It will be interesting to see how exactly the Marvel movie universe changes in the aftermath of The Avengers. The next film in line following Joss Whedon's superhero extravaganza, Iron Man 3 already looks to set a precedent by tackling a famous comic book storyline that not only breaks away from the narrative format of previous Marvel Studio efforts - but would also force the Tony Stark character (Robert Downey Jr.) to literally evolve.
Marvel President Kevin Feige is already hyping the idea that the third Iron Man movie will shake things up, more than fans might expect (take that boast with a grain of salt). Similarly, when asked about the possibility of a SHIELD movie centered around his onscreen counterpart, Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson described a film that would indeed be a relatively far cry from a "traditional" superhero movie.
To go along with his previous statements suggesting that Iron Man 3 will take its cues from the first act of Iron Man, Feige recently teased ABC News with the following bit about Tony Stark's overarching journey in IM3:
“It’s going to be very different, very unique and I think not ascribe to any specific formula that [moviegoers] think they may have pegged us on. It’s all in the story. It’s where you take Tony Stark on his journey in an unexpected way and have him come out of ['The Avengers'] a slightly changed individual, which people will see when they see the movie.”
Iron Man 3 director Shane Black's vision for the movie has been likened to that of a semi-grounded, globe-trotting espionage thriller (in the vein of a Tom Clancy novel) that pits Tony against "real world villains" - one of which may or may not be portrayed by Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley - who, judging by one of the film's shooting locations, could indeed be playing a Mandarin-like antagonist (official denials to the contrary).
All that does point in the direction of an Iron Man threequel that stands apart from its predecessors. If nothing else, Tony's problems in IM3 could feel much more compelling than those in Iron Man 2 - which is kind of odd, when you recall that he was literally dying in that movie. Such was that lackluster execution of that particular subplot (in our opinion), but, moving on...
During a separate Avengers-related interview, Jackson offered the following insight about a potential SHIELD movie (when prompted by MTV, that is):
"Natasha [a.k.a. Black Widow] is part of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hawkeye is part of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I couldn't do a S.H.I.E.L.D. movie without those two people. They're essential elements of what's there... Now we know Agent [Maria] Hill is an essential element of S.H.I.E.L.D. so she would have to be there. And I'm still not sure if she's the eyes and ears of the council hanging around inside their place and telling people, 'We've got these superheroes over here!' She wants my job. I can tell. She's ambitious.
"... I don't know how much of S.H.I.E.L.D. [Marvel] want[s] to expose...I mean, we're not superheroes. We're more of a shadow world. So, it would be more like 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' with good toys—closer to a 'Bond' movie than a superhero movie."
Jackson's specific comments about the SHIELD movie probably being akin to a James Bond flick (or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, albeit not quite so low-key) allude to a film that bears more than a passing resemblance to the proposed approach for Iron Man 3. That is, both could be fashioned as more "realistic" thrillers than any other Marvel Studio-backed movie to date, including The Avengers (based on what we know of that movie).
In other words: parts of the Marvel movie universe appear to be evolving in a distinct direction, as further supported by popular speculation that Captain America 2 and the impending Ant-Man movie could likewise be taking the shape of relatively down-to-earth adventures (rather than live-action versions of Saturday morning cartoon serials).
How exactly all that fits in with those long-standing rumors that Marvel will go cosmic post-Avengers, that's another matter...
The Avengers assemble in U.S. theaters on May 4th, 2012.
Iron Man 3 will fly into theaters around the U.S. almost exactly a year later on May 3rd, 2013.