Without a doubt, the release of Iron Man in 2008 reinvigorated both the superhero genre and Robert Downey Jr.’s nosediving career. But something that the older, wiser Downey Jr. has learned is when it’s time to leave the party. In a recent interview with Empire magazine, the actor confessed that he might not play Tony Stark forever.
Say it ain’t so, RDJ!
Downey Jr. was characteristically matter-of-fact about the whole thing, acknowledging that after too many Avengers and Iron Man outings, what used to be a fantastic role becomes more of a product:
“Let’s just say the only thing I ever let go of had claw marks in it. There’s a little bit of soul reclamation going on. I feel that the first time I played Tony, I did it best. Sorry! The affinity with Tony now is: how do you sustain something? I’m not stupid, I like to play ball, I love the company, I love the character, and the business side of things, I’m not too picky about that, either.”
Really, he emphasizes, it’s all about moviegoers’ comfort level. Regarding someone else stepping into Iron Man’s boots, he said,
“It would probably be the best thing in the world for me. You know, ego... but sometimes ego just has to be smashed. Let’s see what happens. I take audiences very seriously—I feel bad when I see folks doing movies and the audience is like, ‘Don’t do that anymore.’ I don’t have to overstay my welcome.”
Personally, I wonder why Downey Jr. wants to mess with a solid thing. I wasn’t really moved by superhero movies until I saw his embodiment of Stark, thorniness and glitches and all. But is it selfish of us fans to cling to a working formula until it exhausts the franchise from the inside-out, like Tony’s arc reactor?
Canonically, it’s not as easy for Tony to bequeath his superhero identity the way, say, Batman does. Not that we want to see him go, but if we had to choose a new Iron Man... we’d be talking one of two distinct changes for the franchise:
- Casting who should play various characters who pick up the Iron Man mantle.
- A new actor takes on the role of Tony Stark.
First, let’s look at existing characters in the franchise. Considering that we finally get to see Rhodey as Iron Patriot in Iron Man 3, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next installments focus more on him. After all, Don Cheadle is technically one movie behind RDJ, having replaced Terrence Howard in Iron Man 2.
When asked about the possibility of recasting Tony Stark almost a year ago, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige didn’t seem too bothered by the possibility of losing RDJ:
“I think Bond is a good example. Let’s put it this way: I hope Downey makes a lot of movies for us as Stark. If and when he doesn’t, and I’m still here making these movies, we don’t take him to Afghanistan and have him wounded again. I think we James Bond it.”
Fortunately, there are an astonishing number of alternate-reality Tony Starks (and/or folks who call themselves “Iron Man”) in the Marvel universe, so storywise a clearer replacement wouldn’t be so difficult to pull off.
In Iron Man 2020, Arno Stark (Tony’s first cousin, once removed) starts out as a time-hopping mercenary but ultimately decides to use his iron suit for good. For some reason, Brady Corbet immediately springs to mind. He’s still a relative newcomer despite memorable roles in Thirteen and Martha Marcy May Marlene, but it’s something in his face that makes me see part bratty kid, part ruthless killing machine.
You know who I would love to see play an AU Tony? Jensen Ackles, if Supernatural ever goes off the air. In the early seasons he cultivated that similar ladykiller role, but after going to hell and back a few times, he possesses the necessary gravitas to play Tony’s constant state of near-death. Then there’s Lee Pace, who seems determined to challenge himself in his theater and film choices. But would Tony Stark be daring enough for him?
It’s difficult where to look agewise with Tony Stark, but on both ends of the spectrum you’ve got James Roday—who’s honed his comedic timing playing a fake psychic on Psych—and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm—who’s certainly got the look down.
Then there’s some good old-fashioned genderbending with Natasha Stark, from the alternate universe where Tony was born a woman, has a similar origin story, and fights baddies as Iron Woman. Artist Josh McMahon recently created a photo manipulation imagining Sandra Bullock in the role, and I have to say I really love it. I can’t think of another actress of a similar age to RDJ who possesses the same dry wit and necessary wariness.
You’ll notice that I’ve proposed mostly one-shots, because I still can’t wrap my head around a single person carrying the franchise and tossing around Tony’s one-liners movie after movie without getting exhausted. Who do you think would be up for the task?
Natalie Zutter is a playwright, foodie, and pop culture blogger. Her writing has appeared on BlackBook, Ology, and Crushable, where she discusses celebrity culture alongside internet memes (or vice versa). Weekly you can find her calling in to the Hunger Games Fireside Chat podcast, reviewing new releases at Movie Mezzanine, and on Twitter.