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Even if you haven't yet seen The Avengers-- and if not, get out there, everyone's doing it-- you can probably guess that the movie sets the stage for Iron Man 3. That film, scheduled for May 3 next year and going into production now, will be the first Marvel movie to attempt to follow up on the enormous success of The Avengers, and to test whether it's possible to tell the story of one superhero, by himself, after we've seen him team up with all of his super friends.

It's a huge challenge, but Tony Stark-- with two hit movies already behind him-- is probably the man to do it. And while The Avengers doesn't contain any explicit hints to the plot of Iron Man 3-- at least, not from what we could tell-- it leaves the character in a very specific position that we think points to what might be next. Katey and Kristy got together to hash out some of these hints, and also figure out how the sarcastic, brash Tony Stark might lead his own movie after The Avengers proved that energetic earnestness is a tone that sells a lot of tickets. Check out our speculation below, and let us know in the comments what you're expecting yourself.

WARNING: We talk about the end of The Avengers in this piece. You probably don't want to read this unless you've seen it.

KATEY: At the end of The Avengers, they pretty clearly hand the action over to Tony Stark, not only because he's kicking off the next Marvel movie with Iron Man 3 next summer, but because he might have undergone the most change out of any of them. The last time we saw him, at the end of Iron Man 2, he was rejected from The Avengers because he was too volatile and wouldn't play well with others. To go from that to a guy who willingly flies into a portal in space with a nuclear bomb, confident he won't return, is a pretty major transition. But at the same time, the Iron Man movies promise very specific things: gadgets, beautiful woman, witty humor, and the devil-may-care character of Tony Stark. The very last shot of The Avengers suggests that Stark is becoming more of an earnest team player, and the huge success of The Avengers indicates that moviegoers might like that brighter and shinier attitude better. But can Iron Man keep being Iron Man that way? How do you think Shane Black is going to pick up the reins from here?

KRISTY: Well Black has notably worked with Downey before on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and I think that alone guarantees Tony's quips and snarkiness will be intact, but I imagine it will also mean Tony will be an underdog as that's kind of Black's bag. The end of The Avengers suggests an easy setup for this because we're shown plenty of footage of America responding to the Avengers and what went down in NY, but there was a reaction that I think was purposely excluded: New Yorkers blaming Tony for what went down. I mean, Katey, as New Yorkers you and I know that we tend to get extremely riled when anything associated to the wealthy disrupts day-to-day life in the city. It's impossible to imagine that NY wouldn't turn on Tony as a massive alien invasion broke out RIGHT over his new structure. It would make him seem like a lightning rod for trouble, especially since he's the most known Avenger in this world, he'd get the brunt of the blame. So I think that will be the jumping off point for Iron Man 3.

KATEY: Totally agreed Kristy-- as New Yorkers we love nothing more than finding someone to blame for whatever has gone wrong, and the destruction at the end of The Avengers is a pretty huge liability. But they're not even shooting Iron Man 3 in New York! At least The Avengers had the decency to come here for a few days. If Iron Man 3 is entirely about the wrath of New York and doesn't come here at all, I'll cry foul.

So I'm with you that Stark will be under some fire, but I think New York won't quite be the entire scope-- they're shooting in China, after all, and superhero movies tend to go for a bigger scale. And I'm still not sure how the movie will deal with Tony's development as a hero, since the first two movies were all about him making halting steps toward being a good person, and he completed the arc in The Avengers, not his own movie. Do you think we'll see him going back to his old demons in this next movie, or will he have figured all of that out, and leave all the contemplating to Captain America and Thor in their own movies?

KRISTY: See I think this could be the jumping off point because some of the casting notices suggest pretty heavily that Iron Man 3 is going into the Extremis line, which finds Stark having to confront how little his innovations have actually helped the world, and with The Avengers finale, I think the argument—of the public in the films—could be made that he has actually made the world worse. I think Iron Man 3 will begin with Tony in PR crisis mode, then this super-soldier thing comes up and he has a chance to A) bury himself in work, which is his typical mode of coping with a crisis and B) possibly find redemption.

KATEY: What you're describing sounds like a pretty dark situation for Tony Stark, but I'm wondering if it will actually get that intense. Sure, The Avengers had stakes-- and one death I'm still upset about-- but it was fundamentally an optimistic film, about people being their best selves and working together and doing good in the world. Tony Stark probably has reason to question whether his work has helped anybody, but after the success of The Avengers, I wonder how much they'd be willing to delve into that darkness-- it's clear that optimism sells. Yes, we have The Dark Knight Rises coming this summer for a big dose of darkness, but I feel like the Marvel movies are going another way. So how do we balance industrialist Stark with that brighter optimism? I have a feeling the Marvel folks are asking themselves the same thing.

KRISTY: I totally agree. Dark isn't really Marvel movies strength; hope is. But they need to be mindful of the cultural shift that's taken over America in the wake of Occupy Wall Street. I don't know that a free and breezy billionaire Stark will delight audiences in this climate, even with all of Downey's charm. Marvel has got to do something to make us root for him in this solo adventure, and if the public is demonizing him, that's an intriguing place to start. Then Tony goes abroad with a smug facade to hide his hurt and a mission to crush a super soldier that's not on the side of "good". If he's protecting the US from some foreign threat, it's a great device to keep us on his side.

KATEY: Hey, it worked for Obama! "Things aren't going well at home, so go overseas and kill a major threat!" In all seriousness, though, I do think you've nailed where we're headed with Iron Man 3-- though of course, there will always be plenty of surprises thrown our way. Now that we think we know what will happen, what are we actually hoping for? In the wake of The Avengers I feel more enthusiastic about superhero movies than I have in years, but it's hard to also not think of the huge disappointment that was Iron Man 2. It's clear now that superhero movies aren't going anywhere, and The Avengers feels like a fresh example of where we can take it-- but how can Iron Man 3 build off that? It's coming in such an awkward plot, carrying on the post-Avengers Marvel legacy, that it's almost hard to imagine it'll be absolutely everything we want.

KRISTY: Well, as much as I hate to say it, I don't think Iron Man 3 will be as satisfying as The Avengers because it will have more heavy-lifting story-wise to do and less opportunity to dazzle fans with "nerdvana" moments. However, I'm really enthusiastic about Shane Black's involvement because he has a sensibility that pairs so well with Downey's bravado. Plus, Marvel has shown a remarkable evolution in their filmmaking/storytelling, and seems to have learned from their missteps. The major problem with Iron Man 2 was that its stakes were unrelatable--two very wealthy egomaniacs in the middle of a city-threatening pissing contest--and so was thereby forgettable. I'm confident they won't make such mistakes again because I think--like Pixar--Marvel Productions is working hard to develop incredible stories with the film medium, and in doing so are showing audiences they can expect more from their respective genre.

KATEY: I'm also lowering my expectations slightly for Iron Man 3, but I think that's smart in pretty much any case, especially when you're on the kind of high that everyone seems to have in the wake of The Avengers. At the same time, The Avengers has me more interested, both in the character of Tony Stark and in Marvel, as evidence that they really have learned from their mistakes.

To close out this conversation with a Big Question, how do you think The Avengers will affect not just Iron Man 3 and the other Marvel movies, but superhero movies as a whole? Do you think it means we've finally won the battle between bright, kid-friendly superhero movies and dark, dramatic ones? Or is The Dark Knight Rises going to shift the conversation again and bring us back into the black? The main thing I'm worried about is that The Avengers is going to continue defining superhero movies as "big," and make studios through even more money at them, when it seems like there are so many more stories to tell on a smaller scale. But while we're still celebrating one of the biggest superhero movies that's also one of the best, it seems a little silly to worry about that. How about you?

KRISTY: Personally, I favor the more spirited superhero tales to Nolan's brand of brooding caped crusader, but there's certainly room for both. I hope the lesson that studios learn from The Avengers is that good storytelling is absolutely key to the success of a film like this. Whedon's biggest accomplishment in the film is that he managed to create fully-fledged characters in the midst of nearly relentless action, and he did so dynamically - by showing us who they are through conflict. Jaw-dropping visuals/action sequences aren't enough - you have to root us in the characters and their journey. That's why critics and fans alike have rallied behind The Avengers, because it offered us so much to connect to! Without engaging characters you have what? John Carter?

KATEY: And engaging characters and a good script seems to be exactly why they hired Shane Black, so maybe we really are in good shape on Iron Man 3.

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