It was never going to be easy for Marvel Studios to successfully follow up on the phenomenal box office success of last year's "The Avengers." But with $1.2 billion in global box office -- good enough for fifth on the all-time charts, and second among all comic book movies after "Avengers" -- and a 78 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it's safe to say that "Iron Man 3" did a pretty good job.
Four months after the film's debut, and a week before its release on Blu-ray and DVD, "Iron Man 3" director and co-screenwriter Shane Black and his collaborator, co-screenwriter Drew Pearce, discussed the film Tuesday at the Los Angeles Film School. Following a screening of both "Iron Man 3" and the "Agent Carter" Marvel One-Shot short included on the Blu-ray, the duo discussed the film in a conversation with Jeff Goldsmith, podcast host and publisher of digital magazine "Backstory."
Discussing "Iron Man 3's" major financial success, Goldsmith asked what it was like to transition from the modest $15M budget of his only previous directorial effort, 2005's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," which also starred Robert Downey Jr., to the blockbuster-sized budget Marvel presented him with.
"It's easy," Black answered. "It's taking bites of the cookie, it's just -- there's more cookie to chew. You take the same bites, you take the scenes, and address them with the analysis and attention that everything requires. You get a lot of help. But I didn't worry about that."
"Iron Man 3" received criticism from some fans for reinterpreting long-running Marvel villain The Mandarin, played in the movie by Ben Kingsley, as an actor under the control of true villain Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Despite that, Black said there was never hesitation on Marvel's part over that decision, and that establishing Kingsley's character as a front during the writing process led to a "cascade" of further ideas.
"We made a choice," Pearce said. "One of the first thing Shane told me when we sat down to work together was, 'One of the things that will distinguish our movie from just feeling like an episode of something is bold choices."
Goldsmith pushed Black and Pearce to see if there might be a choice that the Trevor Slattery reveal could actually be a "trick within a trick," and there might be something closer to the comic book Mandarin still out there in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"Is it really worth it?" Black asked in reply. "I think there's definitely evidence in the Marvel Universe the Ten Rings are a real organization that were co-opted by Killian," Pearce added. "What that means is out there, and whether Trevor has anything to do with that, we may never know. Or maybe we will."
Black and Pearce also detailed a few plans that didn't make it into the finished product, including, as they've previously discussed, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), under the influence of Extremis-enhanced pheromones, having sex with Killian, and the villain broadcasting it to the world while Tony Stark shopped for homemade weapon supplies.
"I liked this notion that when they were juiced, they became this preternatural, proto-superhumans, that they developed this pheromonal appeal to people around them," Black said. "That it was such a draw that he would actually steal Tony Stark's woman, pheromonally."
"The second-to-last draft, before we started filming, there was still this idea that Pepper ended up having sex with Killian, and then he broadcast the sex tape in Home Depot," Pearce said. "Oddly, Marvel, not so keen."
Additionally, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) was "the" bad guy in the first draft of the film, according to the filmmakers. She was planned to start as a "Princess Diana, Mother Theresa" type character working with landmine victims, before being corrupted.
"When does scientific endeavor end and when does ego take over? And that's really relevant to Tony, as well," Pearce said.
Though it's an action film, the writers had major themes in mind, including demons and various forms of symbolism.
"I don't know how much of this came through, but we looked a bit as 'Ulysses,' and Arthurian legend," Pearce said. "Truthfully what you're trying to do is find a grand enough story to tell very personally, with a hero like Tony."
While Black stated that an adaptation of "Demon in a Bottle" was "mentioned briefly and then dismissed with prejudice" and will "never be a go" as a Marvel movie, the writer/director stated that "Iron Man 3" deals with addiction in its own way.
"The addictive quality of Tony's obsessive need to keep building suits and suits and suits, and reinvent himself by literally making 42 different versions of himself that he can then tinker with, " Black said. "Similar to [Killian], externalizes all that evil inside of that perfectly sculpted body that he's now got. He's still corrupt inside, but he projects it outward onto this Mandarin character. They're all projecting their innards onto various facades."
Asked about Tony Stark's gun use in the film, Black didn't seem concerned about any potential controversy that may have arrived from that choice.
"I don't give a shit about how many times Tony Stark pulls a trigger on a gun," he said, bluntly. "Marvel can rein me in all they want, but I'm not going to go to Marvel and say, 'How can I make your hero less realistic and more heroic so it suits Disney's needs?' That's not my job."
As far as Black returning for another "Iron Man" film, he didn't dismiss the possibility, but he doesn't think it's happening anytime soon.
" People come up to me and say, 'Hey, are you doing an 'Iron Man 4?' What do you mean, in like 2026? They've got two 'Avengers' films yet," said Black, who's currently writing a "Doc Savage" script.
More details from the Q&A included what went into Happy Hogan's "Downton Abbey" affection (the idea came from Jon Favreau; Pearce and Black originally wanted him watching UFC in the hospital as a nod to the actor's "Friends" role), Peace's "Runaways" script (he's hoping it'll be produced as a part of Marvel Studios Phase Three, but it's up to Kevin Feige), Black's take on screenwriting ("It's not brain surgery, just very difficult surgery") and his disdain for director's cuts ("Blade Runner" is the only good one, he says).
Black also had some parting advice for the film students in the crowd.
"The script I'm writing right now sucks balls, it's terrible," Black said of the in-development "Doc Savage" film. "But it will be great. That's the process. It's bad until it's good."
"Iron Man 3" is out on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, Sept. 24.