SDCC: Jon Favreau on building a better Iron Man 2

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Two years ago, Iron Man footage killed at San Diego Comic-Con. On Saturday, Iron Man 2 footage killed again. With hard evidence that the sequel would indeed live up to the hype, director Jon Favreau explained what he learned from the good and bad sequels of other franchises. He held up Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn and The Empire Strikes Back as high watermarks for their approach to continuing stories.

"There were so many others that didn't feel as good as the first, but for those two, what we found was that it really gave room to explore the characters," Favreau said in a group interview. "The villain plotlines were very simple, but the stakes were very high. The less you get bogged down in complexity, the more you could really let the audience enjoy what they really like, which are the relationships. You go from Alien to Aliens, and then you want to show them the characters that they've invested in and how they've changed and change those dynamics by introducing new characters. Don't just add to the action but throw the relationship into a little bit of a curveball."

Iron Man 2 has Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) facing hearings about his proprietary weaponry, new superheroine Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) complicating his commitment to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a new techno-nemesis, Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), using similar powers for evil. "We wanted to make a charming film that didn't lose track of what we did the first time around, and that's my job," Favreau added.

The issues of the government wanting access to Stark's technology, and what Rourke's Ivan Vanko does with comparable equipment, are at the forefront of the story. The awesome fight and flight scenes come second.

"We're dealing with an arms race," Favreau continued. "That's what Iron Man has always been. The thing about an arms race is, when you stop, the world doesn't. You have windows of opportunity to change the world in good ways while all the bad forces are paralyzed. What happens when those other superpowers emerge? It changes your tactics. Iron Man is dealing with as much as he can based on saying, 'I am Iron Man.' And what that has meant is to keep the world at bay with that new technology and who he was and how that changes now with the emergence of Mickey."

They also had to shake up the romantic subplot. Who wants to see Tony and Pepper make goo-goo eyes in between every explosion? "One of the other traps you don't want to fall into is just repeating the same dynamics and turn it into Hart to Hart," Favreau said. "You don't want it to be Moonlighting. You don't want to have the same thing over and over again. It's not a television series. I don't know that you would like it for these guys. It's a movie, so you have to change things, and you have to create a beginning, middle and an end so that it doesn't just feel like an episode in a series of films. So by introducing [Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff], that changes their dynamic. Scarlett appears in their life and has, as you can see, just a tremendous presence."

Downey's improvisational style highlighted the first Iron Man, making expository scenes feel realistic and energetic. Iron Man 2 demanded even more from its various personnel.

"[Screenwriter] Justin Theroux shot some footage for me," Favreau said. "Robert wrote a lot of his own stuff and was involved with the story process from the beginning. Gwyneth comes in, everybody improvises."

On Marvel's schedule, Iron Man 2, as well as the upcoming Thor and Captain America movies, set up the team-up film The Avengers. Favreau is excited about seeing his Iron Man join a team of Marvel heroes, but he is also confident there will be a standalone Iron Man 3.

"There's an Iron Man 3," Favreau said. "Here's how I know. When they make the option deals, they include Iron Man 3. So I know they're planning on 3. Whether that would be before or after Avengers, they've announced that Avengers is next, but they pushed back The Avengers once, which I thought was encouraging [for Iron Man 3]. I feel like I'm chopping my way through the jungle, and Avengers will eventually be an oasis somewhere down the line."

Iron Man 2 opens May 7, 2010.