May 3, 2013

The Iron Men of Marvel

President of Marvel Studios and Writer/Director of Iron Man 3 Visit SCA

By Valerie Turpin

Last night, students of Leonard Maltin’s Theatrical Film Symposium (CTCS 466) had a special treat for their last class of the semester with an advanced 3D screening of Iron Man 3. Following the film, Writer/Director Shane Black and Producer/President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige visited the School of Cinematic Arts to discuss why “geek is good” and how superhero films are making huge strides today. Filling in for Maltin, Writing Professor Howard Rodman moderated the Q&A.

The superhero genre has had a strong following within comic books for decades, and Feige believes it’s important for the movies to do the fans justice. “There were people who are no longer involved on any of the movies who used to say things like, ‘The fans are coming anyway, you got their money anyways, don’t worry about the fans,’” said Feige. “And I really always believed that you should worry about the fans, and that, if you make a movie that they would respond to, a broader audience would respond as well. I believe comic book fans do not devote their passions lightly. They will only devote their passion to something they believe in, to something that is worthy of that kind of devotion and that kind of passion in comic book form… I thought, if we could just distill what that passion is and what inspires that devotion and put it on the big screen, we’ll have even more fans.”

From left: Kevin Feige, Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, Shane Black and Professor
Howard Rodman

Feige, a Production Alum ’95, has been involved with more films involving superheroes in lead roles than any other producer in history, including the X-Men films, the Spider-Man films and The Avengers. Feige has also visited SCA twice in recent months to discuss The Avengers. When Rodman quoted Avengers writer Joss Whedon as saying: “Kevin is just a huge nerd. Possibly more than I am,” Feige responded with a laugh. “That’s high praise coming from Joss Whedon,” he said.

While penning the film, Black was conscious of keeping the childlike wonder alive with a mature spin. “There’s an obligation to the childlike sense of wonder and the mythology which children accept so willingly,” said Black. “The heroic myth, even the belief in country and honor and things like that. But then, you’re adults now, so there is the element of geeks plus adults equals some kind of alchemaic formula, which doesn’t translate to just appealing to kids or selling toys. It’s more about the mature take on it.”

Black has written such films as the Lethal Weapon series and wrote/directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Regarding navigating the Marvel universe, while staying creative to his vision, Black explained, “It’s monkey bars, basically. You’ll find it looks very firm and very strict. You hit them and they don’t budge. But if you climb inside them and you’re in there, it’s not a cage. You find out there’s quite a great deal of room to play. You can actually take your friends and play inside the monkey bars, but they’re still rigid. So there’s gonna be that structure, there’s going to be those sorts of walls you’ll bump from time to time. Doesn’t mean you can’t be all over the place and having a ball inside there.

Iron Man 3 reprises the roles of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Gwenyth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. As a new threat called the Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, terrorizes America, the mysterious scientific experiment Extremis is also making dangerous headway. When Stark seeks vengeance as the attacks grow worse, he suffers extreme anxiety following the events within The Avengers film. The film also stars Jon Favreau, Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce.

Part of making Iron Man a standout film meant taking big risks, said Feige. “I always believed that the biggest risk was to not take a risk,” said Feige. The biggest risk was making a cookie cutter version of Iron Man that fit into the template of other superhero movies, because that’s not what Stan Lee did back in the day. Tony Stark was not a cookie cutter superhero.”

“You just have to make sure it’s heartfelt,” added Black. “Clever is great… but it’s just not enough to just constantly reverse things. You have to have a genuinely heartfelt desire to tell a type of story that you attach to, that you feel has a resonance, that if you scratch the surface there’s actually stuff there.”

Iron Man 3 opens nationwide today. For more information, please visit