, but the scene ultimately didn't make the final cut*. Although S.H.I.E.L.D. will likely play a much more prominent role in future Iron Man flicks, Jackson's involvement is uncertain.
Similar to Marvel's X-Men, the Avengers are an elite group of superheroes, financed by Tony Stark and his Stark Industries conglomerate. The original team was comprised of Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Ant-Man and Wasp, with Captain America joining soon thereafter.
Marvel is working on bringing an Avengers flick to the big screen, with X-Men screenwriter Zak Penn commissioned to write the script. Whether or not the movie actually gets made will depend largely on the box office performance of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and the upcoming Thor and Captain America projects -- both of which are optimistically slated for a 2009 release. "I think we just have to wait until those movies come out," Penn told us recently. "It would be silly to start writing that script until we see the reaction to Iron Man and The Hulk. The theoretical idea was to adapt some version of the Ultimates for the screen, because I thought that was brilliant in terms of the way it translated The Avengers and made it something that exists in the real world the way most of the Marvel comic movies do."
As for the daunting task bringing Iron Man's Robert Downey Jr., The Incredible Hulk's Edward Norton and a host of other big names together for an ensemble comic book flick, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige didn't seem too fazed by the prospect when I asked him about it at last year's San Diego Comic-Con. "Truth is, if we can do an X-Men film with 15-20 big name actors and get them all scheduled, we can do (The Avengers)," said Feige. "It can be done."
Though an Iron Man sequel is at least a few years away, fans won't have to wait nearly as long for the character's next appearance on the big screen. The Incredible Hulk director Louis Leterrier revealed at this year's New York Comic-Con that Downey shot a brief cameo for the film as Tony Stark/Iron Man, and unlike Sam Jackson's aborted Nick Fury scene, we're pretty sure this one won't be left on the cutting room floor when The Incredible Hulk arrives in theaters on June 13th*.
*Subsequent reports indicate that Iron Man producers have re-inserted the deleted Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury scene, which was absent from press and critics' screenings, for the theatrical release.
Some images courtesy of Marvel.com