by Josh Starnes, CMRO Editor
No. At least it doesn’t look that way yet.
In just two short months “Iron Man 3” will be hitting the big screen, almost a year to the day since “Marvel’s The Avengers” opened last May which will make this the fourth summer a major “Iron Man” film will be getting released out of the last six. And if they could have fit at least one more in there (somewhere in between “Sherlock Holmes” films, I guess) I’m sure they would have. By comparison, Hugh Jackman, the only other actor to be so definitely linked to a major Marvel character, will have managed only two more appearances as Wolverine by the end of this summer (though of course he is jumping right from filming “The Wolverine” to “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) and that has taken him nearly 13 years to manage. (Yes, Bryan Singer’s original “X-Men” is verging on being 15 years old. Yes, that makes you old).
Even among major tent-pole franchises that’s a lot of exposure and though contracts will need to be re-negotiated, someone somewhere is certainly already talking about “Iron Man 4” and of course there will be great desire for him to appear in “The Avengers 2” in 2015. Which means Downey, Jr. will have to be suiting up again this time next year for his fifth go round.
That much exposure seems to beg the question – how much “Iron Man” is the world ready for?
From a business perspective it makes sense. Marvel Comics doesn’t pause in making “Iron Man” books because they just finished publishing 12 issues in a row. They push and push and push to see what the market will endure. Case in point, the launching of the Invincible Iron Man as a second Iron Man book in 2009 (by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larossa) to see if the popularity of the first film would rub off in increased comic sales. When it quickly became apparent that the world really was only big enough for one Iron Man comic Marvel editorial took a long hard look at what they had and cancelled the longer running Iron Man book (longer running by about 15 issues as the series had been relaunched just two years earlier to capitalize on Warren Ellis joining the book as regular writer) to make room for Fraction and Larossa’s more well-regarded opus.
Movie economics by necessity work out of a different rule book. They cost more, take longer to make and as such can’t make easy course corrections. Tent pole franchise making is an endurance sport, like soccer. It takes a real Iron Man to make it work.
Which is what makes the Paramount’s (and now Disney’s) decision to make as much “Iron Man” as they can while they can both an obvious necessity and a true risk. It is not only possible to likely to run a franchise into the ground to the point where it must be either abandoned or restarted from the ground up (observe Warner Bros. successful relaunch of “Batman” or Paramount’s work with “Star Trek”).
However. Moreso than any of Marvel’s other major properties (barring perhaps Wolverine, though that remains to be seen) “Iron Man” the film is more tightly associated with the actor bringing the character to life – Downey, Jr.—than any other Marvel character. Iron Man’s popularity on film has far outpaced his popularity in print. He is by far the most popular of the Disney owned film projects; in fact after Spider-Man he is the second most popular individual film character Marvel has yet produced. Considering his niche within Marvel characters in print, far closer to Captain America, Thor and the like, it is difficult to say that is not due Downey’s presence.
If so, does the constant presence of Downey and his now signature character risks overexposure or burning out its star on the character? The same way the absence of Johnny Depp would make the continued success of “Pirates of the Caribbean” films at their old levels a difficult proposition, the absence of Downey, Jr. may well mean the same for “Iron Man.”
It’s not a perfect one-to-one comparison, of course. While it is easy to see Disney halting the pirate films after Depp tires of them, it is less likely the same would happen to its potent Marvel brand, particularly with the need to keep “The Avengers” going for as long as possible. And if “Amazing Spider-Man” proved anything else it is that it is possible to continually replace the actors in these films, moving them to a model more like the James Bond films. It wouldn’t even be the first time for Iron Man (Terrence Howard’s James Rhodes now being but a distant memory).
Still, if that is the case it seems we are long way from reaching that tipping point if the reaction to the Super Bowl “Iron Man 3” ad—not to mention Downey, Jr.’s hilarious ‘extended look’ version of the ad—is anything to go by.
And with “Avengers 2” likely a mandate to be as successful as the first, and the immense bargaining power that gives to all involved as contracts are renegotiated, it’s probably not something anyone has to worry about for some time to come.
No matter what happens though, what is sure is, like master himself James Bond, we will all likely look back on the “Downey era” as the best of the “Iron Men.”