Much like The Avengers last summer, Iron Man 3 was the undisputed box office champion of the season in 2013. Building off the good buzz from The Avengers and the events in the end of that movie, Iron Man 3 offered the new director of the series Shane Black a chance to take Tony Stark to new places. Namely, he got him out of the Iron Man suit and toyed with the notion that Tony Stark was the real hero, even without all the technology.
Following up two massive movies before it, and one of the biggest box office successes in history as an ensemble piece, Iron Man 3 was still a bit of a gamble. It paid off for all the parties involved. However, when Black and his co-writer Drew Pearce recorded their commentary to the film, the film had not yet proved itself completely. They had only been open for a week overseas, with the American opening on the horizon. Sure, it was a huge success at that point outside of the U.S., but so was Battleship.
Still, Black and Pearce move through the commentary with confidence that it’s a hit, and that gives them the stones to explain why they chose to change some character elements from the original source material and why there were about as many revisions to the scripts as revisions to the Iron Man suit in Tony’s basement.
Iron Man 3 comes out on DVD and Blu-ray next week, so take a few moments to learn a bit about the production from the guys who made it.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Commentators: Shane Black (director and co-writer) and Drew Pearce (co-writer)
1. Like many modern tent pole releases, there were multiple openings to the film planned and shot. Alternate openings included a scene of Tony Stark as a child trying to cheer up his mother after she got in a fight with his father; one that featured him from the middle of the movie crash-landing in Tennessee (as an homage to the first film which opened after the Afghanistan attack); a 10-minute action scene in Afghanistan; and a scene of Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) cleaning up land mines with the Stark logo on them as an allusion to the many explosive elements from his past waiting to detonate.
2. The dunce cap on DUM-E was Robert Downey Jr.’s idea. Also, it was his idea for a fichus plant in the opening scene as a nod to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
3. Drew Pearce had two quotes from famous people that kept him focused on the story at the beginning. One was from John Burroughs: “Man is, and always has been, a creator of gods. It has been the most serious and significant occupation of his sojourn on this world.” The other was from Laozi: “He who controls other may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.”
4. Originally, Pepper Potts’ (Gwyneth Paltrow) introduction in the film had more backstory to it, which Black and Pearce say played “liked a trailer for the Pepper Potts movie.”
5. The EXTREMIS characters were meant to have odd quirks and features, but many of these things were taken out of the film. Some of the ones that made the cut included Savin (James Badge Dale) always seen eating, the characters often not wearing shoes because they would get uncomfortably warm, and their hair and fingernails would grow faster (which is seen when Savin is outside Pepper’s office, sporting longer-than-normal fingernails).
6. The production had to add some CGI work to the paws of the giant stuffed rabbit that Tony gives to Pepper to make them look definitively like paws. People in early test screenings thought they looked like boobs.
7. In an early draft, Maya Hanson (Rebecca Hall) was the mastermind behind the terrorist events.
8. One of the helicopters that attacks Tony’s house has a news station call letters on its side. This was meant to show how the attack helicopters posed as news vehicles to get close enough to the house and avoid security.
9. When Black imagines and plans action sequences in his head, he pictures people as dogs so there’s more empathy for them.
10. The original rough cut of the movie was three hours and fifteen minutes without credits. It was eventually cut down to just under two hours without credits for the final release.
11. Black is friends with William Sadler, whom he cast in the movie as the President of the United States. Black’s favorite Sadler performance is as Death in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
12. Black and Pearce had a big debate on whether Ellis (Guy Pearce) should be able to breathe fire, even though there was a precedence for it in the comic books. Black worried it would lose credibility with the audience, even if it was well received in the moment. He compares this to how Renny Harlin originally had a shot of Sylvester Stallone jumping from mountain-to-mountain in the Cliffhanger trailer. That scene played well in test audiences but resulted in lower scores. When the shot was removed from Cliffhanger (even though it can be seen in some trailers), the scores for the film went up.
13. The blonde highlights in Killian’s hair was a nod to Richard Branson, who was a partial inspiration for the character.
14. In the final battle, Tony can be seen wearing an AIM shirt. Black said the plan was to digitally remove that logo, but they forgot to do it.
15. Black and Pearce came up with names for all 42 of the suits in the end. Some of the more unusual ones were Doozer, Pavarotti, The Godfather, Fatty, Munchkin (a two-foot-tall radio-controlled suit that made coffee), The Suit with No Name (which Pearce describes as “an intriguing, mean-looking suit whose purpose Tony refuses to divulge”), Mary Kate and Ashley (which would crush people between them), and Bastard (which had massive razors for hands).
16. The suit that cuts off Killian’s hand was originally named Ginsu, which is revealed as a joke before Tony says to Killian, “You take a moment.” However, the powers that be didn’t think many people would get the reference and made them cut the joke.
17. Black and Pearce insist that it was Gwyneth Paltrow’s idea to wear a sports bra and yoga pants in the final battle, not theirs, even though they appreciated it.
18. Originally, it was Brandt (Stephanie Szostak) instead of Killian who comes back at the very end to be killed by Pepper, making it more like a Bond movie with a henchman showdown. However, Black and Pearce decided it should be Killian, which gives him a chance to say he was the real Mandarin.
19. Black and Pearce wrote that Happy (Jon Favreau) was watching UFC when he wakes up from his coma, but it was Favreau’s idea to have him watching Downton Abbey instead.
20. The final shot of the Dora the Explorer watch at the end was not initially filmed. The production added it digitally as a pay-off for Harley (Ty Simpkins), the child that Tony befriends.
Best in Commentary
- Black: “In a sense, aside from the notion I like of the think tank terrorist, we have the Mandarin in the movie. He’s this guy who’s physically perfected himself using EXTREMIS, but he writes lines and projects them onto this other proxy that he’s got. This guy who embodies all the horrible things about him, and he lets that outside person represent all the evil inside him, and at the end, he finally rips off his shirt, unveils a huge dragon and says, ‘It was me all along. I am the Mandarin.’ So I think we do give people the Mandarin. It’s Guy Pearce.”
- Pearce: “I like to think I’m your Jarvis.”
- Black: “And that’s my darling friend Yvonne Zima who played the 7-year-old daughter of Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight, and she’s not seven any more.” Pearce: “You said that in the creepiest way.”
I liked Iron Man 3 a lot when I saw it this summer, and it holds up for me, at least to my naive tastes having not read the source material. While Black and Pearce do fall a bit into friendly conversation rather than informative commentary, they do offer a look behind the process, in particular, explaining why they chose to change the character of the Mandarin so much.
I’m sure die-hard fans of the comics will be irritated at Black’s attitude throughout the commentary, where he brushes off mythos changes and incorrectly referring to Iron Man as a robot multiple times. However, this won’t be the first time that Black’s cavalier attitude pissed some people off.
As far as commentaries go, this one is somewhere in the middle, giving some cool insights but faltering with too much conversation banter between its hosts. Still, bringing Drew Pearce along for the ride was not a bad thing. His wit and general demeanor makes the commentary more fun, balancing Shane Black’s less than warm and fuzzy delivery.
Check out more commentary commentary in the Commentary Commentary archives
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