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'Iron Man': Robert Downey Jr. Recalls How They Came Up With the Operation Joke

In 2008, Iron Man had the daunting task of delivering audiences not only a compelling film, but also had to set the stage for the tone subsequent sequels would embrace as the Marvel Cinematic Universe grew, blending both awesome action and hilarious humor. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark had to be the linchpin of the whole franchise and establish that tone, with one scene in that film efficiently displaying Stark's comedic timing and humanity. Downey and director Jon Favreau recently detailed how they developed the scene in which Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) removed Stark's arc reactor from his chest.

In the film, Stark created his first arc reactor with rudimentary materials while imprisoned in a cave, with the device ultimately showing wear. Once he was rescued, he was able to use more reliable materials, requiring the original piece be replaced. As Potts aided in removing the hardware, Stark compared the action to the rules of the board game Operation.

"I remember doing this scene where I had a prosthetic body, and Gwyneth was reaching inside my chest," the actor recalled in the new book Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years. "The whole scene was about Tony trusting Pepper. We rehearsed it a lot."

"That was a great one. I felt like I was coaching an improv team because I would throw in suggestions," Favreau detailed. “Okay, make it like you’re playing Operation.”

In addition to conveying Stark's vulnerability, the sequence also demonstrates Potts' capabilities, perfectly manifesting what makes the dynamic between the characters arguably the best duo in the MCU.

The director recalled, "'Every time she reaches into your chest make like it hurts you!' And we started putting goop in there with all that slime. That was one of my favorite scenes of the whole movie."

More than 10 years after the scene debuted, the sequence remains the perfect example of what not just Stark, but the entire MCU represents.

"Proof that Tony Stark has a heart," Downey joked. "We figured stuff out and then shot it. Ten years of team spirit. One, two, three... Go team! Yeah! Hoo-ha!"

Fans can see Tony Stark in his reported final MCU appearance in Avengers 4, hitting theaters on May 3, 2019.


You can pick up your own copy of Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years over on Amazon.

Do you think this scene in the original film holds up? Let us know in the comments below!