Months before Iron Man 3 began principal photography - and before The Avengers even hit theaters - leaked plot details revealed that the Shane Black's entry into the franchise would draw heavy inspiration from Warren Ellis' six-issue Extremis Marvel Comics miniseries, where there exists a tech-based super soldier serum, something that Tony Stark uses himself to become more than "a man in a suit of armor."
This has since been confirmed officially, and unofficially, through multiple channels, marketing materials and tie-in merchandise. Since Comic-Con last summer where Marvel employees sported Iron Man 3 t-shirts with "Advanced Idea Mechanics" written on the front, we've seen the A.I.M. organization pop-up in various set photos but until now, it's been unclear how it, Extremis and some of the new supporting characters all fit together.
What lays ahead are specific plot details that can be viewed as mild spoilers so be cautioned if you’re looking to avoid learning more about the story of Iron Man 3.
In a series of Q&A transcripts with the cast and crew of Iron Man 3 shared to us by Disney, Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige explains discusses A.I.M., Extremis and how the new supporting actors factor into the mysterious organization.
Guy Pearce is an actor Marvel has been interested in for years, for loads of different roles, and with Iron Man 3 the "timing worked out perfectly" to bring him in to play to play Aldrich Killian. Feige explains a little about Killian's role in the story and his connections to AIM and Extremis:
"Killian heads a brain-trust organization called AIM that is developing Extremis, which is something that taps into human DNA and is able to reprogram it and regenerate limbs and enhance strength and cure wounds. But it also could change the whole world, which is what Killian intends to do with it."
As Pearce revealed to Marvel in an interview posted Friday however, Killian is the founder of AIM and this will be revealed via flashback scenes. As for the motivation behind A.I.M.'s origins and Killian's actions in the film, it's deeply personal, rooted in his desire to overcome any obstacle put in his path:
"Killian is an interesting character as he's somebody who came into this world with a number of physical disabilities. He's never been able to accept those limitations though and has spent most of his life trying to overcome them in any way he can. His tenacity and blind determination in fighting for a better life are seen by some as irritating, as he often comes across as obnoxious. He just won’t accept the cards he was dealt, and being as intelligent as he is, has real drive to change and become a different person.
So we find him at the start of the film in a flashback and we see the ambitious, almost annoying, guy that he is. He takes opportunities to try and latch onto people like Tony Stark. So you see this very ambitious character and you see him later on in the film having made a change, and Tony and the other people that have met him early on kind of go, "How did this happen? How did he do this?" But he’s a dangerous character. He wants to become all-powerful. That’s sort of a driving force with him and Tony Stark realizes eventually what this guy is capable of."
Feige confirms that Extremis is of bio-tech origins and that it was a concept they've been meaning to explore in the films since the outset:
"When we were developing Iron Man 1, a comic book came out called Extremis. It was written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Adi Granov and from the cover of the first issue, we realized it was the next level of Iron Man and it worked perfectly and the timing was perfect. We felt it was tonally something we could use to build the movie off of. We actually ended up hiring Adi Granov to come on board and help in the initial designs of the Iron Man armor for the film.
The tone of the relationship between Yinsen and Tony Stark, the idea of a bigger, bulkier version of the Mark 1, all of that came from that storyline. In that storyline there is Extremis, which is a biological enhancement and sort of a biological weapon that people ingest and are able to do basically superhuman and spectacular things.
With each film, we thought, 'Should we do Extremis?' My gut was, it’s a part three. So, as we started developing Iron Man 3, we ended up pulling from that greatly. "
Robert Downey Jr. personally wanted to do Extremis from the start:
"I remember when I was rereading some of the later Iron Man comic strands, there was this one called Extremis, and I was bringing it up from 2007 when we were shooting the first Iron Man. I said, 'This is so cool' and everyone was like, 'Yeah, anyway.' On Iron Man 2 I said again, 'Oh, this Extremis is so cool.' 'Yeah, anyway” again. But Shane [Black] really latched onto the Extremis idea and thought about how could we bring it into play. So in Iron Man 3, Extremis is what brings Maya into play; it’s what brings Killian into play. It's at its core, the idea that, okay, we don't want to have suit on suit, so what's the alternative? The Extremis is something that has applications outside of the military too. In fact, what Maya is attempting to do with her research, in her mind, is Nobel Prize stuff but in our world, it’s Nobel Prize stuff gone wrong.
As for how Extremis actually functions, we know in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that it's not a simple as a nanotech virus as it is in the comic. Shane Black explains in an interview with SFX how Extremis works in Iron Man 3:
"In the Extremis comic book, there's a type of thing that takes over and basically upgrades DNA. Sometimes you die. But if you live through the experience then you come out this changed thing. But the way they do it is the guy that does it is not some man chosen to be the super soldier -he’s just a militia guy. There’s an element of realism to it as well. So what we've tried to do is take this very science-fictiony concept of super people, and ground it in the type of people who volunteer for this being not necessarily super villains, but just people who upgrade. I love the idea of a super villain that doesn't wear a cape, that doesn't wear a super suit. That goes around dressed as you are right now. As for the science of it, once again we've gone back to the comic books, and I think pretty much lifted the Maya Hensen idea, that she met [Tony] long ago and had the germ of an idea, which now has come to fruition full circle, but she's afraid because it's gotten out there. And we go from there. I think you'll be interested in the effect that we generate to demonstrate what Extremis does to a human being. It's a pretty interesting special effect. But we've deliberately stayed away from defining, 'Oh it’s nanites.' What we do keep from the comic is the idea that there’s a slot in the brain that seems to have been dormant, but exists in human beings, almost as though it’s waiting for human beings to find a way to fill it. It's been there forever."
We saw from the first trailer and Comic-Con footage that Stark has been working on a way to improve the effectiveness of his armor, where he's attempting to control each piece of the gold-plated Mark XLII suit individually. From what we gather from scenes depicting Stark undergoing a procedure himself and sporting an A.I.M. t-shirt, coupled with rumors of his other Iron Man suits, it's rather obvious that Stark becomes an Extremis-powered individual as well, possibly converting him into someone who doesn't need the armor anymore (for at least one action sequence). It also may allow him to interface with technology, possibly explaining his control over the Iron Legion and perhaps other suits he wears in the film (see: Heartbreaker armor).