Robert Downey Jr. Schools Marvel on What They Should Do to Fight Superhero Fatigue

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Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in 'Iron Man' (2008)

Credit: Marvel Studios

Are audiences truly getting sick of superhero movies? RDJ has some lessons from Iron Man.

marvel what if avengers black widow thor captain america iron man hulk
Credit: Marvel Studios

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Maybe advice from Robert Downey Jr. on how Marvel Studios’ very own Iron Man (2008) might shed some light on the future of superhero cinema. The Marvel legend has portrayed Stark Industries’ genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist Tony Stark (Iron Man) since that first 2008 movie that birthed the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

It’s been fairly well documented by this point that “superhero fatigue” has become something people are starting to get familiar with. It’s essentially a burnout that many audiences are beginning to feel due to an oversaturation in the market — specifically due to the number of superhero products make it to the small and big screen. The Walt Disney Company’s Marvel Studios headed by Kevin Feige is definitely no stranger to this, as they are arguably the largest contributors to this phenomenon, alongside their long-time rivals, DC Studios run by Warner Bros. Discovery (and now headed by ex-Marvel director, James Gunn).

Now, some wise words from Marvel veteran Robert Downey Jr. regarding the markedly different approach that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first big blockbuster Iron Man utilized, might offer some timely advice that could help revive the franchise.

Tom Holland (Spider-Man) and Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark) in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' (2017)
Credit: Marvel Studios

Just the very state of Marvel movies at the time gives us a huge indicator as to what ultimately led to Iron Man‘s success. They certainly weren’t dealing with any Avengers-level threats back then. Speaking to Chris Gardner of the Hollywood Reporter about this first film, the Tony Stark actor shares:

Well, I mean first of all, not too many people were thinking Iron Man was going to have an opening weekend or do much of anything, so we were a little bit left alone… I find out more every day about how that thing was financed, it was basically ready to be written off if it tanked.

Perhaps there’s something to this approach that Marvel had in 2008, where creators were “left alone”, that led to the critical and box office success of 2008’s Iron Man. As recent Marvel Studios outings from well-loved Marvel directors like Taika Waititi (once hailed as being the savior and re-invigorator of the Thor franchise and character) recently had Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) release to extremely mixed reviews. This recent Phase Four has brought about the end of the Avengers era — where nearly every Marvel movie becomes a worldwide movie-going event, and critical and box office darling. Many attributed Love and Thunder‘s “failure” (compared to 2017’s overwhelmingly well-received Thor: Ragnarok, that is) to the fact that Waititi was given basically free reign with the project, before it was cut down significantly to Marvel Studios’ (and more importantly, The Walt Disney Company’s) prerequisite hour-and-59-minute runtime — potentially at either Kevin Feige or then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek & Co.’s explicit wishes.

RDJ as Iron Man with a close up shot of his face under the helmet
Credit: Marvel Studios

Related: Disregarding Superhero Fatigue, Marvel Confirms Over a Dozen New Films

RDJ also distinctly recalled the lack of “creative aggression” from the studio, in his own words:

It was the perfect thing where there were not a lot of creatively aggressive eyes on us — and by the time they gave it to us, it was like united artists, like the lunatics took over the asylum.

What does this mean? That Marvel back then did not feel that it was necessary to put a cap on the “lunacy” of its artists. No having to serve specific studio requests, no handicaps or prerequisites. The creatives were allowed to do what they felt was necessary to bring the story and characters to life — without heavy studio pressure.

Robert Downey, Jr,. as Iron Man
Credit: Marvel Studios

Hilariously busting out a stellar Jeff Bridges impression, Downey Jr. also shared something rather poignant (and potentially, useful), about how they basically made a “$200 million independent movie”:

And I remember Jeff Bridges too, he was like, ‘man, we’re doing a $200 million independent movie, man.’ And there was just that sense that, of course, it was much more organized.

It’s no secret that the not-so-favorable reviews of Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) had several complaints — often boiling down to what some thought to be inane writing choices, and a discrepancy with Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch’s (Elizabeth Olsen) character from her previous WandaVision (2021) Disney+ show, where she took on several “out of character” traits seemingly out of nowhere. Many have said that such requirements of their creators have left Marvel Studios in a confusing mess — as either people who have followed previous MCU works find that things don’t add up, or people who haven’t seen those TV shows or movies feel left out after having to do “homework” to catch up.

With Marvel Studios’ Phase Five and Six on the horizon, perhaps it’s time to start making “independent movies” again like Iron Man, and allowing just a little bit of that mentality to cultivate among its creatives — even if the films still come with a hefty price-tag.

What do you think could lie in the future for superheroes? Should Marvel Studios take a leaf from their own book? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s dramatic ending to Phase Three, Avengers: Endgame directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, saying goodbye to Marvel heavyweights Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America.

With Black Panther: Wakanda Forever sending off Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa/Black Panther and MCU’s Phase Four, Phase Five kicks off with Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania with Scott Lang as Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and introduces movie audiences to Jonathan Masters as the nefarious Kang the Conqueror, hitting theatres on February 17, 2023, before May 5, 2023 brings us the final James Gunn-directed Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 with Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and July 28, 2023 takes us to new cosmic heights with The Marvels, a direct sequel to Captain Marvel (2019) starring Brie Larson as Carol Danvers and newcomer Iman Vellani (Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel). We can expect the Disney+ Original Ironheart featuring Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) Fall 2023, to also hint at Tony Stark’s Iron Man. 2024 starts with Daredevil: Born Again – both Disney+ exclusives.

Phase Six will surely break new records with Fantastic Four in November 8, 2024, and likely the biggest announcements to date – a return to an Avengers-level threat with the Multiverse Saga’s conclusion in May 2025’s Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and November’s Avengers: Secret Wars. Providing a potential Iron Man return could be Armor Wars, starring Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine.

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