Robert Downey Jr will eventually hang up his Iron Man mask and thrusters and give up on the Marvel franchise. It is a sad fact but one that has been hinted at, skirted around and thankfully avoided for at least one more Marvel movie. After Captain America: Civil War, I can’t see Downey Jr holding out for the Infinity Wars movies – particularly when he is already starting to look kind of bored as Stark already.
This means that eventually Marvel will have to make the decision as to whether they recast the role of Tony Stark or retire that character, possibly forever, and move on. I really hope they choose the latter option.
I understand that this has worked for other franchises. James Bond is well-known for having been played by many different actors, with varied degrees of success. Superheroes aren’t immune from this either – Batman and Superman have been played by many different actors. In the case of the Dark Knight, different actors in the same continuous series. Even within the Marvel Cinematic Universe we have had recasting, from Rhodey miraculously changing from Terrance Howard to Don Cheadle. Even the heroes themselves – Edward Norton not just changing into the Hulk but changing back into Mark Ruffalo.
These didn’t manage to derail the franchise though because they weren’t exactly, at the point of recasting, major characters. Rhodey wasn’t yet War Machine and Hulk wasn’t exactly the front and centre fan-favourite he has become. Iron Man is though! Downey Jr is Tony Stark and when he decides not to sign on the dotted line again – Marvel should just let that character leave.
This is because Tony Stark is too central to the whole franchise. He started the whole Cinematic Universe and has been the heart of the team in both of the Avengers movies (or at least the funny-bone). Nobody will do as good a job of becoming Stark like Downey Jr did and it will be a huge distraction if he tried. It means that rather than watching the action unfold, the audience will be distracted by the actor pretending to be Downey Jr playing Tony Stark.
This isn’t just the rule for Stark either. This should be the rule for all the characters in the Marvel Universe. Steve Rogers, Thor, even Clint Barton. One of the biggest strengths in the Marvel franchise has been the strong casting and the chance of striking lightening twice with the same character is a slim one.
Notice that I’m mentioning each character by name rather than their heroic moniker. This is because someone else, other than Tony Stark, could become Iron Man. Steve Rogers has not been the only Captain America. In some cases, people prefer the newer, non-Peter Parker Spiderman! Someone else taking the mantle of an established hero is a good story, well-told in the past comics – just not in real life by the actors playing the characters.
Marvel don’t need to do it either! Their ambitious and exciting line-up of movie proves that there are a whole host of different characters and their superhero alter-egos to be introduced. Keep trying to revive the older characters and you will begin to over-crowd a very tightly packed franchise. The end of Age of Ultron already demonstrated that there is more to The Avengers than the “original line-up” and a few choice actors retiring from their roles would force Marvel to get creative and trust in the even lesser-known superheroes they are trying to launch. I would much prefer an Avengers led by Spiderman or Doctor Strange than a movie trying to cram in every superhero introduced so far!
Add to this the potential that retiring actors offers – actual character deaths that stick! Don’t have Tony Stark ride off in the sunset – kill him! Give him a glorious, gut-punching death that matters. Lead the audience down a path that they won’t see coming. The next movie is called Civil War – can’t have a war without a few casualties.
Overall, Marvel will have to make a very difficult decision soon and I really hope they go with the wise-move of letting their actors leave and retiring their characters when they do. Marvel can’t afford to jeopardise their successful franchise by re-casting the most iconic characters so don’t bother. Trust in our new heroes and let the franchise develop – passing from the “old guard” to the new!