Hollywood Reporter ran a story that Robert Downey, Jr. was currently in negotiations to star in Cowboys & Aliens, a comic book adaptation that DreamWorks and Universal are looking at as a possible 2010 summer blockbuster.
While it is exciting to see Downey close to closing his first post-Iron Man deal, even if the project that wasn’t on many people’s radar for the actor, it does raise some questions about the future of the proposed Iron Man sequel. Normally, the scheduling of projects can be moved around a bit based on key participants’ availability. As most of the success of Iron Man can laid on the shoulders of Downey and his collaboration with director Jon Favreau, it makes sense that Marvel would want the pair back for the sequel and would wait until both their schedules permitted them to work on the film.
However, Iron Man 2 is not just a sequel, but a key component in Marvel Studio’s overall franchise plans for the next few summers, in which various superhero films will all dovetail into an Avengers team-up movie featuring those various heroes joining forces for one uber-blockbuster. In the wake of Iron Man’s spectacular box office opening last month, Marvel announced that it planned on releasing Iron Man 2 and Thor in the summer of 2010 and a Captain America film at the beginning of the summer of 2011. All three films would serve as lead-ins to mid-summer 2011’s Avengers.
The problem is that Marvel’s aggressive schedule does not have a whole lot of wiggle room, especially if they wish to stick as close as possible to their already announced release schedule. In order to make the intended April 30, 2010 release date, Iron Man 2 needs to go into production no later than spring 2009, the same time Cowboys & Aliens would need to in order to meet Universal’s desired summer 2010 date. With such a short lead time, Favreau has already stated that he feels the script writing and post production phases would be rushed, which would adversely affect the final film. And this is not even taking in to account that Favreau has still not yet been signed by Marvel to direct the sequel.
Ideally, Marvel could switch the Thor and Iron Man 2 dates for summer 2010, moving Thor to an April 30 opening and debuting Iron Man 2 on Thor’s currently staked out date of July 4. But this would only buy the Iron Man 2 production an extra eight weeks or so, not enough for Favreau’s needs. If the commonly held assumption that May 2011’s Captain America movie ends in a way that directly leads to the following July’s Avengers movie is correct, than Marvel certainly won’t want to move Captain America around on their schedule. Delaying Captain America and the Avengers films is probably not an option under strong consideration, in that further time between films would undermine the franchise momentum Marvel is trying to build.
The only alternative this leaves Marvel would be to be more malleable with their release strategy, leaving Thor in the summer of 2010 and perhaps moving Iron Man 2 to the holiday season of that year. There, its only currently announced competition would be Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Flipping Iron Man 2 to November/December 2010 would also put the movie closer to Marvel’s 2011 summer one-two punch of Captain America/Avengers, perhaps allowing more of a head of steam to develop for their overall franchise.
Lesser desirable scenarios include Marvel not making a second Iron Man film, and plugging another production into that spot. Currently, Edgar Wright is developing a movie based on Marvel’s Ant Man, a character who has long and strong ties to the Avengers. Marvel has not made any firm statements as to when to expect an Ant Man film. It is conceivable that Marvel may be holding Ant Man “on deck” to fill a spot if either the Iron Man sequel or the Thor movie were not ready to go into production when they need them to. (A script for Thor has been in development for years.) Conceivably, Marvel could recast. But given the fan reaction to Downey’s portrayal, that would be a suicide move.
Right now, Marvel is in a precarious position and needs to make some smart decisions and needs to make them quickly. They are to be commended for attempting as something as high risk as what they are doing. However, they need to take steps now to insure that the whole thing doesn’t fall apart before it really gets started.