There’s a lot on the line with the release of Iron Man, the latest superhero comic blockbuster film. It’s the kick-off of the summer movie season, and a big opening for Jon Favreau’s film will set an optimistic tone for Hollywood’s prospects. It’s also the birth of a potentially lucrative new movie franchise for the studios involved, and the person who’ll benefit most of all is probably Robert Downey Jr., a star whose considerable talent was once eclipsed by the battles with addiction that landed him a six-month jail sentence.
Downey plays Tony Stark, a millionaire inventor and munitions manufacturer who builds a wearable weapon after he’s kidnapped by terrorists and becomes the film’s titular hero. He brings his customary mix of edgy charm and wry humour to the role, and perfectly inhabits the skin of a character who’s never had any reason to believe he isn’t the smartest person in the room. He wasn’t, however, the studio’s first choice for the role — far from it.
“Yeah. They didn’t come to me for this,” Downey recalls at a press event in New York. “I met Jon and said, ‘I’m the guy for this,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I know, it ain’t gonna happen.’ I was like, ‘I think it is.’ I was thinking of (Daniel Day-Lewis’) Plainview in There Will Be Blood.” At this point Downey mimics Day-Lewis’ booming delivery. “‘When it COMES to the SHOWDOWN ...!’ Just give me the showdown, dude. ’Cuz that’s what I do. I’ve been doing it for so long. I’m not just some kid, or some guy who’s a three-hit wonder. Let’s see who throws the ball fastest, motherfucker. I’m warmed up. Let’s do it.”
Favreau agrees it wasn’t easy convincing Marvel Studios, the producers, to go with Downey. “The first moment I knew I was in good shape was when I got Robert hired, and everything else pales next to the sense of relief that I had because I knew I could do it with him,” he says.
The climax of the film is the most defiant set-up for a sequel in years, and both Favreau and Downey say they know exactly what they want to do if the box office lets them continue with Stark. “If you ask me,” Downey says, “the next one is about what do you do with the rest of your life once you’re completely changed, and you’ve created this thing, which has the power to take life. Essentially you’ve been made into a god. And a human being who metaphorically has been made into a god isn’t going to turn out so well, and their conscience is going to come to bear.
“I think he should do something wrong, that would be a good reason for the demon in the bottle, and the drink would be a good reason to confront his age, to confront his doubt, and confront that Pepper (Potts, his love interest, played by Gwyneth Paltrow), maybe, gets a boyfriend, and he’s like, ‘I’m so happy for you.’” Downey mimes taking a deep drink. “And then he shows up in his Iron Man suit going, ‘What’s he got that I haven’t got?’”
Iron Man opens today.