Those of you waiting with bated breath for the return of Ol’ Shellhead (a.k.a. Iron Man) your hours of white-knuckled anticipation will soon be coming to an end. After 72 days of intensive shooting, Marvel Studios producer Kevin Feige announced the wrap of principle photography on Iron Man 2 with a statement to

Shooting ‘Iron Man 2′ was a fantastic experience and we couldn’t be happier. Although there were many challenges in making this film, having Jon Favreau, Robert Downey, Gwyneth Paltrow and almost the entire crew from the first film back on board, allowed us to hit the ground running as everyone was instantly familiar with each other from day one. This dynamic allowed us to get done what we needed on a day to day basis and was a big factor in why we finished slightly ahead of schedule. Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell and especially Don Cheadle all stepped right in and meshed well with our returning cast.”

Feige doesn’t touch on anything we don’t already know or can’t intuit, and he reassuringly alludes to the chemistry within the cast that made Iron Man numero uno flow so well. His mention of the ease with which the new cast members assimilated into the film inspires confidence that this highly-anticipated sequel can repeat the knock-down, drag-out awesomeness that the first one delivered – especially since there are a few additions to the cast who need to demonstrate to a VERY critical fan-base that they can hold their own in the on-screen superhero genre.

Don Cheadle makes his comic book debut as the new Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, replacing Terrence Howard, a move that upset Howard, but hopefully won’t upset the continuity between films. Not much concern here, as Cheadle has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a diverse and dynamic performer with a wide range of ability.  As an actor, I’m sure it’s difficult to step into a role previously established (and well received) by a peer and still attempt to retain the spirit of the character, bring your own twist, and please the audience all at the same time.

The cinematic resumes of new villains Mickey Rourke (Whiplash) and Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer) both inspire confidence that these actors can handle their parts in the upcoming sequel (Rockwell was reportedly on the short list of actors to play Stark originally). So there’s little concern that their parts will be fumbled for lack of experience or skill.

However, the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff could be cause for some hesitation.  While some questioned whether she was fit for the role, follow-up reports by SR regarding her fitness routine quickly put the kibosh on that rumor.  But is Johansson really “fit” for this role? Her last foray into the genre as Silken Floss in The Spirit met with some criticisms (to say the least), and her big-screen history doesn’t speak well to her action/adventure prowess (anyone else see Michael Bay’s The Island? Yeah, I try to forget that I did too…). There’s no question that her killer curves (pun intended) will make her one sexy leather-clad assassin, but will this be enough to distract the audience from what could be another canned Johansson performance?

The only thing Feige neglected to mention was the retention of a vital supporting character, Leslie Bibb’s reporter, Christine Everhart, who famously harassed (and bedded) Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in the first installment. I can’t help but wonder whether Rockwell’s casting had anything to do with Bibb, as they’ve been reportedly dating for some time now. Regardless, I’m sure Rockwell is happy to work with his woman, and I know I’m happy to see her on the big screen again…and again…and again…

Feige wrapped up his statement with some words about his and the fans’ expectations for Iron Man 2, and the pressures due to those:

“What’s more difficult in shooting a sequel is that expectations are much higher for this film and we really want to top what we did on the first film. Every day involved working extremely hard in order to improve upon what we did on the first film.”

Let’s hope that in producing this new film, the team behind it didn’t commit the cardinal sin of “sequeling,” which is basically just increasing the amount of what tested so well with audiences previously, usually at the expense of character development and plot (Transformers 2, anyone?). A better film is not necessarily a film with more explosions, or more flying Robert Downey, Jr., but one that continues to chronicle Tony Stark’s adventure as Iron Man in a fresh, exciting way.

The only thing left now is post-production on Iron Man 2, which should be quite an undertaking.  I’m sure the team behind the magic will have something appetizing ready for the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con next week, just as they did at Comic-Con ’07 prior to first.  I can’t wait.

Iron Man 2 hits theaters on May 7, 2010.

Source: Marvel & The New York Post