‘Iron Man 3′: Kevin Feige talks Tony Stark’s trauma

April 22, 2013 | 11:00 a.m.
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Ben Kingsley portrays supervillain the Mandarin in "Iron Man 3," directed by Shane Black. (Marvel Studios)

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Gwyneth Paltrow, left, and Robert Downey Jr. reprise their roles as Pepper Potts and Tony Stark in "Iron Man 3." (Marvel Studios)

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Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark in a scene from "Iron Man 3." (Marvel Studios)

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Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark in a scene from "Iron Man 3." (Marvel Studios)

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Iron Man and Pepper Potts share a moment in "Iron Man 3." (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel Studios)

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The Mandarin draws power from 10 rings he found among the ruins of an alien vessel. (Robert De La Torre / Marvel Comics)

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The Mandarin made his comics debut in 1964's "Tales of Suspense" No. 50, by Stan Lee and Don Heck. (Marvel Comics)

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With his 10 powerful rings and aspirations of world domination, the Mandarin became Iron Man's arch nemesis. Above, the cover for "Tales of Suspense" No. 55. (Marvel Comics)

In the upcoming “Iron Man 3,” a sinister villain known as the Mandarin is looking to destroy Tony Stark’s world. But Ben Kingsley’s bad guy isn’t the only one out to sabotage the billionaire playboy and genius inventor.

The film’s producer and Marvel’s chief movie architect Kevin Feige is in on the plan too.

“We wanted to take Tony to a place that he hadn’t been since the first half of the first ‘Iron Man’ film, which is, essentially, by himself without his money, without his toys, without his gadgets, with just his mind, his intellect,” Feige said. “We wanted to do that in a big climactic fashion by literally taking away everything that is near and dear to him, as symbolized in that mansion crumbling down into the Pacific.”

That sequence, of Stark’s hillside Malibu estate collapsing into the ocean, has figured prominently in the trailers for “Iron Man 3,” which when it opens May 3 will become the first Marvel film to reach theaters since the record-breaking run of Joss Whedon’s “Avengers” movie.

Feige said it absolutely symbolizes the core trajectory of Stark’s journey this time — stripping down the machine to rebuild a better model. He offered a few other insights as well.

HC: Can you describe where we find Tony as “Iron Man 3” opens?

KF: He’s retreated somewhat into his workshop … where he tinkers. He builds a version of the suit and the armor that can assemble on him at a moment’s notice. [That] gives us an example of what he’s been putting his mind to since “Avengers,” which is, “How can I get into that suit as quickly as possible because I’ve seen aliens now, and I’ve been through a wormhole and seen lots of crazy things.” He’s experienced things now that frankly was a wake-up call. You don’t have gamma-powered strength that anger can bring about. You don’t have super-soldier serum flowing through your veins. You’re not a thunder god from Asgard. You’re just a guy. And Tony doesn’t necessarily like to be reminded of those kinds of things because he likes to be at the top of the food chain…. Where we meet Tony, he wants to be in that suit all the time, and he wants a lot of suits around him. And just as we sort of learn that’s his issue, we blow them all up and take him out of that comfort zone.

HC: Is it safe to say he’s at a place where he’s reevaluating the importance of his loved ones in his life?

KF: I think that’s fair. He learned a little bit. In “Avengers,” he says he doesn’t play well with others and, by the end of “Avengers,” clearly has succeeded by playing well with the other characters there. I think he wants to maybe attempt to take some of that back to Malibu with him and find a better balance between the life of a superhero, the life of an obsessive inventor and the relationships he wants to maintain, particularly with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Shane Black photographed in 2005 in the backyard of his  Hancock Park home. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Shane Black, photographed in 2005 in the backyard of his Hancock Park home. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

HC: How would you characterize the tone of this film in relation to the two preceding “Iron Man” movies?

KF: I would say that Shane Black does bring a unique tone to it. When you have a “3” at the end of your title, you can either rest on your laurels and keep doing what’s worked before, which is perhaps smart, but what we wanted to do in addition to that is bring something new, bring a new flavor to it so it would remain fresh. What was exciting to us, and I think what was exciting to audiences about “Iron Man,” coming after many, many other superhero movies had already come out in theaters was the freshness of tone, the humor, the banter with Tony and Pepper. “Iron Man 3,” it’s one of the funniest movies we’ve ever made, but with Shane, we knew that we’d get a different tone, a unique tone of action, of emotion, for the journey that we and Robert wanted to take Tony on over the course of this movie, to pull him down to his lowest moments by himself and then watch as he builds himself back up.

HC: Can you describe what Shane Black has brought to the film as a director?

KF: Shane was always there as a sort of resource in the background, particularly on the first “Iron Man” film, so it felt natural to have him step out of the shadows and into the director’s chair and into the co-writer’s chair on this one. He was quite influential on some of the character moments of Tony Stark in the first film. For the fourth time playing this character I think Robert was looking to Shane to provide not necessarily direction on what Tony Stark would do or say — which Marvel and particularly Robert has a pretty solid handle on — but to mix it up, to bring new elements out of him. When the audience sees his interactions with Pepper, his interactions with some of the characters he meets on his journey through Middle America, it’s another side of Tony. He’s still very much Tony but by taking him out of his element and seeing him interact with these other characters, it’s fun to see another side of Robert’s interpretation of Tony Stark.

HC: Will we see any other Avengers turn in an appearance?

KF: It was very important to us that the first post-“Avengers” movie be a stand-alone film for the individual character, to remind audiences that the heroes can be just as interesting by themselves as they can be when they’re teamed up alongside the other Avengers. This is very much a singular Tony Stark story that, of course, takes place in the world that we’ve already established. “The Avengers” and the events of “The Avengers” are certainly referenced, mainly due to their sort of psychological effect on Tony, as opposed to calling up Nick Fury or going to lunch with Thor.

– Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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