With its Kang Phase in Peril, Marvel (Reportedly) Considers an Outside-the-Box Idea: Robert Downey, Jr. As Iron Man

Hey, it worked really well the last time they tried it.

LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA  OCTOBER 02 Kevin Feige President Marvel Studios speaks onstage during the LOKI Season 2 Launch...

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 02: Kevin Feige, President, Marvel Studios speaks onstage during the LOKI Season 2 Launch Event – Los Angeles at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on October 02, 2023. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

The days of Total Marvel Hegemony are long gone. While the MCU’s footprint in pop culture remains enormous, Kevin Feige and co. appear to be at a crossroads about the future of their still-expansive superhero slate. A new reported feature by Variety’s Tatiana Siegel unpacks the behind-the-scenes turmoil at the until-recently-Teflon studio. According to Siegel, when Feige and Marvel’s creative brain trust gathered for a creative retreat in Palm Springs this past September, the “most pressing issue” on the table was the problem of Jonathan Majors, who was tapped to play the franchise’s new central villain across multiple films before he was accused of domestic violence earlier this year.

But the idea that Marvel might be on the hunt for a new actor to play Kang the Conqueror—or a retooled story that doesn’t involve him—isn’t the most eyebrow-raising nugget in Variety’s piece. According to Siegel’s sources, “there have been talks to bring back the original gang for an Avengers movie,” meaning Iron Man (Downey, Jr.) and Black Widow (Johansson) could return to the fold despite dying valiantly in 2019’s Endgame. Downey has played things close to the vest when asked about a possible Marvel return, while Johnson told Gwyneth Paltrow, in reference to the Black Widow character, “[That] chapter is over. I did all that I had to do.” (She will be producing a project at Marvel, though details about it are scant.)

But what Marvel does about Majors is most critical, and clearly a cloud hanging over the studio. When Marvel selected Majors to join the universe in 2020, he was an ascendant young star fresh off well-received performances in The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Lovecraft Country. Majors debuted as Kang in the Loki series, and played the character in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, but was clearly positioned as the new Thanos for 2026’s Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and 2027’s Avengers: Secret Wars. Everything changed with his arrest, in late March, on assault and harassment charges, which he has denied. On October 25, a judge denied his appeal to have the case dismissed; the controversy has led to Majors being dropped by his management and losing several lucrative brand deals, as well as at least one starring film role.

Back in April, Deadline reported that there was “zero conversation in the Marvel camp to drop Majors from the MCU,” and he appears as a nerdy Kang variant, “Victor Timely,” in the second season of Loki, whose finale airs November 9th and will reportedly feed directly into Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. An industry insider told Variety, “Marvel is truly fucked with the whole Kang angle. And they haven’t had an opportunity to rewrite until very recently [because of the WGA strike]. But I don’t see a path to how they move forward with him.” In the Variety piece, Siegel wrote that Marvel has considered switching from Kang to “another comic book adversary, like Dr. Doom.”

Despite the success of recent films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the MCU is no longer the critical and commercial juggernaut it was throughout the 2010s. Criticism of both visual effects quality and the working conditions for their VFX artists have led to public scrutiny. In a unanimous September vote, Marvel’s effects team will be unionizing with IATSE, a move that could signal a paradigm shift in the industry.

Apart from the actual quality, the torrent of Disney+ TV shows led to a high level of viewer fatigue. Eight new Marvel shows launched between January 2021 and August 2022 as part of the MCU’s “Phase Four,” while more recent programs like She-Hulk and Secret Invasion received more mixed reviews. Variety’s story includes a quote from Bob Iger saying that the gold rush of Marvel series “diluted focus and attention” from the universe at large. The uncertainty at Marvel also comes while rival DC is revamping its approach to film and television under Guardians of the Galaxy mastermind James Gunn and Peter Safran.

The next Marvel project to hit theaters is The Marvels, which features a terrific director in Nia DaCosta and an appealing cast headlined by Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, and Iman Vellani, though Variety noted that the film earned “middling reviews” at a June public screening.

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