Marvel succession planning: Who will carry the torch?
While DC is still trying to get its fledgling movieverse off the ground, Marvel (and other studios’ franchises featuring Marvel characters) is getting to the point where they have to start thinking about replacing some of their most recognizable stars.
Robert Downey Jr. is under contract for just two more appearances as Iron Man: the upcoming second and third Avengers films. Hugh Jackman is down to maybe one or two more go-rounds as Wolverine. Unless the studios get tired of making money, eventually, these franchise characters are going to have to be played by new actors.
You could go the total reboot route like Spider-Man, where Andrew Garfield replaced Tobey Maguire in an all-new series. You can just swap them like nothing happened, a la Mark Ruffalo taking over as Bruce Banner from Edward Norton (both are good, but neither are as iconic as Jackman and Downey).
But the source material already has some built-in plots and characters that could keep the story going while explaining a new actor in the role.
IRON MAN: We’ve already met him: Don Cheadle’s Rhodey, aka War Machine, aka Iron Patriot. I was always kind of lukewarm about Iron Man prior to Downey’s electrifying turn in the movies, but for some reason, I found the black-and-white-and-armed-all-over War Machine suit incredibly cool. Before that, Rhodey served as Iron Man while Tony Stark battled alcoholism. This could work, even as a standalone movie to cleanse the palette before someone tries to step into RDJ’s rocket boots.
WOLVERINE: Despite being almost a foot taller than his comic counterpart, Hugh Jackman is Wolverine. Fox could go in a very different direction and introduce X-23, Logan’s female clone with two claws on each hand and one more on each foot. But we all know a female superhero can’t carry a movie (note the sarcasm as we continue to await a Wonder Woman feature).
There’s also Wolverine’s son Daken, who was more villain than hero and never particularly grew on me.
THOR: Chris Hemsworth is younger than Downey and Jackman, but one day he might want to hang up his hammer. The mantle could be taken up by a different actor or an entirely different character. There’s actually a team out there called the Thor Corps, wielding their own Mjolnir-ish mallets.
Its members include Beta Ray Bill, an alien cyborg who kind of looks like a horse and who I’ve always liked better than Thor himself. Then there’s Thunderstrike, an architect who did such a bang-up job taking Thor’s place that Odin eventually gave him his own hammer and let him keep it in spite of his oh-so-’90s vest and ponytail.
There’s also a future Thor name Dargo Ktor, a Thor Girl and even a hammer-wielding frog named Puddlegulp.
(None of that last sentence was made up.)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: When Steve Rogers kicked the bucket in the comics, his old pal Bucky Barnes, now the Winter Soldier, replaced him for a while. There was also the awesomely named USAgent. aka John Walker (and later, really, Jack Daniels), he took over as Cap for a while before donning a red, white and black variation on the classic costume that Rogers himself wore while Walker was wearing his old outfit.
Even HAWKEYE and BLACK WIDOW have had younger models (both female) take their codenames out for a spin. I don’t know that the studios would take the risk of using a lesser-known character to avoid a full-on reboot, but it could be a neat way to take the brand in another direction while keeping it linked to the films many people have already enjoyed.
Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic Support Group (www.supportgroupcomic.com).