We have recently seen a slew of unofficial rumors and images leaking from the set of Iron Man 3, and while the speculation has been exciting, it’s always better to get something official.

Today Marvel Studios is officially announcing the start of production on Iron Man 3, with a purposefully vague press release about what the film will be about and who is involved. The studio has also released the first official Iron Man 3 production image, which takes us on an armored trip down memory lane.

Marvel Studios does loves its cinematic continuity (and many fans love it too) – and it’s in that spirit that this first Iron Man 3 production image acts as an echo of the first Iron Man 2 official image, released way back in April of 2009.

Check out the IM3 Hall of Armor production image (click for larger version):

Now check out the first IM2 image:

Of course the former is a set photo and the latter is a polished still from the film – but you get the connection. In the IM3 image we see the armors from all the preceding Iron Man films – and the one from The Avengers – which would constitute the Mark I – VII, for those keeping count.

(Not to nitpick – but just how did Tony Stark get the Mark I armor he designed in that cave into his armor hall? Last I remember, it had been shoddily reassembled in the stronghold of the Ten Rings terrorist organization, and left there to rust when Obidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) double-crossed them. Ebay, maybe?)

Finally, check out what Marvel had to say – and conveniently did NOT say – about Iron Man 3 in their official press release:

Following in the footsteps of the record-breaking Marvel Studios’ release “Marvel’s The Avengers,” production on the highly anticipated film “Iron Man 3,” directed by Shane Black, has commenced production in Wilmington, North Carolina. The production schedule will also include locations in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, Miami, Florida and China.

Based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series, first published in 1963, “Iron Man 3” returns Robert Downey Jr. (“Iron Man,” “Marvel’s The Avengers”) as the iconic Super Hero character Tony Stark/Iron Man along with Gwyneth Paltrow (“Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,”) as Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle (“Iron Man 2”) as James “Rhodey” Rhodes and Jon Favreau (“Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2”) as Happy Hogan. Set for release in the U.S. on May 3, 2013, Marvel’s “Iron Man 3” marks the second feature to be fully owned, marketed and distributed by Disney, which acquired Marvel in 2009.

“Iron Man 3” continues the epic, big-screen adventures of the world’s favorite billionaire inventor/Super Hero, Tony Stark aka “Iron Man.”  Marvel Studios’ President Kevin Feige is producing the film.  Executive producers on the project include Jon Favreau, Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Stan Lee, Charles Newirth, Victoria Alonso, Stephen Broussard and Dan Mintz.

The rest of the press release pretty much recounts the entire history of Marvel Studios’ accomplishments at the box office, and tells us NOTHING about the actual plot of Iron Man 3. They don’t even mention the ensemble of actors that have been added to the franchise (see below), or the general “Tony Stark combats a tech-terrorist threat” storyline we already know to be the premise. We basically learn here that Downey Jr., Paltrow, Favreau (as a character, not director) are all back, and that Tony Stark will have more ‘epic big-screen adventures’ that are now fully-funded by Disney. Yay.

For a more detailed breakdown of what is known about the film so far – beyond what Marvel is saying –  check out this list of prior articles:

  • Ben Kingsley is playing a villain role that is rumored to be The Mandarin (a background mastermind-type villain).
  • Guy Pearce is playing Aldrich Killian, a geneticist who creates a nanotech weapon that transforms humans into cyborgs.
  • Andy Lau is playing a scientist who aids Tony Stark.
  • Rebecca Hall (The Town) is the frontrunner to play a former science colleague of Tony’s who works with nanotechnology.
  • James Badge Dale and Ashley Hamilton will likely play henchman villains transformed into cyborgs (or some kind of tech-threat).
  • An armor design has been spotted on set, which suggests that either The Iron Patriot or Detriot Steel will be in the film.

Stay tuned as more Iron Man 3 news continues to unfold, as the threequel moves through production to make its May 3, 2013 release date.