So let's start with the important stuff. Will there be another "Iron Man" movie, Robert Downey Jr?
"I'm not at liberty to discuss that," smirked the actor, sitting alongside co-stars Ben Kingsley, Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle at the "Iron Man 3" press conference in Los Angeles on Monday. "The future as usual is uncertain, and I think the great thing is that we never could've known what and who was gonna come together for the third 'Iron Man,' and usually the third of anything struggles to meet the first two, let alone the first one. So in all earnestness, things are very much in flux right now and Marvel has their plans, and we're all living and growing, and we'll see what happens."
For now, the focus is of course on "Iron Man 3," the upcoming superhero threequel that for the first time in the series sees someone other than Jon Fwavreau taking the helm - namely Downey's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" director Shane Black. It was a switch that initially proved unnerving to Paltrow - back for her third turn as assistant-turned-Stark-Industries-CEO Pepper Potts - though she ultimately came to embrace the change.
"When I started 'Iron Man 3' I was very uncomfortable with the fact that Jon wasn't there directing," said Paltrow. "You know, Jon cast the movies, and he's responsible in part for 'The Avengers,' and it was...just weird that he wasn't there directing. But you know, as we went on, I really warmed to Shane and his terrible outfits. ...He is so sharp, he is so smart, and his dialogue was incredible. And I think what we started with on this movie that we didn't start with on the first two films was a really excellent finished screenplay. And I think it really shows in the film."
Another addition to the franchise this time out is of course Kingsley, who stars here as the Mandarin, a bin Laden-esque figure who puts out propaganda videos designed to induce fear in the American populace following a series of terrorist attacks.
"I tried to give the Mandarin in his political broadcasts a rather unnerving sense of righteousness and make him almost paternalistic, patriarchal," said Kingsley. "And that's where the timbre of his delivery comes from, and his weird iconography was there to disconcert and completely scatter any expectations of where he might be coming from. I think, again, the line that 'you will never see me coming' sort of voices that unpredictability that he has."
Indeed, "unpredictability" is the name of the game for the kick-it-up-a-notch threequel, which features a truly surprising twist involving the Mandarin (no specifics will be offered here) as well as an interesting new dynamic that develops between Tony and a child named Harley ("Insidious'" Ty Simpkins).
"Shane Black had this idea of this kind of Capra-esque departure," said Downey. "I mean, a lot of things in 'Iron Man 3' are...I think we all knew we were taking risks, and they were kind of out of what would have been the familiar territory. And his idea of a superhero running into a little kid in the heartland of America I think wound up being a wise choice and a kind of calculated risk."
Harley's appearance also serves as a sort of emotional catalyst for Tony, still shaken by the otherworldly events depicted in last summer's "The Avengers." Given that "Iron Man 3" is in some ways a sequel to the Joss Whedon blockbuster, it also gave the filmmakers an organic entry point into referencing the events of that earlier film.
"It's weird when one movie that's connected to another doesn't reference that movie at all," said Downey. "I just like the idea of this kid kind of getting under my skin. I like the idea of kids bringing their parents to the verge of an anxiety attack. Kind of like going like, 'Ah! What's wrong with you!' once they put you there. And I thought that was a nice way to refer back to it. We needed reasons. And sometimes...just look at the bigger picture of this now kind of like continuance of stories. I was reading this morning about the new 'Thor' and I'm like, 'oh wow!' You just kinda plug things in like an operator like, 'You know what? That fits here real nice.'"