By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 27, 2009 at 5:28AM
The audience in Hall H was ramped up for Iron Man 2. They booed moderator Scott Mantz of Access Hollywood, who plowed on. (I had read some Tweets complaining about him earlier today.) Sure enough, he was flustered and not in tune with the Hall H crowd, which is fairly sophisticated.
Jon Favreau knows how to play to the room. So does Robert Downey, Jr., who broke onto the panel in supposed protest of the cheesy Marvel promo piece (conceived by Favreau as just that). Downey got some 6500 people to sing Happy Birthday to Favreau's son Max. "No one cared before you guys," Favreau told the hall. "Roll the other footage. Let's go."
The clip starts with Iron Man, helmet off, lounging inside the Randy's Donut sign. He confesses to not being in touch with reality during a diner scene with a threatening Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. At a Senate hearing, Tony Stark takes on a nasty Senator (Gary Shandling) who wants to confiscate the Iron Man weapon. It's great fun watching them go after each other as Pepper (Gwenyth Paltrow) tut tuts behind Stark.
Mickey Rourke as Ivan Venko aka Whiplash (two characters from the comics combined) threatens Downey at a race track, whirling his nasty fired up lariat. When Rourke heard that his character was a refugee from a Russian prison, he checked out a Russian prison, Favreau learned from TMZ.
At the panel, Sam Rockwell (who plays arms monger and Tony Stark wannabe Justin Hammer) had no clue how to charm the crowd. (That's one reason he's a great actor and not a movie star.) The crowd roared for Scarlett Johannson as Natasha Romonov, or Black Widow. She dyed her hair red before she took the role, took her training seriously, ate egg white omelettes and insisted on doing her own stunts so that her action scenes would look authentic. For his part, Cheadle had never worked on a movie with this level of scope and effects, he said. The War Machine costume was "heavy." When Rhodes makes his first appearance in the Senate scene, the movie deals with Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard by having him say, "I'm here, deal with it, let's move on." Cheadle asked Favreau to screen the footage again because he had missed it.
The movie wrapped last week, as those following Favreau on Twitter are well aware. He was tweeting and shooting photos from his iPhone from the Hall H stage too. With the sequel, "we wanted to add characters but not too many," said Favreau, "to maintain the same tone and dynamic, adding people to further move us toward the eventual Avengers film still coming."
The story was assembled through an elaborate collaborative process among Favreau, Downey, Marvel's Kevin Feige and writer Justin Theroux (who worked with Downey on Tropic Thunder), with much further improvisation on set. Set six months after the first film, Tony Stark is dealing with the pressures of having declared himself as Iron Man. He's a wealthy industrialist playboy operating on the world stage, but there's more to deal with--like his relationship with assistant Pepper and his old military pal Rhodes. He meets Natasha at his bacchanalia of a birthday party. "I wanted to deal with how he struggles with his own id in the face of being a larger than life character who is in fact saving the world," said Favreau.
The director has another year to go; he hopes to be involved in Marvel's upcoming The Avengers in some way, but that will depend on timing. Zak Penn is outlining the film now. After the panel, Marvel production chief Feige said that Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Nick Fury, Black Widow and the Shields Organization will all be in The Avengers--the characters interacting with each other is key. But they're taking it slow to make it right.
We'll see the final product May 7, 2010. Paramount and Marvel have nothing to worry about.