Robert Downey Jr. chimes in on the superhero movies debate. The actor kicked off the MCU in 2008 by portraying Tony Stark in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man and went on to play the role for 11 years, essentially becoming the face of Marvel’s franchise. That was until he ended his comic book movie stint in Avengers: Endgame, in which Stark died by sacrificing his life to defeat Thanos. More than three years since his final outing as Iron Man, Downey has been busy venturing out in his career, trying new roles and even producing projects with his wife, Susan Downey. But he will forever be associated with the MCU, hence why it’s interesting to get his take on the ongoing conversation about the impact of superhero movies on the filmmaking industry.
Speaking with Deadline while promoting his documentary, Sr., Downey offers his two cents on the comic book movie debate. Instead of zeroing in on criticism lobbied at the films that he was once a big part of, the actor opts to promulgate unity. He also addresses Quentin Tarantino’s dig against MCU actors, saying that movie-making is a collaborative endeavor, and all people involved in creating them are equally important. Read Downey’s full quote below:
I think our opinions on these matters say a lot about us. I think that we are in a time and place that I unwittingly contributed to, where IP has taken precedence over principle and personality. But it’s a double-edged sword. A piece of IP is only as good as the human talent you get to represent it, and you can have some great IP even if it’s coming from an auteur or a national treasure of a writer-director, and if you don’t have the right kind of artist playing that role, you’ll never know how good it could have been.
I think that creatively it is a waste of time to be at war with ourselves. I think this is a time when everything is so much more fragmented now that I think you have this kind of bifurcation. Throwing stones one way or another… and I’ve had my reactions in the past when people said things that I felt were discrediting my integrity… I go, “You know what? Let’s just get over it. We’re all a community. There’s enough room for everything,” and thank God for Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water. That’s all I have to say. We need the big stuff to make room for films like Armageddon Time.
I’m not talking about trickle-down entertainment. I’m just saying that things are always changing and I’m at a place in my life where I’ve now gone back to back, working with Chris Nolan on what was an exceptionally transformational experience for me; having been in pre-production post and bringing Sr. to market; and the next thing I’m doing is a series with my Mrs. and the director Park Chan-wook, based on a Pulitzer book called The Sympathizer. It’s already a transformative, literally playing five different roles experience for me. So, I would just say, before we cast aspersions on each other — undergo your own renaissance and see if it doesn’t change your mind a little bit.
Reinvent yourself before you decide that somebody else doesn’t know what they’re doing or that something is keeping you from doing your best, or that something is better than something else. You know, we’re in this age now where Favreau said it best: We used to try to make waves in a lake, and now we’re just trying to catch people’s attention as things are moving by quickly in a stream. I think that’ll change again, but this is just where we’re at. And to accept it and be grateful that you get to participate is the right place to start.
Why The Superhero Movie Debate Won’t Go Away
In 2019, legendary director Martin Scorsese made his controversial comment dubbing the MCU “not cinema,” equating the franchise’s blockbusters to entertaining rollercoaster rides as opposed to artistic experiences. His criticism was backed up by fellow Italian-American filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, with a string of other directors coming out to also criticize both Marvel Studios’ franchise and the superhero genre’s prevalence in general. Since then, the conversation has sporadically continued over the last few years, prompting people involved in these films to address the ongoing conversation. Unfortunately, this debate will likely not die down anytime soon. If anything, it may even get worse.
This is due to the superhero movie sandbox not just continuing to be a major force, but set to expand over the next few years. Marvel Studios has just wrapped up Phase 4 with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, but in around two months, they are set to kick off Phase 5 with Ant-Man 3, which Kevin Feige dubbed the peak of the MCU. Beyond that, the franchise has a confirmed film and tV slate that will run until 2026, with more projects to come until 2032. Meanwhile, the DCU is also getting the ball rolling once again with new co-CEOs James Gunn and Peter Safran, who also have long-term release plans for the franchise.
All in all, Downey’s final point is important. While the MCU and comic book films dominate Hollywood today, there will come a time when things change, and a different type of story will resonate more with people. Until then, the best everyone can do is make sure to give space for all kinds of movies to exist, because creating a bigger wedge between people will only make things worse for everyone.