'Iron Man 3'
'Iron Man 3'

There is much rejoicing in Marvel land, as "The Avengers" has grossed an estimated $552.7 million domestically and $802.5 million internationally, for a stunning $1.36 billion worldwide total. Thanks to premium 3-D prices, domestically and worldwide, “Avengers” is now the third-highest grossing film of all time, behind only James Cameron's “Avatar” and “Titanic”; internationally it’s the fifth-highest.

Marvel built carefully to the "Avengers" perfect storm, and adding more sequels to their properties is part of their ongoing long-term plan.  As promised by Marvel president and producer Kevin Feige, production has started on Shane Black's “Iron Man 3" in Wilmington, North Carolina. The production will also move to locations in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, Miami, Florida and China. Let's hope this film marks an improvement on "Iron Man 2," which was a serious let-down after the original.

Marvel will churn out two films a year for the next five. "Thor 2" starts at summer's end and "Captain America 2" starts in January. There are two beyond that including "The Avengers 2."

Based on the Marvel comic book series first published in 1963, “Iron Man 3” returns Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man along with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle as James “Rhodey” Rhodes and "Iron Man" series director Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan. Disney will release the film stateside on May 3, 2013, the second Marvel film to be completed from scratch at Disney since the studio acquired Marvel in 2009.

Marvel has tended to be a lot sharper about its movies (protecting their intellectual property and respecting their fans) than DC-- and that includes Marvel's "Spider-Man" (whose producer Laura Ziskin sadly passed away at age 61 after a long battle with cancer), last year's "Thor" and "X-Men: First Class" and the original "Iron Man," which along with "The Avengers" is one of the best examples of how to make a smart movie for everyone rather than a silly movie for young folks.

2008's "Iron Man" illustrates why originals are so often more brilliant than their sequels--unless they closely follow existing literary material. In a 2011 Hero Complex Q & A in which he praised such collaborators as Feige, cinematographer Matty Labatique and ILM, Favreau described the ideal scenario in which he and Downey Jr.--who had to test and fight for the role of Tony Stark that made him a star--were creatively free, flying by the seat of their pants, dreaming things up, yet still working within the constraints of the Marvel universe. The minute Downey came on board everything changed, said Favreau, his whole personality informed Stark, and Paltrow and Bridges wanted to play opposite him. On the first film, said Downey, "when you have nothing to lose you sometimes take risks. You might as well really make it trippy."