'Iron Man 3'
'Iron Man 3'

But Stark still requires a more bad-ass suit, so in "Iron Man 3" he's advanced his way to the Mark 42, which, allows him to assemble all of the various pieces by remote control (courtesy of some marvelous animation by Trixter). But that's not enough, so he builds an army of tin men for different attack-mode situations. In terms of VFX firepower, this time the Iron Man suits stemmed from Digital Domain, which did all of the foundation development before turning over assets to Weta, Trixter, Method, and others for customizing and finishing in their sequences. This cooperative handling of suits, which required a more rigorous examination of the animation process, and even a "guide rig" system at Weta, resulted in the best kind of global collaboration.

However, Black insisted that "Iron Man" still retain the franchise's vaunted humor, despite the darkness and Dickensian orphan riffing when dredging up daddy issues with a little boy sidekick (Ty Simpkins) that bonds with Stark."Even Chris Nolan knows that you can't go so mythic and dark that you can't occasionally lighten it up, so along the way we take the piss out of it."

In "Looney Tunes"/"Lethal Weapon" fashion, of course. But with such a complete character arc for Stark, will Downey be back other than the obligatory "Avengers" appearances?

"We've already got plans," insists Black.

"The game-change at the end will certainly be explored in the next 'Avengers' film," adds Feige.

In the meantime, we've got the next wave of Phase 2 existentialism coming with "Thor: The Dark World" (November 8) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (April 4, 2014).