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Kevin Feige: On Iron Man 3, Pepper Potts, and Marvel's Family Appeal

Interview with the President of Marvel Studios

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Iron Man 3
Photo © Disney/Marvel Studios
In this day and age, what says "cool" better than "genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist"? Superhero movies have become guaranteed box office smashes, popular with moviegoers of all ages, and there's not a hero more at the top of his game than Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. After the 2012 summer success of the Avengers, fans are wanting more, and Disney and Marvel are prepared to give it to them.

In anticipation of the upcoming movie Iron Man 3, we had the chance to talk with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, and he gave us the inside scoop on the Iron Man franchise as well as his opinion on Marvel's family appeal.

First, if you're unfamiliar with the movies, you might wonder how a superhero franchise has the momentum to go for a third film (fourth if you count Avengers). Tony Stark isn't even a full-fledged superhero, right? His powers all come from his suit. It's that genius part, though, along with his money and unmatched wit, that make him larger than life. Tony's intellect is the key to his super powers and the foundation of the third movie. Kevin described:

In coming off the heels of Avengers, we wanted to focus on Tony. Seeing him with the Hulk and Thor, obviously was awesome and was our big event last Summer. This time, we wanted to return to Tony’s world--his place in Malibu, which is why you see him with Pepper. And we wanted to remind the audience, yes the suits are cool, but it’s his intellect that is really his super power.
And if you’ll remember the beginning of Iron Man 1, he’s in a cave. He doesn’t have access to anything, and he ends up building his first Iron Man suit. So, what we wanted to do in this movie was put him in a similar position. Take away everything from Tony and see how he can fight the villain back.

Remember how much we all loved MacGyver back in the day? Tony is awesome in our eyes for the same reason. He's the 21st century MacGyver with an unfathomable understanding of technology which is only surpassed by his command of sarcasm. He's got it all. But there's something, or rather someone, else who really brings out Tony's charm and gives the hero's story that extra interest: Pepper Potts. Their relationship has grown throughout three movies now, and in Iron Man 3, Pepper becomes even more important. Kevin said:

The love triangle in this movie is really between Tony, Pepper and the suits. Tony, Pepper and his obsession with those suits, and the obsession with technology. And, it’s sort of unique for a big superhero summer blockbuster franchise to have that kind of layers.
Yes, there’s a bad guy. Yes, the stakes are very, very high--the President of the United States is in danger. Air Force One is attacked. There are big stakes to this movie. But the real stakes are, is Tony going to be able to set aside the obsession to spend all day, every day in that workshop, tinkering with the suits in order to focus on, as he says in the trailer, the one thing that matters most - Pepper. And that actually is what the entire movie’s about.

And, speaking of the suit, Pepper gets to wear it. That's right. A girl in an Iron Man suite kicking butt. Now that certainly adds another layer to the story and boosts the cool factor into the stratosphere. And here's what Kevin told us about the future of Pepper Potts:

I will tell you this. In this movie [Iron Man 3] we play with the convention of the damsel in distress. We are bored by the damsel in distress. But, sometimes we need our hero to be desperate enough in fighting for something other than just his own life. So, there is fun to be had with "Is Pepper in danger or is Pepper the savior?" over the course of this movie.
In terms of where we go with future movies, we’ll see. In the comic books she does get a taste for the suit and becomes her own hero named Rescue, who doesn’t necessarily battle other people, but is on missions to help people and to save people. Will we do that down the line with Gwyneth Paltrow? Who knows. But her being in the suit is something we have been playing with since Iron Man 2, where we did some designs and it didn’t end up fitting in that movie. But the little taste you saw here [in an Iron Man 3 clip] is something that we’re certainly interested in.

Sweet. And, there's more. Iron Man 3 also introduces a new character who is going to make Tony Stark an even more interesting and endearing icon: a ten year-old kid named Harley (Ty Simpkins). Tony is out of his element in Iron Man 3. "He’s comfortable in the Penthouses of Manhattan, in mansions in Malibu," describes Kevin. But in Iron Man 3, "Here he is in the middle of Tennessee with his hat pulled low, and he’s trying to do this investigation. And there's this very sweet and funny relationship that he begins with this little boy."

Will Tony Stark reign in his sarcasm or expectations for a kid? Um, no. "He is quite the smart-aleck with the little boy, oh yes," says Feige. "The boy is shocked at first, and then slowly begins to sort of give as good as he gets from Tony."

Of course the kid in the movie is an Iron Man fan, as is Ty Simpkins in real life. Here's what Kevin told us about how Ty's relationship with Robert, and Harley's relationship with Tony, developed:

We auditioned lots and lots of kids, and Tyson came in and was just a real kid. He could barely keep a straight face looking at Robert. He bonded with Robert completely, and we decided, you know what, this is the kid to cast.
I called Robert. I said, "I think he’s the best kid. I’m going to cast him." He said, "Let me call him"...And when he came out of school, his cell phone rang and it was Robert Downey, Jr. calling saying, you’re going to be in Iron Man 3. And so it continued like that for the rest of the production. It was really great and they formed a nice bond.
And it is a fun bond. Tony does not treat him like a kid...he doesn’t, you know, pat him on the head and treat him like a little boy necessarily. Which, I think little boys like when adults don’t treat them like that. So, we’ve screened it for a few audiences just in a normal test screening, and this relationship is ranked as one of the most surprising, and unique, and new things about the movie.
Of course, having a kid in the movie is going to heighten the film's appeal to kids even more. Superhero films are an interesting genre where kids are concerned. Most are rated PG-13, but the toys, books and other merchandise are marketed to kids as young as four years old, many of whom will see the movies. Here is what Kevin said about Marvel films, and Iron Man 3 in particular, and their family appeal:

All of our movies are PG-13. I know parents who take their four-year-olds, and I know parents who won’t let their kids see them until they’re thirteen. So, that really depends on that. For us, there are things you can do if you are going by the letter of the law in a PG-13 movie...there’s a level of violence you can add, there’s a level of sexuality you can have, there’s a level of language you can have. We never go anywhere near the top of that. Because we don’t want to. Because that’s not what our characters are about.
When you have the amount of fighting and explosions, and some blood on his nose when he puts the suit on, we do want that. We want it to be real. Otherwise, it’s just a CG thing hitting a CG person. So that’s why we’re always in that PG-13 range. But, Jon Favreau on the first two movies, Joss Whedon on the Avengers, myself--we have kids. We want to be able to take our kids to these movies and to enjoy them. It’s really the level of intensity that determines whether parents are comfortable taking their kids to it as opposed to content, necessarily.
From the trailers, Iron man 3 appears like it could be more intense than the previous movies. But that may not be the case. Kevin compared the marketing of Iron Man 3 to that of Avengers:
In terms of the marketing of this movie, if you go back and look at the marketing of Avengers, it promises a much darker movie than the movie actually is. The movie is much more fun than the trailer would show. Same thing with this. This trailer is--he’s being blown apart, his life is at stake, how will he get out of it? The movie is much, much more fun than that, but that’s what gets people into the audience.

So parents who were comfortable with their kids seeing the previous two Iron Man movies and Avengers will likely find more of the same level of content in Iron Man 3, along with an incredible new character and a focus on the coolness of being intelligent and the importance of protecting the most important relationships in your life. Certainly the film's many layers will create an exciting movie experience, and for those who choose to take the kids, the movie will also provide plenty of content for great family discussions.

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