By Paul Krueger
With Iron Man 3 come and gone, Robert Downey Jr.’s long contract with Marvel is up, and the word around the campfire is “renegotiation.” Since 2008’s Iron Man, the Marvel cinematic universe has grown considerably, but the heart of it all is still Downey’s Tony Stark. He got the most significant dramatic arc in The Avengers, he gets name-checked the most often in movies that aren’t his, and he’s one half of the very popular Science Bros meme.
And now, that’s all suddenly in doubt. Marvel has a history of financially low-balling, and the ever-changing face of Bruce Banner demonstrates that they’re not afraid to recast. Three films into a solo franchise and one into an unprecedented meta-franchise? Artistic integrity be damned, there’s not an actor alive who wouldn’t want to step into Downey’s clanky boots. Hell, I’d do it if I were anything like the man at all (nice, cleaned-up 2000’s RDJ, though, not Ally McBeal-horror-stories RDJ).
While you could probably throw someone else into the suit and it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, what this comes down to is a case of could versus should. Could Marvel breed Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Javier Bardem to create the perfect Robert Downey Jr. clone? Yes. But should they? No.
Well, actually yes. But not until after these movies are done.
I’m not just writing this shit in a typical kneejerk, nerds-are-afraid-of-change kind of way. I’m trying to make the argument here that there’s no better man for the job than Robert Downey Jr., and that replacing him would be dime-smart and dollar-stupid. The man’s a box office draw--and Marvel should know, since they made him one. The Avengers made James Cameron levels of money, and suddenly Marvel’s worried about its profit margins? Marvel keeps presenting itself as a cinematic pioneer, blazing trails its competitors won’t follow them down for years to come. So where, I ask, is that boldness now?
Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios, is currently in damage control mode. His comments to the press attempt to tie the role of Tony Stark to similarly iconic roles with multiple portrayers. But while there’s a case to be made for great multi-actor parts like James Bond or the Doctor, there are also some times where the marriage of actor and part is too pure to dilute: Dirty Harry Callahan. The T-800. Coach Gordon motherfucking Bombay. Could another actor have coached the Ducks to victory over Iceland? They tried. It was called D3: The Mighty Ducks, and it was fucking terrible. And that was when they had the wisdom to not even try recasting the role; they just went on without their fearless coach. Imagine how much more terrible the movie would have been if they’d have had to spend the first few minutes cramming a new face down a hostile audience’s throat.
Kevin Feige, I hope you’re taking notes.
I imagine between the mass fan revolts and a certain level of “Oh, come on, are you serious?” kicking in, all of this will eventually just be a footnote in the “Production” section of The Avengers 2’s page on Wikipedia. But in the event this doesn’t end well and Downey parts ways with Marvel, we have to consider what this will mean for the future of Marvel’s little cottage industry. The characters they’re adapting already have rabid followings, but part of what helped make them mainstream was allowing audiences to make a long-term connection, as with the cast of a TV show. That’s not news; that’s how franchises work. So what Kevin Feige and company are saying right now is, “Well, does it have to be?”
Well, I don’t know. After all, top-of-the-world superstar George Clooney was once cast as Batman, the most famous superhero of all time, after the very talented Val Kilmer walked away from production. I think the results speak for themselves.