In a triumphant press release from Paramount and Marvel Studios, it was announced that Robert Downey Jr., director Jon Favreau, and Don Cheadle — taking over the Jim Rhodes character from Terrence Howard — have all signed contracts to continue making movies in the Marvel universe.

The press release is more celebratory than it is specific, but upon closer inspection, each of these three have very different contracts.  Here’s where they stand:

Don Cheadle is signed on to Iron Man 2 (Summer 2010), The Avengers (Summer 2011), and “subsequent installments of the IRON MAN franchise,” i.e. Iron Man 3, which would come out after The Avengers, potentially Summer 2012 or 2013.

Robert Downey Jr. has a four picture deal with Marvel, but the press release only says he’s signed on for Iron Man 2 and The Avengers and does not mention him in regards to Iron Man 3.

Jon Favreau is signed on to direct Iron Man 2 and exec-produce The Avengers.

The solidity of Cheadle’s contract might quell some of the discontent over Howard’s departure, seen on sites like  Then again, maybe not.  I was one of the only people to complain about Maggie Gyllenhaal’s replacement of Katie Holmes in The Dark Knight, but that was because they fired her (and yes, they did fire her) for seemingly no reason other than that she started appearing in the tabloids a lot. The current rumor is that Howard was being difficult and left the sequel on his own, so there’s nothing anybody can really do about that.

The press release also contains early pseudo-synopses of both Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, but all it says of the former is that it “continues the story” of the first movie.  It’s the Avengers synopsis that actually provides some details, minor though they may be:

In a movie event, THE AVENGERS will bring together the super hero team of Marvel Comics characters for the first time ever, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and more, as they are forced to band together to battle the biggest foe they've ever faced.

Does the inclusion of the Hulk among the Avengers team means that the Hulk will not be the villain of the movie, as was previously suggested by Incredible Hulk director Louis Leterrier?  Or were they just trying to be unspecific because they haven’t decided yet?  And who’s the “…and more”?  Thor will come out in 2010 along with Iron Man 2, and Captain America is set to come out in 2011 a few months before The Avengers, but Marvel isn’t able to squeeze in any other superheroes before that, despite floating the possibility of an Ant-Man movie around before their schedule tightened up.  Thus, if there are more superheroes in The Avengers movie, the movie would have to introduce them for the first time.

Just food for thought…