On the Iron Man 2 Set

PROJECT: PEGASUS. The two words are stenciled in black along the side of a few crates stacked at the parking structure this writer descends on the Raleigh Studios lot in Manhattan Beach. It’s an overcast June afternoon and massive clouds belch an occasional thunder crack (producer Kevin Feige will joke later in the day that it’s the sound of Kenneth Branagh prepping Thor). I’m just a stone’s throw away from the offices of Marvel and these crates have me tripping nostalgic. “PEGASUS,” you see, stands for “Potential Energy Group/Alternate Sources/United States” – a center for scientific study that appeared in various Marvel titles. It also appeared in Iron Man: Armored Adventures which is why it doesn’t surprise me that these crates also read “Stark Industries.”

Yes, ComingSoon.net/Superhero Hype! is back on the set of yet another Tony Stark romp, Iron Man 2 which has been shooting in and around Los Angeles. Today, the production is spread out across Raleigh where director Jon Favreau is reunited with Robert Downey, Jr., reprising his role as Stark. (Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson round out the principal cast.) The pair is found inside a soundstage where Stark’s workshop has been recreated…with a few notable changes since I was on the set of the first picture.

The hall of armor has expanded. Here one finds the Mark 1 displayed next to an empty slot reserved for the Mark 2 – its whereabouts right now are unknown. The Mark 3 stands battered and tarnished, reminders of Stark’s battle with the Iron Monger. Then there’s the new suit – similar to the Mark 3, however, look closely and you’ll notice slight changes to the joints, knees and abdomen area. It’s more streamlined.

“From my perspective we did everything we could to make it lighter, easier, more flexible,” says Favreau, “and we’ve shot more with it.”

The director is preparing a scene with Downey who is hunkered over a giant model sitting on a table in his workshop. This is the Stark Expo, I’m told. “It is something that Howard Stark [Tony’s father] has done for years and years and the last one he had done was in 1974,” explains producer Feige. “Tony Stark is part of his new, ‘I’m not making weapons anymore, I’ve declared to the world that I’m Iron Man. I’ve got to do something.’ He has reestablished this Stark Expo event which is kind of a combination of World’s Fair, Macworld kind of an event.”

Favreau adds, “This is pretty deep into the film. Tony Stark is trying to – without getting too specific with what it is, there’s a mystery that Tony is pursuing as it relates to upgrading the technology that he’s dealing with. So, he’s trying to figure out solutions to problems that he’s having with his tech.”

After a brief prep session, the gang is ready to shoot and I’m allowed to watch the scene play out.

The camera pushes over the Stark Expo model; little white buildings, trees and a globe drift by as Stark peers over it like a kid transfixed on his train set. “The key to the future is where?” Stark questions. A “cut!” is called and once Favreau is satisfied a new set-up is requested. And I’m invited into the workshop to play “spot the changes” since the first film.

In a lounge area to my right – carpeted with a couch, coffee table, the usual accoutrements used to relax – maps of Antarctica and a blueprint of Captain America’s shield. Stark’s collection of cars has grown and he’s got a few new gadgets lying around. And if you loved his robot assistants, they’re back, too. What’s widely apparent is the floor. Glistening, black and constantly being polished by an on-set production assistant. In the film, this entire floor – which I’m required to wear non-scuff booties if I’m going to walk on it – will serve a holographic projection system. Similar to what you saw Stark playing with on a table in the first film, except bigger and better.

“You could see there’s not a lot of screens around, everything is done virtually,” says Favreau. “So [Stark’s] investigating the grounds of the fictitious 1974 Stark Expo and he’s taking a model of the expo, trying to find something hidden within the layout and structure of the model that was his father’s model from back at Stark Industries. So, that’s what we’re doing now and we’re getting some close focus shots on the model that’s based on the ’64 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow Park.”

Further demonstration of what Favreau is talking about occurs in the next shot. Downey simulates picking up a hologram of the physical model and expands it – all of the hologram work will be filled in later with CG. As Downey surveys the “model” he asks Jarvis, the computer/lab assistant to mark certain areas of the Expo in various colors, executed with FX lights on the floor and out of the shot to illuminate the actor’s face. Downey feigns spotting something of interest and asks Jarvis once again to expand the graphic. Apparently he has found what he’s looking for – a small piece of the large puzzle that is Iron Man 2‘s plot.

Favreau notes to us that this story picks up six months later and while he’s remaining mum on the plot – which is said to have themes of an energy crisis of sorts – Howard Stark (actor John Slattery) plays a large part in it. “He’s definitely a presence as Robert delves into his past and explores the relationship with his dad,” says the director. “He’s definitely got daddy issues on some level. So, we explore the way his life’s been changed by saying that he’s Iron Man. He’s already gone from somebody who’s been one of the most famous people in the world and one of the richest people in the world to now being a superhero on top of it and how his infrastructure attempts to manage that, it’s like when a billionaire becomes a reality TV star on top of it, it’s a wonder how that integrates with their life. This is a more extreme version of that.”

“Part of his journey is realizing the breakthroughs that his father made in the past and coming to terms both emotionally with his dad and also with what technical innovations his father was doing ahead of his time,” he continues. “His father was like a Da Vinci who was inventing things that couldn’t be made yet. He was a futurist of his time. As Tony starts to learn more about his dad, he starts to learn more about the work that his father had done.”

Further complications arise for Tony with stress on two faults: Justin Hammer, as played by Rockwell and Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko (aka Whiplash). “[Ivan is], son of Anton Vanko, Russian scientist in our world and he’s our shadow figure, he’s our dark character,” elaborates Favreau. “We also have Justin Hammer who’s American that’s played by Sam Rockwell. And so, we have a bit of a mélange of characters that come together that are different combinations of elements from the books. But, we also like to spin it against expectations sometimes against what the books are. We definitely take into consideration what the comics had and then know that our core audience is going to be aware of what was written and we either play into it or against it, but we take those pre-suppositions into consideration as we craft the story. But, I’m extremely happy with the group we have, we just have tremendous actors that bring a spontaneous nature to the film and Downey really grounded the first one with his style, tone, and personality and spontaneity and tried to get a cast around him that would be in synch with his way of working and the tone that he branded in the first film.”

Those seeking the “Demon in the Bottle” story arc should know now it’s still not the crux of the sequel’s story. Feige maintains, however, Stark will be facing immense pressure. “I’m not sure he drinks anymore in this one than he did in the first one. But, he does go to a slightly, how do I put it? About midway through the film he hits rock bottom. Rock bottom is not in an alleyway with alcohol alongside a dumpster,” he laughs. “That’s not what it is in this movie. But, it is all of these things he’s trying to do and pressuring himself to do, he loses control of. It’s one of the major themes of the movie is, no man is an island. Here’s a guy who now says, ‘I’m going to run the company myself. I’m going to take control of all of my own technology, use it only for benefits. I’m going to introduce this giant new Stark Expo to advocate all sorts of new energy sources and introduce all sorts of new technological wonders to the world of tomorrow.’ But, he’s a Marvel superhero, so it takes about six months for everything to go to hell once he’s done that.”

More from the set of Iron Man 2 to come as we near its May 7, 2010 release!

Source: Ryan Rotten