Let’s face it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was built entirely on the back of one man… Willie Lumpkin.
No, not really, it was built on the back of Robert Downey Jr. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that it couldn’t have succeeded. The Iron Man movie works so beautifully, is so exciting and encapsulates all that is great about comics. Downey Jr. is, arguably, the most perfectly cast super hero of all time. We forget what a gamble it was at the time though, what with Downey’s troubled past, lack of star power and director Jon Favreau’s inexperience with such a project. Yet it all came together so beautifully, Iron Man became the flagship character for the resultant universe. The blockbuster Avengers movie very much rested upon his shoulders, almost literally, when he saved the day at its conclusion.
Since then though, things seem to have changed. As Captain America, in his character, his focus and the quality of his films becomes the heart and soul of the MCU, Downey’s role has begun to shift. With the upcoming Infinity War movie, what will happen to Tony? What will become of Downey Jr’s. Role?
Well, as the title states, I think he’ll snuff it. So let’s have a look at some of the possible reasoning behind this;
Downey Jr. has been quite honest and forthcoming about his love and respect for the Iron Avenger and the fans of the character. From day one, he has been one of those rare actors who doesn’t look down his nose at the fact that he is playing a comic book hero and genuinely seemed to honor Lee, Lieber, Heck and Kirby’s creation, on screen as well as in interviews. Let’s face it, it gave him a career again, and who is going to poo-poo that? Yet there is a definite shift in his interest in continuing to play the character. He has long stated that there is one more Iron Man film in him, and that was before Civil War or the next two Avengers films (never mind his upcoming cameo in Spider Man: Homecoming). Who can blame him for feeling a little burnt out? That’s a long stint for anyone. Downey is 51 years old now and has stated that filming Captain America: Civil War took its toll on him, physically. You can see it. Something is lost in his interpretation of Stark. A tiredness is present. Sure, that may be a part of the characters arc, but perhaps not, which brings me to my next point.
HE’S BECOME TOO DARK
Let’s face it, Tony Stark was the funnest character in the MCU. Sure, he’s got his demons, that’s what drives him, but it was his humor and dry, sardonic wit which really makes the character come alive. The cast of Guardians of the Galaxy might be a hoot, but they’ve got a long way to go to catch up with Tony’s one-liners. Yet, Marvel have really poured on the darkness with Tony over his last couple of outings. Iron Man 3 got a bit grim, then Age Of Ultron basically showed Tony to be a megalomaniac who actually caused all the problems the Avengers had to fix in the film (though no one really seemed to care by the end) and in Captain America: Civil War, the position Tony took, though portraying him as a government shill, was nothing compared to the inky blackness of what happened to his parents. I mean, wow, that’s a tough crowd. No amount of spiffy one-liners with Peter Parker is going to wipe that out. Of course, character development is important, but Marvel may have painted themselves into a corner with that one. What better way to polish up the ol’ reputation and suit of armor than by having Tony make the ultimate sacrifice facing Thanos’ purple mug?
MARVEL WILL SAVE MONEY
Okay, so as long as Iron Man stays in the position of being Marvel’s biggest solo box office earner, Downey’s wage is not going to be an issue. At least to Downey. He will want LOTS and he will get it. But Marvel is notoriously tight when it comes to their budgets and expenditure and if it seemed that Downey Jr. was no longer worth the massive amount of bills it costs to procure his services, then he will be dumped. That is for certain. Currently, Downey is reportedly in the fifty million dollar range when it comes to salary. That’s a lot of copies of Force Works, my friend With Captain America’s stock consistently on the rise in the MCU, along with Guardians Of The Galaxy and the potential for Thor (along with the Hulk) to finally have a massive hit with Thor: Ragnarok, maybe Downey Jr’s services are coming to be no longer as valuable as they once were.
HIS VISION IN AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Remember? Scarlet Witch puts the ol’ cerebral kibosh on Tony and he has a vision of the Avengers, dead or dying at his feet after facing Thanos and his forces. This vision is what has fuelled Tony ever since, prompting his desire to ‘put a suit of armor around the world.’ Tony is driven by fear, a desire to not only keep the world safe, but also his friends and team mates. All of this ties into a line from the first Avengers film where Cap and Tony are arguing. “The only thing you really fight for is yourself.” Captain america says, “You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.” This, understandably bothers Tony. A core part of the character is Tony trying to decipher his worth, the worth of the man inside the armour. Although the issue is partially answered by the end of the film when Tony is willing to sacrifice himself to stop the nuke, those words coupled with that vision still ring throughout Tony’s story arc. It fuelled his actions in Age of Ultron; a feeling that they, that he is somehow not enough. The perfect resolution to the character arc is for Tony to prove Cap wrong and to finally put his demons to rest. The ultimate sacrifice, his life will be the thing to cement Tony as a true hero. It will confirm his worth; to himself and to his fans. And, you know, if that doesn’t work you can always bring him back in the next film. It’s comics!
MCU NEEDS A SHIFT IN FOCUS
With Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 (or whatever the hell they’re calling it these days) rounding out Phase Three for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the stakes will be higher than ever before. This is an ending of sorts, the culmination of all the threads sewn since Iron Man first shot onto our screens in 2008. Where does Marvel go after this? Let’s face it, there are only so many films you can make with the original line up of the Avengers. The law of diminishing returns is going to assert itself at some point and everything is going to start to come off as decidedly crapola if they don’t know when to stop. New heroes need to be brought into the spotlight and the best way to do that is to focus people’s attentions on new branches of the franchise. Marvel have begun to do this with the success of Guardians Of The Galaxy, shaking up the Avengers roster and with an ongoing slate of new solo films for Marvel characters. But let’s face it, these faces do not a franchise make. Not when compared to what has gone before. The most effective way to have fans and the general public alike to accept a new universe of characters and movies is to move beyond the past. It seems we are going to be seeing (and have already partly seen) a passing of the torch with Tony’s interactions with one Master Parker in Civil War and in the upcoming Homecoming movie. But this is not enough. Tony has to die. He has been the unifying force for all three phases of Marvels grand design, it is time to let him go and refocus the MCU on different characters and in different directions. Captain America has shifted to become far more at the centre of the story than when he was first introduced and with Dr Strange, Spidey, Black Panther and Captain Marvel coming up, maybe there are some new characters who can take the weight left by his departure.
Of course, there is always the ever present possibility that Iron man will simply be recast. Many fans rebuke this completely as some form of sacrilege. Yet it is possible. It would all depend on how they handled it. Many feel the same way about Wolverine now that Hugh Jackman is hanging up his claws. Personally, I would love to see a new Wolverine cast. As much as I loved Jackman’s interpretation, I think there are aspects of the character that haven’t been explored and which only could be by a different actor in place.
And Iron Man? Do I feel the same?
I don’t know. I love Robert Downey Jr’s. Take on Tony Stark. It is right up there with Christopher Reeves for me. Do I want to see his star fade in the MCU due to age, time, lack of interest? No. I’d rather the character die a hero. Do I think he can be re-cast? It depends on the direction of the Marvel Universe and how they handle it. The development of these films has been unprecedented as has the studios faithfulness to the source material. Anything may be possible.
And hopefully it will be.