Back in January, Moviefone was invited to a special preview of "Iron Man 3," where we were treated to some early footage and a sitdown with Robert Downey Jr.; producer Kevin Feige, who's been shepherding the franchise on Marvel's behalf; and Shane Black, who's taking over directing duties for Jon Favreau.

They were cagy about certain details but did talk at length about the new villain the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and making sure Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) has more to do than just yell "Tony!"

In addition to a new trailer, which you can watch above, here's a few things we learned about the film:

They're taking Tony Stark back to basics. Feige said, "We knew we couldn't go bigger than 'Avengers.' We didn't want to go bigger. We were much more inspired by the first half of the first 'Iron Man.' Let's put him, metaphorically, back in a cave with a box of scraps and see how he uses his brain to get out of it." Or as Downey Jr. put it, "Let's just get back to nuts and bolts Tony stuff."

Don't expect to see the other Avengers in this movie. Downey Jr. said simply, "They don't show up." A few might get mentioned though, since "the movie is exploring how Tony is sort of processing the Avengers experience." Although "Avengers 2" is looming, Black said, "I don't worry about The Avengers. That's [Marvel's] problem."

The Mandarin isn't a "Fu Manchu" stereotype. The Mandarin -- unlike his comic book counterpart -- isn't Chinese. Feige cited Col. Kurtz from "Apocalypse Now" as a touchstone for the character. "His nationality's not even clear, because he's shrouded in secrecy. But at some point, this field officer went nuts and crafted himself into the Mandarin, a warlord. You get to do the comic book, but you don't have to deal with the specifics of Fu Manchu stereotyping. We're not saying he's Chinese, we're saying he draws a cloak around of him of Chinese symbols and dragons because it represents his obsession with Sun Tzu and various ancient arts of warfare."

The Mandarin was actually meant to be the villain in the first film. As Feige pointed out, Favreau announced, "I can't tell you much, but I can tell you the Mandarin is the bad guy," at Comic-Con in 2007. That didn't change until 12 weeks before filming, but his "Ten Rings" terrorist group still made it into the film. The Mandarin's name came up again for "Iron Man 2" and "The Avengers."

Pepper won't ever just be a damsel in distress It was Downey Jr. who insisted on having Pepper in "The Avengers." "I was like, 'You can't just pretend that I got in a fight with Rhodey and Pepper's out of town.' They said, 'You can't have both of them,' so I said, 'All right, I need Pepper.'" So this time, Downey Jr. wanted to make sure Pepper had something to do: "How do we have it so she's not going [whining], 'Tony!' and I'm going [growling], 'Where's Pepper?' As you see in the trailer, when the Mandarin attacks, the suit is "thrown" onto Pepper. "That's the other thing that I have been pushing for," said Downey Jr. "She's in great shape, she's really game. There's all these genre movies and you have these capable women and they're like, 'Oh my god, some action is happening, I better step away or get caught in something over here.' It's like, 'Really, is that where we're at in the 21st century?'"

Tony's armor has evolved in other ways. Explained Feige, "With the new conceit of the armor, Shane constructed three unbelievably cool action sequences out of it." Downey Jr. admitted he's still not a big fan of the cumbersome costume: "Wearing the suit has become easier. It's lighter, it's more flexible, but there is no comfortable version of it, so it's kind of like, 'Hey, don't you think these bamboo shoots are a little less rough on the cuticle until they get down to the nerve?'"

Pepper and Tony are apart for most of the film. Black told us, "They're on parallel tracks in the movie. They're both forging ahead and doing things, so we get to see her be a little bit more proactive. She'll play an important part by the end of the movie. So it's just giving her something more to do than react to him."

Tony befriends a kid but don't expect Spielbergian sentimentality. Right off the bat, Downey Jr. insults the kid (Ty Simpkins from "Insidious"), whose workshop ends up being extremely handy to the stranded superhero. "Is he going to talk about this emptiness, this parent-shaped hole in his heart?"asks Downey Jr. who opted instead to "verbally abuse him." Added Black, "Obviously, he has a great deal of affection for the kid and when you see the movie, the kid is a powerful presence in the film. I kind of love that he treats the kid with the respect of not having him to treat him like a kid. He recognizes himself in this little boy, who's similarly alienated the way I assume Tony was when he was growing up. The kid is off by himself in a little workshop, devising these little toys and so Tony takes to him."

Although Jon Favreau isn't back in the director's seat, there's no bad blood. "Frankly, Favreau was a great resource on this movie," said Feige. Downey Jr. said, "A couple of times during 'Iron Man 3' there was this lifeline where we'd call Jon and he'd say, 'Stick with the love story' or whatever."

How does this fit into the bigger Marvel universe, falling between Avengers and Avengers 2? Black said, "Marvel didn't come in with a template based on 'The Avengers' and say, 'Please do this again.' They've allowed this to have its own breathing space and its own definitive personality." Feige added, "Aside from not decapitating Tony, we don't necessarily want to think about the next one. This movie was developed and scripted and shot before Joss [Whedon] put pen to paper on 'Avengers 2.' Although we're always working on four or five movies in any one period of time, it is focusing on one chapter at a time. This movie goes to places you might not expect a franchise to go, because we don't want these to be episodes of a big, really expensive TV series."

Making it was a love fest. Downey Jr. told us, " All I know is I really, really loved this last shoot" and raved that Kingsley as the Mandarin is "off the chain." Black praised Downey Jr. as "a force of nature to be reckoned with," while Feige added, "Whether you know who Shane Black is or not, you'll know after this movie." Of the movie itself, Feige promised, "it's going to be something to behold," while Black said, "You've come to see a summer movie, well we're going to try to give you an adventure that's worth standing in line for."
Iron Man 3 Movie Poster
Iron Man 3
Based on 44 critics

Plagued with worry and insomnia since saving New York from destruction, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.),... Read More

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