By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 4, 2009 at 9:18AM
What a difference a year makes. With Iron Man and an Oscar nom for Tropic Thunder behind him, A-list movie star Robert Downey, Jr. had a good Comic-Con. Backstage after Iron Man 2, he suggested that he's uncomfortable marketing movies, although he knows he has to do it, and that he hated the whole Hall H thing. If that's true, it doesn't show. He works the crowd better than anyone. He was hawking not only Iron Man 2, which had a stellar reaction--probably the best of the annual comics confab--but he genuinely adored playing the character Sherlock Holmes.
Downey and director Jon Favreau performed a con for the Iron Man 2 presentation. Downey broke onto the stage protesting the cheesy Marvel promo (which Favreau cooked up for the occasion). He allied the audience with him via his "authentic outrage" at the "fake promo," insisting that Favreau show the "real stuff." These guys know what they're doing.
Iron Man 2 starts out six months after the first one, as Tony Stark deals with issues surrounding his copping to being Iron Man. Now everyone knows he has the power to save the world--if he can keep his sanity, that is. Assistant/love interest Pepper (Gwenyth Paltrow) is on hand to help him to fly straight, shooting him stern glances as he baits a nasty Senator (Gary Shandling) out to steal his invention. Vicious Russian prison vet Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) is his nemesis, along with super-fit fatale Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and snarky rival arms dealer Sam Rockwell. And old chum Colonel Rhodes (now played by Don Cheadle) is not necessarily on his side.
Downey, Favreau, Marvel exec Kevin Feige and writer Justin Theroux collaborated for months hashing out the story, and continued improvising and changing on set until the last minute. Iron Man 2 won't be out until May 2010.
Coming up sooner, on Christmas day, is Guy Ritchie's lavish period adventure Sherlock Holmes, starring Downey as the kinky doper private detective and Jude Law as the relatively stolid Dr. Watson. Downey wanted a big 70s mustache, but Holmes was clean-shaven, so Law got to wear one. "That guy knows how to rock a 'stache," Downey said. Rachel McAdams plays Holmes' spicily competitive red-headed foil Irene Adler, lifted from the first-ever published Holmes story, "A Scandal in Bohemia." "It's really embarrassing to have your ass kicked by a girl," Downey said.
Warners producer Lionel Wigram (Harry Potter) brought the project to the studio, which added Downey's wife Susan and Joel Silver as producers. They returned to the original four Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels and 56 short stories rather than old movies for inspiration. Over the years, film and TV versions were constrained by the times, said Downey, who was shocked that nobody had done a modernization of the intellectual Holmes. "He was very liberal and trippy. 122 years ago, he was the first super-hero," he says. "He was the first western martial artist. He's one of the most recognizable images--an icon--on earth. A lot of people thought Sherlock Holmes was a real guy."
Downey insisted on doing the project in period, in authentic Brit dialect. "It reminded me of doing Chaplin," he said. And he also pushed a graphic novel of Sherlock Holmes, which had not been done so far. My guess: while the movie looks a tad glossy-Brit-studio to me, if Downey brings his customary edge and humor to this character, it'll play. And we'll see plenty more of them.
Here's the trailer: