By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times staff On the last day of postproduction on " Iron Man 2,” director Jon Favreau looked like a broken man. “You don’t want to shake hands, I’m sick,” said the filmmaker whose superhero blockbuster just might be the movie that finishes as the highest-grossing release of 2010. But that possibility was far from Favreau’s mind. “I feel like I’m finishing this one the way El Cid finished the war, strapped onto his horse by his men and sent into battle dead.” One reason the battleground was so rough on Favreau is the secret weapon that made the first “Iron Man” such a nimble and memorable movie -- namely Robert Downey Jr. as the titular hero and Favreau’s intense commitment to capture his singular spark on the screen. Like the first film, “Iron Man 2" was essentially rewritten over the entire filming process. The large set pieces, which required months of visual-effects work, were locked in and became the solid brick scenes of the film, but every bit of mortar between them was available for improvisation. Downey would try a dozen approaches and follow the one that worked. That meant a relentless need to patch, rework and rewire entire chunks of the film.
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The characters of ‘Iron Man 2'

By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times staff

On the last day of postproduction on " Iron Man 2,” director Jon Favreau looked like a broken man. “You don’t want to shake hands, I’m sick,” said the filmmaker whose superhero blockbuster just might be the movie that finishes as the highest-grossing release of 2010. But that possibility was far from Favreau’s mind.

“I feel like I’m finishing this one the way El Cid finished the war, strapped onto his horse by his men and sent into battle dead.”

One reason the battleground was so rough on Favreau is the secret weapon that made the first “Iron Man” such a nimble and memorable movie -- namely Robert Downey Jr. as the titular hero and Favreau’s intense commitment to capture his singular spark on the screen. Like the first film, “Iron Man 2" was essentially rewritten over the entire filming process. The large set pieces, which required months of visual-effects work, were locked in and became the solid brick scenes of the film, but every bit of mortar between them was available for improvisation. Downey would try a dozen approaches and follow the one that worked. That meant a relentless need to patch, rework and rewire entire chunks of the film. (Merrick Morton / Marvel Entertainment)
Actor-screenwriter Justin Theroux was brought in to follow behind every day’s new direction and put it on paper in a way that served logic and drama. He ended up nearly bedridden from back pain associated with the stress of the job.

Jeff Bridges, who was in the first film, said that style of filmmaking was maddening for him. Then he had an ephipany: “I started thinking of it as a student film. We’re just making a very expensive student film.’ And then I was fine.”

New cast member Don Cheadle didn’t get that memo: “I was losing my mind on this movie.” The only person that seemed to keep up with all the madness?

That would be Downey. “Isn’t this fun?” he said last year during a late-night shoot. “I love this game.”

To help keep up with the ever-changing “Iron Man 2,” here’s a look at some of the new faces this time around. (Francois Duhamel / Marvel Entertainment)
Scarlett Johansson has the role of the dangerous (and dangerously curvy) mystery woman who shows up in the life of Tony Stark with less-than-clear intentions. Director Jon Favreau has made it clear that her presence in the film is to add dramatic strain to the relationship between playboy-turned-hero Stark ( Robert Downey Jr.) and his brainy factotum, Pepper Potts ( Gwyneth Paltrow).

“She is not what she presents herself as, but I don’t want to say more,” says Favreau, who is well aware of the Marvel Comics heritage of the character but is also quite comfortable with keeping what he likes and jettisoning what doesn’t serve his story arc. “It’s fun,” he says, “to keep people guessing. Part of the comics is the mystery surrounding character and then the sexual dynamic but also the cold-blooded efficiency like the spider.” (Francois Duhamel / Marvel Entertainment)
War Machine is the code name for the gun-metal suit that was made by Tony Stark but then hijacked by the U.S. government and outfitted with extra firepower by Stark’s conniving rival, military contractor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

There’s a scene in which Hammer lays out more than half a dozen weapons of different sizes and asks Rhodey — played by Don Cheadle, who replaced his friend and “Crash” co-star Terrence Howard in the role — which one he wants to append to the purloined Stark armor. “I’ll take it ... all of them,” Rhodey says. That full-arsenal approach makes Favreau chuckle when he recounts the scene.

“The fun part is the ridiculousness of it — just how many guns can you put on this thing? With the movie, we make this effort to make everything emotionally correct, but you also really want to cut loose and have fun in the places where it seems consistent to the story we’re telling. And with the design and fighting style of War Machine, we really went to town. He’s packed with firepower and we let the [effects team] at ILM off the leash with the intensity of the destruction. The result is ... high caliber.” (Industrial Light & Magic / Marvel Entertainment)
Sam Rockwell portrays Hammer, an envious Stark rival who is frustrated in his attempts to match the more celebrated industrialist’s fame and power. Hammer sees a chance to bring Stark down by helping a mystery man with a vendetta, Ivan Vanko, portrayed by Mickey Rourke.

For Favreau, the always nimble Rockwell, who was at one point on the shortlist for the Tony Stark role, was the perfect match on the set for Rourke, the only Method actor in the cast and a colorful Hollywood veteran who might overwhelm or puzzle lesser actors.

“I went out and purposely hired Sam Rockwell, who is a bit of an unflappable actor too,” Favreau said. “He’s very poised, and he also puts in a good performance no matter what’s going on around him. I had worked with him before, and I know that he could hold his own and let Mickey be a strong brooding type who spoke mostly Russian. I knew Sam could handle the exposition we needed, and that’s why we added the character of Hammer, who is quite different here than he is in the comics.” (Francois Duhamel / Marvel Entertainment)
“It’s revealed to Tony that the underlying technology that the Iron Man suit used, the arc reactor, was not just invented by his father, as he had thought, but something his father collaborated on with a Soviet scientist named Anton Vanko,” says Favreau. “Anton Vanko defected but then was sent back and lived in squalor and disgrace. So Ivan [played by Mickey Rourke] has grown up the son of this pariah who’s dying penniless while the Starks have immense wealth. It’s a story about legacy and, in both cases, the sins of the father.”

The younger Vanko uses his father’s work to create a wearable weapon that is far different than Stark’s sleek armor — it’s an exoskeleton with two sizzling whips that can slice through walls and cars.

Rourke flew on his own to Moscow to research his role by spending time with prison guards and longtime prisoners and immersing himself in the dark culture of the gulag. He came back with requests that his character speak mostly Russian, have a pet bird and flash a lot of Eastern Province body ink.

“His character has lived a long tough life and been scarred, and Rourke really found ways to tap into that,” Favreau said. (Francois Duhamel / Marvel Entertainment)
During the making of the first “Iron Man,” Samuel L. Jackson was invited to film a quick scene to roll after the credits — an especially fun moment because in Marvel Comics, the modern incarnation of spy-chief Fury was in fact modeled after Jackson.

“Now, it’s become much more than that,” Favreau said. “He has a significant role and becomes the entry point to connect Tony Stark to the agency called S.H.I.E.L.D. and, thereby, the rest of the Marvel Universe, with Captain America, Thor, the Avengers.”

Fury is a bit slippery in the movie. He shows flashes of candor and empathy in dealings with Stark, but then also makes some Machiavellian moves that make it clear his pragmatism is greater than his patience when it comes to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secret agenda.

In Jackson, Favreau says, Marvel has a charismatic player. “He has tremendous presence,” Favreau said. “We have a scene in the film at Randy’s Donuts where Tony, after a rough night, needs a talking-to. And as Fury, Sam is a combination of sponsor and mentor and also this mysterious guy who is indoctrinating him into this order of superheroes.” (Francois Duhamel / Marvel Entertainment)
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