LOS ANGELES LOS ANGELES It was the moment that brought a $200 million blockbuster to a screeching halt.
Robert Downey Jr. stood frozen in pain after leaping onto a platform of an oil tanker on the Wilmington, N.C., sound stage where Iron Man 3 was shooting its fiery finale last year. The actor had made ambitious wire jumps for stunt scenes before, but this time was different. The impact of the landing left him with an ankle sprain so severe he was unable to walk for seven weeks.
I was feeling a little bit invincible, I guess, Downey said recently last week while making the promotional rounds for Iron Man 3, which rocketed into theaters Friday. I checked it out, and I was like, Oh, we got this. And we didnt have it.
When it comes to playing Tony Stark, the genius-billionaire-playboy-inventor whom Downey first brought to the screen in 2008s record-breaking Iron Man, the Oscar-nominated actor could be forgiven for overreaching.
The characters entire ethos is built on overreaching, believing theres no situation or nemesis he cant defeat with his winning combination of ingenuity, charm and resourcefulness. Iron Man 3, the first film from Marvel since the $2 billion worldwide success of The Avengers, finds Stark feeling less invincible, however.
After saving the world from invading aliens, hes stricken with bouts of insomnia and full-blown panic attacks and thats before a terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) sends Starks sleek Malibu compound crumbling into the Pacific Ocean. Tony is forced to face the threat and protect lady love Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) without the benefit of his superhero trappings.
Its an attempt on our part to have something worthy of Roberts skills, said director Shane Black, which is to have a guy pushed to the edge endurance-wise and also psychologically to see someone thinking on their feet when theyre in trouble real trouble, not the kind of smug champagne problems of a billionaire with infinite tech.
Black penned the script with Drew Pearce, drawing from a well-known comic book story line involving a biological agent known as Extremis, which holds the power to cure illness and repair physical deformity though not without serious side effects.
Franchise newcomer Rebecca Hall plays Maya Hansen, the scientist attempting to perfect the substance; Guy Pearce stars as Aldrich Killian, the entrepreneur who hopes to make a fortune from it. But its Kingsleys role that has generated the most attention leading to the films release.
Created by Stan Lee and designed by Don Heck, the Mandarin first appeared on the paneled page in 1964s Tales of Suspense No. 50. A scientist and martial artist who derived his power from 10 rings that harness alien technology, the character proved an important foil for Stark, but Black has described the Mandarin as a racist caricature.
In the old comics, hes this sort of screeching Chinese warlord with his fist in the air all the time saying, Fools! Come back when you have information. Ill have your heads!
Moviegoers likely will be surprised by Kingsleys performance. The character is now a warrior philosopher of indeterminate nationality with a driving hatred for America whose access to advanced weaponry poses great danger not just to Tony Stark but also to the U.S. government.
If you go back to Iron Man, its always been more grounded in sort of a geopolitical reality, Black said. When hes with those troops in Afghanistan in the very first scene of Iron Man, you think, I get it. This is supposed to be real.
Back behind the camera
Iron Man 3 marks the first feature from Black, 51, as either a writer or director since 2005s noir-inflected caper Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which starred Downey as an actor who throws in his lot with Val Kilmers gay private eye.
Black and Downey bonded during that production, and he credits the actor with lobbying for him to step behind the camera after Jon Favreau, who had directed Iron Man and 2010s Iron Man 2, chose to turn his attention to other projects (though he does reprise his Iron Man role as bodyguard Happy Hogan).
If you ask me, Im key to everything everyones excited about, Downey quipped, before adding that Black was already on Marvels short list of candidates.
Directing a superhero movie is never an easy proposition, but its a task made infinitely more difficult on a tight schedule. Downeys injury forced Marvel to suspend filming for nearly two months while the star recuperated, and the post-production period was compressed to compensate for the lost days.
If early reviews are any indication, the rush to finish the film didnt hurt the final product. Critics have praised the movies wit and sense of invention.
I think Shane brought a lot of innovations to an already pretty edgy, cool franchise, Downey said. Theres such a groundswell of excitement about it, and I know that we earned it by the merits of what we created together.