Actor turned screenwriter Justin Theroux says Iron Man 2 isn't your average superhero sequel. And he has Tony Stark's final words from the first movie - "I am Iron Man" - to thank.
"It's a unique opportunity, the hero who says who they are," says Theroux, who wrote the sequel to the wildly popular 2008 film. "Now, we have a context we haven't seen before. He's out of the phone booth, so to speak. What are the real world ramifications of that?"
Iron Man 2, opening this Friday, finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) staring down a host of new problems. His metal-plated alter ego must defeat a new villain (Mickey Rourke's Whiplash), tame a new rival (Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer) and flirt with a new femme fatale (Scarlett Johansson).
Iron Man 2 may be the most hotly anticipated film of the summer movie season, which made a solid character actor like Theroux an unlikely choice to pen such a film.
That was before Theroux's screenwriting debut, Tropic Thunder, scored big with both audiences and critics alike.
Theroux says he was a temperamental comic book fan as a youth, flitting from comic to comic based mostly on his reaction to the cover art. That sense of spontaneity meshed with Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau, who once again embraced on-set improv to help forge the dialogue.
It‘s where Theroux's extensive experience in front of the camera came in handy.
"I know the best thing is what the actor can sell the best," says Theroux, known for roles in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Six Feet Under. "If [Downey, Jr.] wants to ad lib, as long as the spirit of the film and plot stay in intact, I don't mind at all."
Especially with an actor of Downey, Jr.'s caliber doing the riffing.
"He brings such a bizarre color to the screen sometimes. It's something you want to take advantage of," he says. "He spits out [dialogue] like buckshot."
Some fan boys recoiled when they heard the Iron sequel would include more than one pure villain in the story. Theroux defends the addition of new characters, explaining Rourke's Whiplash is the character with the biggest beef with Tony Stark.
"The shades of the villains are different. They all bring a different argument and dilemma to the table," he explains, adding the addition of Johansson's character helps build a bridge to S.H.I.E.L.D. - and to the planned Avengers spin-off.
Theroux says the Iron Man camp toyed with bringing one of the original comic's biggest storylines, Demon in a Bottle, to the big screen.
Stark's alcoholism consumes him in the famed story arc, something that might have seemed workable given the darkness which consumes modern superhero films like the Batman series.
The concept appealed to Theroux, but he ultimately concluded it was better served in the comic book format. The more the creative team behind the sequel considered it, the more it felt like Iron Man is Leaving Las Vegas, Theroux says.
"No one wants to see that movie," he quips.