– by David Kozlowski

Marvel’s cinematic superheroes are cruising towards an existential crisis. Many of their key heroes (from Disney’s MCU, Fox’s X-Men, and Sony’s Spiderverse) are played by aging actors or their current story arcs are reaching logical conclusions. Disney, Marvel, and Fox need to decide (soon) whether these characters are more like James Bond or Luke Skywalker. What does that mean? Consider that seven actors have portrayed James Bond to-date, and the franchise keeps chugging along; by contrast, Mark Hamill is the only actor to have played Luke Skywalker.

By comparison, we’ve had multiple Spider-Men and Hulks, but only one Wolverine or Iron Man. By emphasizing continuity Marvel’s painted themselves into a corner over the last decade and a half. So the big question is: should these studios recast, reassign, or retire any or all of these heroes? In the next couple of years we’re going to get some pretty clear evidence how they’re leaning, one way or the other.

Related – Avengers 4: Chris Evans Signed On Because “It’s Going To Wrap Everything Up”

When Bryan Singer’s X-Men debuted in 2000, we were introduced to Hugh Jackman’s amazing Wolverine, a career-making role. Arguably, this was the beginning of the modern era of Marvel superhero film (yes, yes, Blade hit in 1998, but X-Men still feels like the beginning to me). Can anyone imagine a non-Jackman Wolverine? All thee Wolverine movies combined have earned $1.4 billion to-date. You’d better believe that Fox wants to take that bet, given the money at stake and the intense fan love for this character — but it’s a damned risky move.

Marvel — whether we’re talking Disney, Sony, or Fox — needs to determine what’s most important to them: the actor, the alter ego, or the superhero. It’s a Bond vs. Skywalker decision. In other words, what does Marvel prioritize: Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark, or Iron Man. Let’s discuss…

Iron Man / Stark / Downey Jr.

Iron Man was a B-list comic book character before RDJ blew us away with his portrayal of Tony Stark in 2008. Similar to Jackman’s Wolverine, it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Stark/Iron Man. However, in the comics many others have worn the armor (sometimes, the suit is even AI-controlled). Iron Man can exist without Tony Stark, but can Marvel part ways with RDJ?

Stark is central to the MCU, his name and his presence are everywhere. However, RDJ turned 50 a couple years ago — playing the action hero over 50 is tenuous — although as Iron Man he is often depicted via CG (similar to Hulk). It’s conceivable that RDJ could continue in the MCU as Stark only, a defacto father figure; perhaps he passes along the Iron Man mantle while he assumes a background supporting or management role. Consequently, RDJ could continue on with the MCU for years as Stark, but maybe it’s best to hand off the keys to the suit to a younger protege, which could seriously energize Iron Man 4 (if Marvel decides to go that way).

Decision: REASSIGN

Captain America / Rogers / Evans

It took Chris Evans a while to connect with Steve Rogers/Captain America, he even fancied walking away a time or two, but Evans found his footing and his Rogers/Cap has become the moral compass of the MCU, and a great counterpoint and foil to RDJ’s Iron Man. However, if you’ve followed the comics over the last decade you’ve seen Cap killed, resurrected, live a full life in another dimension, grow old, and even become a Hydra villain — it’s been a pretty wild ride. During this time Cap’s best buddy, Bucky Barnes, once carried the shield and established a darker and gun-happy version of the Captain America. Sam Wilson’s Falcon has also assumed the role, resulting in multiple Captain Americas at various times in the comics.

The interesting thing is, Evans’ Rogers is not nearly as important to the MCU as RDJ’s Stark. Were Evans to depart, it might not have as large an impact on the storytelling — particularly given the character’s history with Wilson and Barnes.

The MCU version of Barnes (Sebastian Stan) appears poised to step into the role, either during or after Avengers: Infinity War — he’s earned the shot. However, Falcon (Anthony Mackie) would also be a fantastic choice to pick up the shield, and present a high-flying version of the Sentinel of Liberty. However, we think it’s more likely that Barnes’ Winter Soldier will complete his redemption story and honor his friend, as there’s a very good chance Evans walks into the sunset or (more likely) sacrifices himself to save others as the ultimate heroic gesture in one of the next two Avengers films.

Decision: REASSIGN

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David Kozlowski is a writer, podcaster, and visual artist. A U.S. Army veteran, David worked 20 years in the videogame industry and is a graduate of Arizona State University's Film and Media Studies.