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Saturday, 16 March 2013

Robert 'Iron Man' Downey Jr. and the Bond Factor


Robert 'Iron Man' Downey Jr.

...and the Bond Factor


Welcome to the Comic conversations Panel (or Comic-con panel). I promised in my previous A-World article that I would look at the past, current and future status of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so here I am.

I recently got the chance to re-watch the 50th Anniversary Bond movie Skyfall, it got me thinking of this year's 50th anniversary flick Iron Man 3 (yes, like the Avengers, Iron Man is also in his silver jubilee year). Recent rumors and statements have suggested that the third installment is the last film in Robert Downey Jr.'s 5 (Iron Man, Incredible Hulk cameo, Iron Man 2, The Avengers and Iron Man 3) movie contract (albeit he has already extended till Avengers 2).  

Robert Downey Jr. the real life Iron Man.

Let me just put it out there, Robert Downey Jr is Tony Stark. It was masterstroke and probably destiny that RDJ ended up with the role of a character that actually defines himself. Not many know this but before he signed on to play the golden Avenger, RDJ was actually not allowed any signing fees on his movies. In fact he was considered a liability and if he did not show up for half of the shooting dates of his schedule, then his fee would not be given. This was due to his drinking and substance abuse problems. A problem that many comic book fans know plagued Tony Stark for years, and an addiction he rose from in the seminal Demon In A Bottle arc from the Iron Man comics. 

There have been conflicting details mirroring the on going contract discussions. Marvel's President of Production Kevin Feige has not shied away from removing actors from established roles in the past, Terrence Howard was replaced by Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine while Mark Ruffalo took over the Hulk from Edward Norton. He went onto say in the Badass Digest that if negotiations fell through then; "we James Bond it."

This brings us to the 'James Bond' factor, many in their day (including my father) could have never imagined anyone else as Bond but Sean Connery. While Connery does still hold the title of Best Bond, he is far from the last one to don the tux. It's a really great way to bring in another established actor into the character, and most audiences don't seem to mind.

There's already fan fatigue from the superhero genre, even if it is at its current peak. One of the major reasons for this can be attributed to the constant reboots in order to change actors under the suit (or in Batman's case, the cowl). Surprisingly it's Warner Bros. and DC that have actually tried to change actors but not reboot albeit to unsuccessful end results (Superman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin had different actors from their prequels but were continuations of the same story).

Well let's get back to the RDJ conundrum. Last year, shooting for the third installment of the popular Iron Man series, Downey injured his ankle and had to spend time away from the sets thus halting the film crew as well. Now it's obvious that the 47 year old star isn't going to be up to playing shell head forever and with the amount spent in bringing the cohesive Marvel Cinematic universe together, Disney and Marvel cannot afford continuous reboots.

RDJ however has also stated that he likes being the Company Man, and realizes even though he is expensive it all comes back to his career changing turn as Iron Man. It's however smart to note that this may just be a ruse, to possibly hide the facts surrounding Iron Man 3 as the last Tony Stark film.

Spoiler Warning (of sorts)!


Come Iron Man 3, both Stark and Pepper seem like they could be in big trouble. 

I have no idea how the third film will go but from trailers it seems to be the bleakest Stark outing yet. The shots of Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) being tortured or Happy (Jon Faverau) lying down beaten or even Tony himself at his worst, seem to indicate something emotionally wrecking that could forever change who Iron Man is, perhaps a death. 

The film itself seems to indicate changes in the man as he witnesses the downfall from his purely heroic turn in The Avengers. Where once even though he saved lives, Tony Stark was doing it for his ego, in The Avengers he ends up doing it to save the world. Factor in that he is up to using the technology (Extremis) that birthed his character (before Warren Ellis's Extremis arc, Tony Stark was pretty bland) and facing off against his most hated and powerful enemy (Mandarin), means that this might just be the mega conclusion.


The Extremis armor being used by Tony in the new film. The arc changed his relation with old friend Maya Hansen (played in the movie by Rebecca Hall) and his attitude. Leading to the Marvel Civil War.

A conclusion maybe for one story arc like in the comics, where at the end the protagonist goes through a slight change having learned a new lesson. This ultimately makes sense as both the first and second parts established a in the shadows terrorist organization, that is to be blamed for Starks problems. The organization that is the Ten Rings, as any comic geek would know is a nod to the Ten alien rings that Mandarin uses in the comics. The same Mandarin who headlines the villains in the third part, bringing this story full circle.

So finally, maybe, hopefully Robert Downey Jr can stay on as Stark till Avengers 2 and Stark can live on further than that. Now how would he do that, well currently in the comics Tony Stark is part of the cosmic faring Guardians of the Galaxy. Who you ask? A team of oddballs soon to get their own movie, as rumor mills point to an RDJ extension which includes an appearance in GoTG. Just imagine RDJ battling wits with a gun-totting talking Rocket Raccoon (yes, a Raccoon!!!).

Concept art for the Guardians of The Galaxy film releasing 2014. From left to right; Drax the destroyer (Dave Batista), Groot, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket Racoon and Gamora. 

From the post credits scene of The Avengers, it seems the heroes will collide  against large threat Thanos. Thanos whose fixation with death, the Tessaract and a certain gauntlet seen in the halls of Asgard will bring him into collision with GoTg alongside the Avengers. This would be a perfect fit for RDJ, as the studio could change things up with him (alongside the Guardians) recruiting SHIELD and the Avengers in fighting the mad Titan.

In the continuity sense, this would be perfect. It would help understand why Stark is absent in helping either Thor or Captain America during their own solo missions (within their solo movie sequels). It could also change another big status quot. Between two years the billionaire playboy will have thrice saved the world, he'll be more than tired and could go into hiding in space or back home with Pepper (if she is alive by the end of Iron Man 3).

Whatever the catalyst for his departure after Iron Man 3 and then the Avengers 2, Tony Stark could be replaced in costume by underrated actor Don Cheadle. Cheadle while playing the current Iron Patriot in the 3rd film, could replace his friend as the Iron Man of the Avengers unit. He can either use his own suit or wear the gold and red as respect to his presumably 'fallen' friend.

A change in color schemes will result in James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) going from War Machine to Iron Patriot. 
This is also another bit that falls in the line with the comics, where Rhodes took over the Iron Man suit amongst the West Coast Avengers without them ever realizing who is in their (back then superheroes had secret identities).
The advantage would be to Marvel Studios. They could have an Iron Man like hero (although not character) in The Avengers films without having to release solo films every now and then. This would be a perfect set-up in giving solos to other lesser known characters (Black Widow and Hawkeye movie anyone?) and ones that have yet to even be introduced (Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Ant-Man and the Wasp). It could also mean that they can get to an extensive search for the next Tony Stark, since let's face it they'll have to strive to find someone close to RDJ's charm and screen presence. A Tony Stark who can return back in style after his hiatus.

So, whenever Robert Downey Jr decides to leave (and he will). We can only hope that Marvel Studios does right by the character Tony Stark and keeps him on a new lease of life. Most people would say for viewers to get emotionally invested, Stark's journey has to have a resolution because then they could get bored. Let me just say to them that a character like Iron Man has been going strong for fifty years. Most people would say that this is because Iron Man is a comic and it wouldn't work on the screen especially without RDJ. Well it seems that after 23 movies and 6 Bonds, the James Bond film series is still raking in the moo-la and critical acclaim.

Far as I am concerned, I would love if RDJ could continue indefinitely. Rebooting or redefining the character would have no meaning, as that would still require another actor to take up the mantle. Killing is a possibility but I'm hoping that Marvel studios (being a branch of a comic book company) will not be foolish in leaving one of the Avengers most significant bits.

Till then I plan on enjoying Iron Man 3 and the rest of Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase 2.

Watch out for more discussion on the building Marvel Cinematic Universe and enjoy the 50 years of Iron Man.

PS.: This article is a very very late birthday gift for my good friend and first blog follower Ramanakumar Shankar, who is a big fan of RDJ and the Iron Man films that brought him into comics. Thanks for constantly reading my work. 

Avengers Assemble!

Aneesh Raikundalia         


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