The dust’s been settled for a while now in Britain, and a grateful nation have begun to wipe the shrapnel from their eyes. With Iron Man 3 over and Robert Downey Jr possibly looking to wander off from Marvel at some point soon, where does the character go from here? I’ve assembled (puns!) a few ideas about where Marvel could do with the character, and the numerous ways they could continue on with or without Tony Stark. And, y’know, spoilers below.
Give him SHIELD. This happened in the comics at the end of Civil War. With Nick Fury disgraced - eventually he’s always disgraced, even when he’s Samuel L. Jackson – Iron Man took over as director of SHIELD. This would tie to the end of Iron Man 3 which saw Iron Man retire and Tony Stark rise. Perhaps in Avengers 2 we could see Tony take over as SHIELD leader and then spend the rest of the movie quipping through the tannoy system and necking mohitos. It’s reduce the character’s role, but keep him a presence – and having Downey Jr doing voiceover would be a lot cheaper than keeping him onscreen.
Let War Machine take over on active duty. Don Cheadle looked like he was having the time of his life in Iron Man 3, with the character finally getting some entertaining dialogue. His role remained peripheral, but at least this time round his quips were sharp, his stunts were fast, and that scene where he jumps out the suit and smacks somebody straight in the face? That’s the best bit in the whole movie. War Machine didn’t pay off in Iron Man 2, but the role grew tremendously in this most recent film, and audiences may well jump across to see War Machine take on the stunts whilst Tony Stark calls the shots from up high.
Rescue. Do audiences have the interest in seeing a Pepper Potts movie? I’d doubt it, although Pepper’s short-lived time in the suit during Matt Fraction’s comic run saw her develop a personal feud with Madame Masque – a character who could certainly work onscreen. The actual concept of the Rescue suit is that it has no offensive ability, only defensive – perhaps not the best concept to get people to come out to the cinema.
Send him to the Guardians of the Galaxy. As seen currently in Brian Michael Bendis’s new run with the team. The main thing about having Tony Stark fly into space? He’d have to keep the helmet on at all times. The role would be entirely a voiceover from Downey Jr, and you could even mess around with a concept like The Terrigen Mists, and have him mutate into a different actor. NOBODY KNOWS HOW THE TERRIGEN MISTS WORK! They can do basically anything you want ‘em to.
We bring Howard Stark to the present. If a time travelling villain appears in Avengers 2, let’s have him replace Tony with Howard! What could be better than two hours of John Slattery staggering around: hitting on Black Widow and Thor, drinking scotch, and worrying about the imminent threat of communism. Have him invent some more new elements while we’re at it! That’d be great.
Replace Tony Stark with somebody who has basically the same role. Black Panther, basically. If you’re reading New Avengers right now, you’ll note that Black Panther is currently eclipsing Iron Man in terms of prowess and entertainment value. Having a intense, inventive Black Panther show up who can also build smart technology and disrupt the smugness of SHIELD/The Avengers Initiative would help make up for Tony Stark not appearing in future Marvel films. If Tony were to be retired, a character like Black Panther would be a great choice to fill the void and move audiences on to the next phase.
Similarly, if you were to bring in Dr Strange, then Dr Strange is more or less exactly the same in looks. Why would people miss Tony Stark when this new, practically identical guy shows up? A guy who FIRES MAGIC LASERS at people.
Set up the West Coast Avengers. This doesn’t solve the problem of an unwilling Robert Downey Jr, but it WOULD be brilliant.
Simply get a new actor. It worked repeatedly with Bruce Banner, after all. Popping a new man in the suit and continuing to call him Tony Stark could well happen – although Marvel would have to worry about the extent to which Downey Jr has ‘owned’ the role over these last years. He’s essentially made Tony Stark, giving the character a push beyond imagination – one which has resonated into the comics, and into various other media. Will people ever be able to accept somebody else as Iron Man?
Yeah, of course they will. The general public have short memories. Somebody get Benedict Cumberbatch on the phone, pronto!