No, really, it makes sense, casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. True, Downey isn’t tall or rugged or bankable, but neither was Tobey Maguire when Marvel cast him as Spider-Man. More important, Downey can act, which is going to be key when he’s stuck for long stretches behind that immobile mask. (Maybe he can get some pointers from Hugo Weaving, who pulled off a similar feat in V for Vendetta.) Besides, this is going to be a demon-haunted Tony Stark, guilt-ridden over his experience as an arms manufacturer, and Downey certainly knows from demon-haunted. (This first Iron Man movie, due in May 2008, won’t deal with the substance-abuse problem Stark suffered in the comic books, but if the sequels do — as Variety reports they may — well, again, who better than Downey to take that on?)
I’m more intrigued by why Downey would choose the role. Years ago, when he and Mel Gibson costarred in Air America (this was before either of them had jumped on the Crazy, Blotto Celebrity train), I asked Downey why he’d wanted to be in a project so clearly bound for action-movie mediocrity. He replied that he’d wanted to work with Gibson, then added, ”Be careful what you wish for.” I don’t think Downey has done anything as unabashedly commercial since then, except maybe Ally McBeal. Today, years after having cleaned himself up, Downey is still an astonishingly talented actor who could easily work for the rest of his life in quirky indie films, but his career in mainstream movies remains stalled, so he needs one big hit to put himself back on Hollywood’s map. No wonder he started working out and growing a Stark-like goatee in order to campaign for the Iron Man lead. I’m sold — how about you?