How long is Robert Downey, Jr. willing to play Iron Man? He’s going to be in the armor for at least four films, once the three Iron Man movies and The Avengers are tallied, and perhaps Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige can come to a deal for Downey to appear, in some measure, in The Avengers 2. Downey was a key part of kickstarting Marvel’s current film run. He helped legitimize the company’s approach starting with Iron Man, but he isn’t contracted to be Tony Stark forever, and at some point he’s going to want to move on.

So what does Marvel do at that point? Asked about the future of Iron Man, Feige said that the company will probably treat the character in the same way MGM and EON Productions used to deal with James Bond: they’ll get a new actor and move on.

Badass Digest talked to Feige at CinemaCon, and asked if Downey’s departure would call for an Iron Man reboot, or if they might take the James Bond route, “where a new guy took the role and nobody said anything.” Feige said,

I think Bond is a good example. Let’s put it this way: I hope Downey makes a lot of movies for us as Stark. If and when he doesn’t, and I’m still here making these movies, we don’t take him to Afghanistan and have him wounded again. I think we James Bond it.

That’s a good question that could be applied to all the characters in the Marvel film universe, and we’ve already seen the answer in action with the Hulk as he appears in The Avengers. (That is: played by Mark Ruffalo, who took over from Edward Norton.)

At some point, all the big actors who are in Marvel movies now are going to want to move on, and Marvel has created such an interconnected storyline that it won’t be able to reboot one character storyline without rebooting them all.

And, in fact, that could be a good thing overall. Actors coming and going from roles could be a lot like artist and writer changes on comic series — an artist change on a given book could create a radically different face for the same characters and situations, and readers would just roll with it. (Or not, at times, but overall the practice is just accepted as the way it goes.)

Of course, studios like reboots. From a marketing perspective they like to be able to trumpet a fresh start, the better to reinvigorate popular interest in a character. No company wants to have to release something with the goofy title Iron Man 14 — if it’s a new guy in the suit they’d much rather turn that into an event that makes the whole thing seem fresh and new, even if it really is just Iron Man 14. Which is a very roundabout way of saying that I hope Feige takes the Bond approach, but that Bond is a pretty singular series that not everyone else can emulate.

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