• Movie

Watch out — she’s armed.

Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow have been hoping to get Tony Stark’s ladylove Pepper Potts into some armor ever since the second Iron Man movie, fulfilling the character’s comic book evolution from the damsel in distress to the high-powered heroine known as Rescue. With Iron Man 3, it finally happens. “It’s sort of the comic-book version of a Cinderella story,” Paltrow says of her character’s four-film arc. “She starts timid and sort of cleaning up after Tony, and then she evolves into full strength and a superhero.”

But there’s a chance that her first time in the suit may also be her last …

In this week’s cover story, Entertainment Weekly explores a question that everyone who sees Iron Man 3 this weekend will be asking: Is this the end?

Downey has fulfilled all his contractual obligations to play the hero that made him a blockbuster star, and there’s currently no Iron Man 4 on Marvel’s slate, which spans the next several years. Everyone involved — including Downey himself — expects he’ll at least return for writer-director Joss Whedon’s Avengers 2 in 2015, but Iron Man 3 doesn’t exactly leave the billionaire/playboy/philanthropist that we know and love in mint condition.

While shooting what he guessed would be a particularly controversial scene for Iron Man 3’s finale (one too spoiler-heavy to describe) Downey recalls asking Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige: “What does this mean if we wind up doing an Avengers 2? Kevin looked at me and said, ‘That’s Joss’ problem to solve.’ I was like, ‘Good man.'”

Iron Man 3 plays rough with Marvel’s Most Valuable Superhero, which allowed director and co-writer Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) to go for broke with a whole host of story points, including finally getting Pepper into the armor, and presenting a twisted version of Stark’s most infamous villain, The Mandarin (portrayed by Ben Kingsley.) “I thought we needed to do something in the third movie to make it feel like a game-changer,” Black says.

The cover story also comes with an extensive look at all of Marvel’s post-Avengers Phase Two slate of movies, with details on the status of each of the studios upcoming projects: Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers 2, Ant-Man, and beyond.

The Marvel Studios chief Feige spills new details about the stories, and dispels some of the false rumors about what’s in the pipeline.

Some online rumors turn out to be true, however. A source confirms to EW that the twin characters Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch will be joining The Avengers 2, which Whedon hinted at recently when he said he was writing a brother-sister duo into the movie. Feige maintains a poker face on that scoop, saying only: “I’m not confirming or denying. The draft could change six months from now.”

Fans may still hyperventilate over that news. But as long as Downey’s Iron Man is definitely in it, they can also breathe a little easier.

For more on Iron Man 3, pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands this Friday.

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Iron Man 3
  • Movie
  • 129 minutes
  • Shane Black