The last time we saw billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) don his metal suit to battle baddies, in last summer’s megahit The Avengers, he had a few special friends around to back him up. In the latest installment of the Iron Man franchise, though, don’t expect to see him speed-dialing the Hulk, Thor, and the rest. ”They’re busy — they had to attend a festival somewhere,” jokes Shane Black, who is taking over the directing reins from Jon Favreau. ”They’re referred to, but this is Tony’s struggle and he doesn’t want to call upon help if he can do this by himself.”
The struggle in question pits him against a terrorist mastermind who calls himself the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Though the Mandarin in the original Iron Man comics wielded 10 rings endowed with alien superpowers, Black was intent on making his movie villain more grounded. ”This guy doesn’t fly, he’s not from space, and his rings aren’t magic. The idea I kept in mind was Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now,” says Black. ”I could have done space aliens, but I didn’t particularly want to — and to Marvel’s credit, they didn’t say, ‘The Avengers made a boatload of money — let’s just revive that template.’ They said, ‘Let’s do something different.”’
For Black, who rose to fame as the writer of Lethal Weapon and made his directorial debut with the 2005 low-budget neo-noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the challenge of directing a massive, CGI-heavy superhero movie was certainly something different. As Downey told EW earlier this year, ”The first six months of pre-preproduction when you get hired to a Marvel movie is like taking a four-year-college course in humility.” Black acknowledges that the film has been ”an education”: ”Nothing had prepared me for the level of special effects. It was daunting. But I was blessed to have the best effects people, animators, artists, and previz guys in the business. They held my hand through it.” If we learned anything from The Avengers, it’s that we all could use a little help from our friends sometimes.