While addressing a packed, enthusiastic Hall H crowd at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige was interrupted by the dulcet tones of Luther Vandross as "Iron Man 3" star Robert Downey Jr. swaggered into the space through a public entrance in the back. As he danced through the aisles, fans screamed and cheered him on. The actor milked the spotlight for all it was worth in his charcoal grey suit, orange-tinted glasses and red repulsor glove, eventually landing next to Feige at the front of the room. It was an entrance that decidedly set the tone for the panel to come -- filled with good-natured jokes shared between cast members, footage screenings and even a birthday serenade for one lucky fan.
After Downey Jr. buttered up the crowd, begging, "Why aren't we watching any footage yet?" the lights dimmed and the reel began. In it, we're treated to a fun opening introduction to the new Iron Man suit, which sees Tony Stark debuting the revamped armor to a display line of his other suits and barking orders to his machinery while soundtracked by a remixed modern version of a Jingle Bells/Deck the Halls mashup (Christmas-themed iconography being a trademark subject of director Shane Black). A pile of various pieces of his suit comes to life bit by bit, first with the repulsor glove rising up on its own accord and flying onto his hand, then -- in increasingly rapid succession -- shin, leg and (dramatically rough, with comedically painful effect) the codpiece. Stark hilariously loses control of the mechanical symphony mid-encasement, and pieces of suit shatter glass and crash into his surroundings. Eventually, all that's left is his faceplate, which he coaxes from the floor in coy fashion -- but not before blasting himself off the floor with his glove, flipping in the air.
We see bits of Guy Pearce in a suit (hinting that he's perhaps a baddie with a corporate bent) and a mysterious action shot of Iron Patriot, along with a video conferencing tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte between Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan and Stark -- solidifying their quippy relationship (as well as Favreau's transition from behind the camera). The major action sequence follows a voiceover that ominously states, "Heroes -- there is no such thing." In it, we see multiple helicopters approach Stark's oceanfront Malibu mansion, opening fire and sending an armored-up Stark and Pepper Potts flying backwards in an explosion. Stark's suits are destroyed one by one, as he's catapulted into the ocean.
The money shot involves the reveal of the film's villain -- confirmed officially to be Ben Kinsley as The Mandarin. Though some prior moments hinted at his existence (a few glimpses of a samurai sword are interspersed throughout the footage), the end sequence makes it clear who the main antagonist of this movie is. Kingsley's introduction involves a shot from behind as he removes the hood of his cape, revealing a mostly-bald head with a samurai-style circular patch of dark hair in the middle, a long train of hair protruding from it. Slowly revealed from the front, the camera trains along his hand (rings on every finger), pulling out to show The Mandarin, face-on, seated and sporting a full, long, bushy, dark beard. Reading into his stature alone, Kingsley looks to embody the villain with appropriate menace and confidence.
When the lights came up, Jon Favreau (acting full time as Happy Hogan in "Iron Man 3"), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes/War Machine) and director Shane Black entered to a roaring welcome from the crowd -- some of whom camped out overnight to guarantee entrance to the event.
Black gave a status update on the film, saying, "We're having fun -- we're halfway done." Finally able to speak openly about Kingsley, he said, "Sir Ben's lovely and he's gonna be absolutely terrific. He came up to me and he says, 'You know, the most lovely thing happened in my hotel room the other night with my voice. I'm not going to tell you about it now, but I'm going to show you later.' It's one of those things that's evolving, watching this guy perform. This guy is The Mandarin."
Feige hinted at the direction of the film, telling the crowd, "'Iron Man 3' is all about a return to a Tony Stark-centric story." Cheadle teased, "We're getting into the end part of the film right now -- really, the climactic scene -- and I've got a lot more to do with Robert, so the Rhodie and Tony relationship expands."
"This is a family, which is really what's great about 'Iron Man 3,'" reiterated Black. "We're halfway through -- if we don't fuck up the rest, it's going to be great! Robert's fond of saying, 'We're gonna leave it all on the field' -- we've got all these characters, all these pieces, all these interlocking parts. Not like 'Spider-Man 3,' where it's all separate!" Black quipped, his zinger eliciting shocked laughter from the crowd.
Black went on to call Favreau's first full-on acting performance (without co-juggling duties as director) "off the chain" and promised, "It's like 'Swingers' at 40!" Favreau likened executive producing as opposed to directing to being, "a proud grandfather who doesn't have to change the diapers but gets to play with the baby."
An audience member asked how long it takes for Downey Jr. to get into his Iron Man suit. Downey Jr. kicked it to Cheadle, who replied, "A half hour." Downey Jr. quipped, "Oh mine's about three minutes!" Cheadle ribbed, "Racism" to the surprised crowd. Never one to forgo the last word, Downey Jr. noted, "His has got bigger guns."
Downey Jr. good-naturedly dodged the question of whether we'd see him appear in other Iron Man movies, or future Marvel films, saying, "The future is uncertain." But the non-news-related highlight of the event came when a 15-year-old girl named Elana approached the microphone to announce that it was her birthday, and attending the event was a dream gift. Downey Jr. invited the crowd to join him in singing her happy birthday -- which they did, to joyous effect.
Favreau ended the event by mentioning that Black asked him for some advice along the way, "So I'd like to give him some advice today about Comic-Con: if you really want to get a good relationship with the audience here, you gotta show 'em the footage twice!"
And, vehemently agreeing to the tune of roaring applause, the audience was treated once more to the "Iron Man 3" footage reel.
Iron Man 3 hits theaters on May 3, 2013.