Move over, Game of Thrones. Last night at Comic-Con, Hall H became the real House Stark as Marvel unveiled a stunning reel of footage from Iron Man 3. Not bad going for a film that’s only just started production.
But then, showing footage from an Iron Man movie has become something of a tradition and good luck charm for Marvel at Comic-Con. With interest in Ol’ Shellhead never higher following Six Characters In Search Of A Shawarma Restaurant (or The Avengers, if we must be pedantic), the roof was in danger of levitation as Robert Downey Jr. swaggered his way through the crowd like a rock star, Iron Man glove on one hand a la Michael Jackson, and cued the footage… which provoked as many questions as it answered. Spoilers within, so be warned:
On a day that began with the fairly controversial debut of Stark’s gold-and-red Mk VIII armour on the Comic-Con floor, it seemed somewhat apt that the clip should also kick off with it. And so it goes, with Stark and his robotic arm chums hard at work in his R&D lab (hastily written on a post-it note and stuck to the window of his garage), on “the birth of your bouncing, badass baby brother”.
Telling Jarvis to put on something seasonal – it’s Christmas after all, this being a Shane Black film – Stark then tries to summon the armour to him, either via brainwaves or maybe an early manifestation of the Extremis technology which, it is rumoured, plays a heavy part in the story. After a couple of false starts, Stark manages to zip a gauntlet onto his hand, after which the suit quickly assembles – ahem – around him.
Chestplate first, then the legs fly on, then the arms. However, whatever technology Tony is using – and nobody on the panel would confirm Extremis, a Warren Ellis creation that essentially is a virus, bonding the suit to Tony’s skin via nanotechnology – is clearly still in beta mode, as parts of the armour whiz past him, smashing into equipment and nearly taking his head off.
Eventually, though, he masters it. Suit nearly complete, only the faceplate hovers, menacingly, in mid-air. Stark glowers at it: “I ain’t scared of you.” And the faceplate shoots forward, Stark flips over into an upside down pose, the faceplate clamps on, and he flies back to the ground, landing in a classic Adi Granov-inspired pose. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Iron Man Mk VIII.
From there, we get more of a flavour of what the movie’s going to be. First, we start off with a very funny webcam exchange between Stark and Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, who’s first glimpsed as a massive forehead, unable to quite grasp the concept of how to look into the camera. “Can I speak to forehead of security?” cracks Tony. Happy informs Tony that he no longer works for him. You quit, says Stark. “I had to,” says Happy, “You try telling people that you’re Iron Man’s bodyguard…”
The exchange then references The Avengers pretty heavily: Favreau calls them the “superfriends” and tells Stark that his mother, who lives in Manhattan, nearly jumped out of her window when a “giant space snake fell out of the sky.” Stark replies, “Yeah, well, we took care of it.”
It’s a nice little exchange, there to reassure people that this Stark will be just as quippy as ever, and that the dialogue – by Shane Black and Drew Pearce – will be as good as we’d expect.
But then, the tone of the clips change dramatically. A series of quick cuts introduce us to a shaven-headed villain (James Badge Dale), to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, nuzzling with a steel-suited Stark on his sofa, to Guy Pearce’s slick Aldrich Killian (who, with a name like that, can only be bad news), to Don Cheadle, returning as Rhodes, and then a shot of War Machine in stars-and-stripes-bedecked armour (the Iron Patriot armour, for fans of the comics)… and a shot of Tony sitting on a bed, in the dark, looking distraught.
Things are clearly going to get heavy for our hero, and if we were in any doubt, a voiceover removes that. The voice – rich, malevolent, with an American burr – declares, “Some people call me a terrorist. I consider myself a teacher. Lesson number 1: heroes. There is no such thing.”
And with that, we got to see a sequence that, quite simply, raises the stakes for the movie and for Stark, and which was astounding to look at considering that they’re still filming. In it, Pepper and Tony look on aghast as three huge military helicopters descend on Stark’s Malibu compound and, frankly, blow it to bits.
There’s a shot of Pepper and Stark flying backwards, propelled by the force of the initial impact. Then a shot of flames consuming the Mks 1-VII suits, as Tony’s lab is utterly destroyed. Then a stunning shot of the compound crumbling into the sea, with Tony – now in the Mk VIII armour – hanging on for grim life, before being swept away, into the sea. Worryingly, there’s no sign of Pepper in the rest of that sequence (they couldn’t, could they?), and worryingly, the ominous voiceover continues throughout: “As you cry for mercy, you will be silenced.” With that, a ‘3’ logo – broken and metallic – pops up.
Then, just in case we hadn’t twigged the face behind the voice, a series of quick shots show the movie’s principal villain. First, his hands, with a ring on each finger. Ten in total.
Then a shot of him from behind, black hair in a ponytail except for one side, which is – apparently – randomly shaved. Then a slow pan up his chest – no armour here, just a grubby old T-shirt beneath a military uniform. And then the big reveal of... Sir Ben Kingsley as the ultimate Iron Man villain, The Mandarin, sitting on what looks like a throne, promising that Stark should take a good look: “It will be your last.”
Now, fans of the comic will know that The Mandarin is Chinese. Sir Ben is clearly not going down that route, and rightly so, as there was always the faint whiff of dodginess about The Mandarin. But he’s an exceptionally evil character, powered by those ten rings (which he found, according to lore, in an alien spacecraft; we wonder if that origin will remain the case here), and all kinds of military muscle.
The footage looks stunning and hugely promising. We’re huge fans of Black, and we’re delighted to see him get a chance on a huge tentpole, especially one that reunites him with Downey, his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang star (that movie has been acknowledged as the movie that persuaded Favreau to cast Downey as Stark in the first place). Black continually referred to taking risks with the third part; it’ll be interesting to see what he, and his co-writer Pearce, can get away with.
The Q&A afterwards was enormously fun, and a few nuggets emerged about the film. Black confirmed that Pearce would be playing Aldrich Killian, and that Rebecca Hall was also in the film as Maya Hansen, a scientist historically linked with the development of Extremis. Black told how Sir Ben had stopped him one night in their hotel and told him that 'the most lovely thing happened to me the other night with my voice'. He did this voice, and it’s evolving. This guy is The Mandarin.”
Downey confirmed that the classic comic book arc, Demon In A Bottle, would not be tackled in this instalment. “There really isn’t enough plot. What are we going to do, sidebar for 30 days while he goes to Betty Ford? He’s got to save the world. He’s got the plug in the jug.” And, worryingly for the fans who worshipped him the second he walked into the room, he admitted that his deal runs out with this movie. Would he renew? “We’re going to figure out what Brinks truck we want to continue,” he laughed, although there was no definite confirmation that he would carry on Ironing.
A question about Pepper Potts, who has a suit in the comics, also doing so in the movie got a surprising reaction from the usually tight-lipped Feige. “Everyone thinks it would be the coolest thing in the world to see Pepper get a suit at some point,” he said, pointedly not issuing a flat no. Intriguing. Most intriguing.
But he did issue a flat no about the possibility of Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner – who became such a firm friend of Stark’s in The Avengers – showing up here. “You remember how he jumped in the car with Tony,” Feige teased, getting thousands of fans’ hopes up. “Well, Tony dropped him off at the Port Authority and we’ll see him again someday.”
And with that, they had to leave – disappointingly by a side exit, rather than blasting a hole in the roof – but there was just enough time for Black to say one thing. Call it a declaration. “This is a family. This is the same Iron Man you’ve liked. We hope you like this. We’re halfway through now, and if we don’t fuck up the rest, it’s going to be great.”
Amen. Iron Man 3 is out in the UK on April 26, 2013.