I Am Iron Man: Suiting Up Without Robert Downey, Jr.
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
Iron Man 3 was a solid movie. It featured all the humor of the first two while still maintaining the grit that made it feel more mature, despite a seemingly unnecessary swerve about three-quarters of the way through and a plot similar to that of Iron Man 2. Still though, there was a lot to like about the film. Robert Downey, Jr. crushed the role yet again, proving that he is, in fact, Iron Man. Gwyneth Paltrow got more screentime as Pepper Pots and Sir Ben Kingsley was an absolutely terrifying Mandarin for most of the film (that’s a whole other column). During the credits, there’s a montage of scenes that put Iron Man 3 in its place as the conclusion to a trilogy of sorts.
Among the three films, Iron Man 3 was probably on par with Iron Man 2. Both featured a villain relatively unknown to the masses and hellbent on making the world (and Tony) suffer for perceived slights against them. There was a heavy dose of suit-on-suit fighting in both films, only in Iron Man 3, Tony gets a little more involved in all the suits fighting. And Happy (Jon Favreau) played his role in both, first as Tony’s bodyguard/valet/coordinator and then as Pepper’s.
The latter two films were nothing compared to that of the first one, Iron Man. In that movie, Tony Stark went from playboy billionaire to humbled superhero with a mortal wound. RDJ’s introduction as the main character was brilliant. There was a great transformation in the character by the end of the film that really helped sell the concept of a tech genius suiting up and fighting bad guys. If there’s one complaint, it’s that the villain in the film was really just another jealous board member who got a hold of Tony’s technology, meaning another exosuit-on-exosuit battle.
As far as superhero films go, Iron Man 3 is up there (all three films are actually). The film felt like a comic book arc and you could imagine turning the pages as Tony went from Switzerland to California to Tennessee. The villains’ tactics were even a little fantastical, presenting Tony with something he couldn’t exactly create a solution to escape. Instead, he had to rely on sheer wits and the effectiveness of his armors. The movie maintained the themes present throughout the first two, presenting trying situations for Tony to work his way out of and offering up the concept of multiple identities and masks for Stark to wear through the “House Party.”
And while it’s not among the top five comic book movies ever made, it does hold a place above many others of its ilk, primarily due to the gravity of Downey as Tony Stark. His portrayal of Stark is so vivid and charisma-infused that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role, despite reports that he may be done with the role due to the fact that it’s the last contractual obligation and a financial dispute. Even if finances with his castmates weren’t involved, maybe it is time for Downey to walk away and move onto greener pastures.
When Spider-man 3 came out, it was pretty clear that Sony wanted to go in a new direction with the entire franchise. They signed a seven-picture deal and forcing Venom into the film really hurt it plotwise, leading them to think it was necessary to hit the reset button. Enter The Amazing Spider-man, replete with new cast, director and tone. What the change did is allow for Sony to show Spidey’s roots all over again, but could also set a dangerous precedent for superhero films in general.
Say Downey is done (and reports seem to indicate as much), with only Avengers 2 left for him to reprise his role as Stark. Marvel’s not going to sit idly by and let something like the Iron Man film franchise just sit on the shelf. No, they’ll recast Tony Stark and start at the beginning again. And that’s the thing: they have to start over. There’s really no other way they can sell the audience on another Iron Man with someone replacing Downey and not call it a reboot. This may be where we’re headed as more and more comic book movies are released to mind-boggling profits.
Standalone Iron Man films are probably the single biggest financial windfall for Marvel and the films just don’t work without Downey. The Iron Man trilogy is a great, self-contained trio of movies that features a likable cast, great plots and some incredible action sequences and CGI. At the end of the day, though, it’s still a trilogy and RDJ may be done, which means the Iron Man film universe as fans know it may be on the verge of being blown up like the Arc Reactor at the end of Iron Man. Whether or not Robert Downey, Jr. survives the blast intact enough to continue playing the part remains to be seen.