This weekend, the Sunday Times published an interview with Matt Damon titled “Is Matt Damon the last of Hollywood’s leading men?”. The article explores the cultural shift of the film industry away from movie stars and towards franchise properties, like Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and DC films. The reason is simple: skittish movie studios would rather bank on familiar franchises that ensure global box office receipts. And while this has seen a boom for superhero and fantasy films, it has led to a bust in more mature, adult “serious” films.
Damon laments the changing landscape, that sees more young audiences streaming films at home and texting between scenes. But Damon himself doesn’t make the most controversial statement in the piece. Journalist Jonathan Dean lit the Twittersphere on fire with his take on Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Dean writes,
“One immediate difference between when Damon started out and now is that the leading men no longer sell the films most people watch. The big titles of the past decade are brands and franchises established in numerous prequels and sequels. Robert Downey Jr is a leading man, but his Iron Man could be played by almost anyone with wit; the character is more important to audiences than the actor.”
Fans of Robert Downey Jr.’s performance, which birthed the entire MCU as we know it, were quick to disagree with Dean’s assessment. And they’re not wrong: RDJ brought so much to the role of Tony Stark, with conveyed not only the character’s intelligence but his alcoholism, his ego, and his wounded pride. It’s easy to forget now, but RDJ’s casting was considered out of left field. Although he was an admired actor, he was best known as a tabloid fixture thanks to his substance abuse problems. And while the Marvel execs wanted someone like Tom Cruise in the role, director Jon Favreau fought for RDJ. The rest is superhero cinema history, as RDJ became a global superstar and Tony Stark/Iron Man a beloved character.
Many took to Twitter to disagree with Dean and to celebrate RDJ’s performance:
Say what you will about the MCU or the Iron Man films, but you absolutely cannot deny that Robert Downey Jr. was perfectly cast as Tony Stark. https://t.co/N2vO47i4Tb
— Jar’d Man | WATCH TERRIERS. GO WATCH IT NOW (@JarredManOfJars) August 1, 2021
the way iron man was a throwaway character that was niche and most people didn’t care about until RDJ embodied him…
this is the worst take… https://t.co/64wccXtGU5
— Tabali Tigi (@tabali_tigi) August 1, 2021
Iron Man was not an a-list character to the general public. Casting Robert Downey Jr. specifically was the thing that made that movie — and the MCU — click with the general public. It is impossible to overstate how important casting him was. https://t.co/VCw6hG1DO3
— DrewMcWeeny (@DrewMcWeeny) August 1, 2021
When people talk about well casted roles, RDJ as Tony Stark almost always comes up. Iron Man wasn’t nearly as popular til RDJ’s performance https://t.co/H31Spj7MUX
— Ashley K. (@AshleyKSmalls) August 1, 2021
are you high?
His Iron Man is the Iron Man only he could play. It changed how the character was written forever. https://t.co/lBGBqJSnhJ
— Magdalene Visaggio – COLD BODIES OUT 9/8 🏳️🌈 (@MagsVisaggs) August 1, 2021
I completely agree with the idea that Robert Downey Jr IS Iron Man, and there is no wiggle room on casting.
Certain actors MAKE certain roles, and real fans (of any comic/novel/tv show adaptation) know this on a gut level.
— Daley Downing (@invisiblemoth1) August 1, 2021
This is wrong only about Robert Downey Jr. That first film needed actors with charisma and critical pull. Everyone that came after that: anyone with hair and a good physique will do. https://t.co/ornIbOr8O5
— Dan McDaid (@danmcdaid) August 1, 2021
bad take. Iron Man was not a popular hero before RDJ. The MCU made Iron Man what it is today. And they couldn’t have done it without RDJ in the role. Blatant misread of culture. https://t.co/pknBesdliG
— Gene Park (@GenePark) August 1, 2021
This take ignores that much of the “wit” and other specifics that made Tony Stark/Iron Man so compelling and popular were innovations of Robert Downey Jr. A different actor might be able to mimic his Iron Man now, but they wouldn’t have come up with it in the first place.
— Christopher Rhodes (@PReligions) August 1, 2021
Tell me you are a goof without saying you’re a goof. https://t.co/fmTJu4bs0T
— Gail Simone (@GailSimone) August 1, 2021
💯% with you.
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) August 1, 2021
“RDJ isn’t what made Iron Man work” is like a take crafted in a lab to draw the most rage possible
— Paul Tassi (@PaulTassi) August 1, 2021
(via Sunday Times, image: Disney/Marvel)
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