CORRECTION: Originally wrote that RDJ’s contract only has one more movie, which was incorrect – he has two left until he has to renew.
Marvel Studios is on top of the world right now, Hollywood-wise. They’re a hit-making machine – the branding/franchise/cross-promo model that the entire rest of the industry now wants to emulate – but they also manage to do so while making fanboys squeal, mainstream audiences cheer and critics go “Huh. That was pretty good, actually.”
But they’re also staring down the barrel of their first big existential crisis: Robert Downey Jr’s contract runs out after two more movies (presumably, “AVENGERS 2 & 3.”)
Let’s not pussyfoot around it: All the Marvel movies so far make money, but the ones with Iron Man tend to make twice as much. Yes, Marvel made RDJ an A-lister, but he’s still the sole A-lister in their toybox – the only (lead) actor in their Cinematic Universe more famous than the character. But since they’ve only got him for two more appearances at his current rate and will want those appearances to be “AVENGERS” sequels*, they’re either going to have to hand him the biggest paycheck ever or settle for expensive cameo appearances while he pivots toward finding the post-Marvel project that’ll make his career-rebirth story complete by turning him into “Academy Award Winner Robert Downey Jr.”
Marvel does not want to spend that kind of money. They are the cheapest, corner-cuttingest outfit in the business right now. So if keeping an A-lister is going to cost more than casting the nets for another A-lister – maybe one who’s hit a bit of a rough patch recently – then casting the net is what they’d be overwhelmingly more likely to do. Enter: Johnny Depp.
Real talk: Once you get over the ringing sounds of Tonto-speak leaping out of your subconscious at this prospect… this is least surprising thing that Marvel could announce other than “Stan Lee will probably have a cameo.” Marvel is now a Disney brand. So, more or less, is the blockbuster-starring “funny hat” version of Johnny Depp. Disney and Depp both know that audiences are sick of Jack Sparrow, and want a new PG-13 action/fantasy franchise to work with – that’s what “LONE RANGER” was supposed to be.
So do I believe that Marvel wants Depp for the part? Of course, because I believe Marvel would like any name actor to take any part – and I know they’ve talked to him before about possibly voicing Rocket Raccoon and a few other parts. But, realistically, Johnny Depp as a wizard who does elaborate hand-gestures and shouts made-up magic gibberish while futzing with a big floppy cape and tumbling through (inevitably) 3D/CGI surreal landscapes? It’s like he was born for it.
My question: If “DOCTOR STRANGE” – which will, presumably, join “ANT-MAN,” “THOR 3,” “CAPTAIN AMERICA 3” and maybe some yet-to-be announced projects like “MS. MARVEL” for Phase 3 – is going to become, in addition to a Marvel project, as Disney/Depp joint… is it even a question that the very next offer will be to Tim Burton to direct? And before you ask: I doubt Marvel would make any overtures to Gore Verbinski, who’s notorious for spending too much money and triggering delays. Again, fans my recoil at the thought, but Burton’s (aesthetic) sensibilities are rather uniquely well-suited to this particular character, and Disney can likely still pop a raging-semi thinking about how much money the Depp/Burton team made them on that godawful “ALICE IN WONDERLAND” thing.
This would not be my first or ideal choice for this… but I don’t hate this. If this is how it was to go down, I can see it working.
*P.S. Pure conjecture: I’d say the odds are pretty good that Iron Man doesn’t make it out of “AGE OF ULTRON” with Tony Stark still in the suit. As is, he’s supposed to have soft-retired from being Iron Man at the end of his own third movie, and if the movie version of Ultron is – as many expect – a rogue Stark creation (everyone’s guess is “Evil J.A.R.V.I.S,” I want him to turn out to be “Evil Dummy;”) it’d make sense for Stark to either be killed, crippled or otherwise incapacitated doing whatever it takes to destroy a villain he’s sort-of responsible for. They’ve already announced that Don Cheadle will be in the film as War Machine/Iron Patriot, and it’d be well in keeping with the spirit of things and the history of the character for him to take over the Iron Man identity after that. They don’t have to make more “IRON MAN” movies after that if they don’t think audiences will turn out for a non-RDJ actor, but it’d give them somebody on-deck to wear the suit for, say, a “ressurect and/or rescue Tony” plot in “AVENGERS 3.”