'Iron Man 3': Maybe Tony Stark really IS all about the armor?

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Although they’re allies, much of this sequel will be Iron Man vs. Rhodey (seen here ditching the flat-gray War Machine armor for something a little more star-spangled — a suit that leads him to be known as Iron Patriot.)

“The relationship deepens, we get to understand a little more who these guys are as friends and what they are for each other, and how they function,” Cheadle says.

“In the comic books, we really got a sense that these two guys were buddies, but there was also a somewhat friendly competition,” adds Downey, who says he only regrets not exploring their friendship more in previous movies. “The comics took it in so many different ways, we always felt it was hard to get into a movie that already had a plot and a bad guy and all that other stuff.”

Director and co-writer Shane Black, whose past credits include writing Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and writing and directing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang tells EW the film feels to him like it fits a much different genre. “When you get these guys going and riffing, it’s almost like a sense of something I’m really familiar with, which is a buddy cop film – with armor,” he says. “There’s this really great dynamic between them.”

Rhodes has a kind of self-discipline and control that creates a spark of distrust between someone like him and the wild, frenetic Stark. They like each other, admire each other, but like true best friends, irk each other, too.

The addition of Rhodes as Iron Patriot in Iron Man 3 is actually a sharp detour from the storyline of the comic books, which have rival billionaire industrialist Norman Osborne, the Green Goblin himself, sporting the red, white, and blue Iron Patriot armor. Osborne is a character still under license to Sony as part of the Spider-Man movie franchise, but Marvel Studios wanted to use the look of that suit in a different way in this film.

“It is not Norman Osborne in there, as opposed to the comics,” Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige assures any doubters. “We were inspired by that look and that suit, and again symbolism – what those icons mean.”

Of course, Iron Man has a much bigger pain in his chassis — the villain known as The Mandarin, whose identity is also defined by his outfit.

NEXT PAGE: What does The Mandarin’s t-shirt reveal about him?

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