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Marvel fans got a debriefing tonight as "Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe" aired on ABC, offering an in-depth look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date in anticipation of their next big-screen adventure, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."
The special traced the history of one of Hollywood's most creative (and lucrative) production companies, from the big gamble that ended up being a big payoff, "Iron Man" (2008), through next month's "Captain America" sequel and a sneak peek at this summer's "Guardians of the Galaxy" and, finally, a tease of next year's mega-mashup, "Avengers: Age of Ultron," including a first look at new characters Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.
"Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe" served as something of a giant-sized, trivia-filled demo reel of everything the studio has offered to date. Here are some of the things we learned.
1. No one wanted to write "Iron Man."
The first two films out the gate were "The Incredible Hulk" (2008) and, of course, the original "Iron Man," still considered by many to be the best Marvel Studios movie to date that isn't "The Avengers."
"We were tasked with doing two movies right off the bat," said Marvel Studios producer Kevin Feige. "We chose Hulk because we believed there was more to be showcased out of the character and we chose Iron Man because we believed in the content and the concept."
Apparently no one else did, though.
"30 writers passed on 'Iron Man,'" said Marvel executive producer Jeremy Latcham. And it eventually took four to get it done: Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway.
2. Joss Whedon thinks RDJ is dope.
What really got fans clamoring for an "Iron Man" movie was Marvel bringing Robert Downey Jr. on board to play the title role, a bit of casting that was met with near universal approval and excitement. Even future "Avengers" director Joss Whedon could hardly contain himself.
"The only time I ever went up to somebody in a restaurant was when I went up to Kevin Feige after they announced Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man," said Whedon. "I said, 'Kevin, that was the dopest move ever.'"
3. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau made each other shed tears of happiness.
Robert Downey Jr. revealed that the casting of Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony Stark's trusted assistant and confidante Pepper Potts was something of an emotional experience for both "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau and Paltrow herself.
"When Gwyneth Paltrow went into his office, Jon Favreau started crying because he knew he had all the elements he needed for the film," said Downey Jr. "And Gwyneth went 'Oh baby' and started crying about something else."
Not quite the kind of beginning you'd expect for a superhero movie ...
"With all of us sitting there weeping you'd think we were getting together to do some really important Merchant Ivory movie," Downey Jr. added, obviously still impressed by the moment.
4. There's no hiding Samuel L. Jackson.
Kevin Feige got a cold call from Samuel L. Jackson asking "Hey, is there anything for Sam?" Feige responded with, "Actually, do you think he'd want to do a cameo?" And thus the famous post-credits scene featuring Jackson as Nick Fury in the original "Iron Man" was born.
Marvel tried to keep Jackson's involvement a secret. They didn't even walk him from his trailer to the sound stage where the scene with RDJ as Tony Stark was being filmed — they actually had him drive his car onto the stage itself, get out, shoot the scene, get back in his car, and drive away.
Alas, the attempt at S.H.I.E.L.D.-level security was for naught — several publications, including Ain't It Cool News, posted about Jackson's casting the very next morning.
5. Agent Coulson is usually the last to know about his assignments.
There's a scene near the end of "Iron Man 2" (2010) in which Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) tells Tony Stark that he's off to investigate an incident in New Mexico. This, of course, sets up the events of "Thor" (2011), but Gregg didn't know that until after he shot the scene.
"I asked 'What's in New Mexico?' and they said "Oh, Thor! Didn't anyone tell you? You're in 'Thor'!" revealed Gregg with a laugh.
Gregg at least was told about his big death scene in "The Avengers" ahead of time ... but in a rather indirect way.
"Kevin Feige told me that what happens to Agent Coulson is what brings the Avengers together," said Gregg. "And I said, 'Uh, Kevin ... is this my last Marvel movie?'"
Agent Coulson, considered by Gregg and many others to be the "glue" of the Marvel Universe, has lived on to star in the ABC series, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
6. Bruce Banner is a tragic hero of Shakespearean proportions.
Bruce Banner has gone through more actors than any other Marvel character to date (no, we're not counting Frank Castle/The Punisher -- are you?), played by Eric Bana in "Hulk" (2003), Edward Norton in "The Incredible Hulk" (2008) and finally Mark Ruffalo in "Marvel's The Avengers."
"Bruce Banner is kind of like this generation's Hamlet," said Ruffalo. "Everyone takes a shot at it."
To smash or not to smash? SMASH, of course!
7. Captain America will set the stage for "The Avengers: Age of Ultron."
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier," opening April 4, has been referred to by co-star Anthony Mackie (who plays paratrooper Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon) as 'The Avengers: Part 1.5." Kevin Feige confirms this as he reveals it's the events in "The Winter Soldier" that directly lead up to "Age of Ultron."
"Captain America is responsible for altering the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so when everyone re-teams in 'Avengers 2,' things are very different from when we left them at the end of 'Avengers 1,'" said Feige. "It's primarily due to the adventure that Cap goes through in 'The Winter Soldier.'"
8. Hulk Smash Iron Man!
Well, at least Iron Man's outfit, as some concept art from "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" revealed the Green Goliath locked in conflict with Tony Stark's "Hulkbuster" armor, which appeared as a prototype in last summer's "Iron Man Three."
We don't know if Stark himself is actually in the armor in this scene — it'd be a shame if he had to fight his favorite "rage monster," the one that brought him back to life with a CPR-like roar in the first "Avengers."
9. Meet the new recruits: Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.
We've known for some time that the brother-sister team of Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) will be appearing in "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," but some concept art finally reveals what they'll be looking like. And they look awesome.
"Once you have the origin of the team, the question becomes how does this paradigm sustain itself after they've digested their shawarma," said Whedon, referencing the greatest post-credits scene ever put to film.
And apparently that sustaining involves bringing in new blood, with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch as fresh additions to the team — though their orientation may not be too smooth at first. Whedon said the sibling team are "not bestest friends with the Avengers at first."
"It's a little more grown up, a little scarier, a little funkier," said Whedon about the much-anticipated sequel coming in the summer of 2015. "And yes," Whedon added, "there may be some punching."