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We’ve been hearing so many conversations lately about the possible departure of Robert Downey Jr. from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that we’ve begun preparing, in the backs of our minds, for a world without Downey and – possibly – Iron Man. The latest sequel delivered a lot of closure for the character of Tony Stark (at least in the way that Downey plays him), and while Kevin Feige says that Iron Man will be a part of The Avengers 2, it’s clear that a new hero has to step up and assume the charismatic leadership role that RDJ has provided on screen for the past few years. Eric and Sean got together and threw out some ideas for Iron Man’s successor. Whom would you like to see in the MCU spotlight?

Eric: So, I'm sure you've been paying attention to the big news in the Marvel Cinematic Universe recently, which is that we may not have Robert Downey Jr. around forever. Contract negotiations have been going on for a while now.

The problem with potentially losing Tony Stark, though, is that you lose what is basically the charismatic leader of the MCU. So if they lose that leader, what characters do you think Marvel can turn to in order to fill that void?

Sean: I think it is an interesting question. Because Marvel basically has defaulted to Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. because: 1) Jon Favreau's movie helped launch the current MCU; and 2) Downey Jr. is a fantastic actor to build a pop-culture franchise around. BUT, if Marvel had to do it all over again, I kind of think they would have preferred to launch the MCU around the man they eventually called The First Avenger ... Captain America.

And that is the main reason why I think Cap, and Chris Evans specifically, needs to be become the new focal point of the MCU. Can you see that?

Chris Evans Captain America

Eric: I definitely see your point, and, really, as the strategic leader of The Avengers, it makes sense that Evans would become the face of the entire franchise. But I wonder if it may be too late. Evans has charisma to be sure, but he was completely overshadowed in that respect in Phase One. Do you think that's something he could rebound from?

Sean: Oh, definitely. Think of his performances as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies. Now that Cap has found solid footing in the contemporary society, Evans can start bleeding in more of that humor, that levity. Cap also has a direct connection to S.H.I.E.L.D., which will be a glue that bonds several of these Marvel chapters together. And he won't be jet-setting away to Asgard like Thor ... who doesn't strike me as a natural leader, anyway. I think that Marvel can allow Evans to mature into the leader role as Cap, and the actor has the chops to pull it off.

Do you have another option? I'm curious who you like. Because I do have one more wild card.

Eric: Well, I think that new blood is really the way to go. Hit audiences with someone new that they can appreciate on the same level as Downey Jr. Depending on how Guardians of the Galaxy ends up being connected to the rest of the Marvel Universe, it's possible that Chris Pratt could use his insane level of likability to help fill the void. And the take on Ant-Man they end up going with could be a game-changer too.
Chris Pratt

Sean: I know very little about Star Lord. Is he a worthy successor to the crown?

Eric: Well, that's kind of the bonus - nobody really knows about him, so they can mold him to a certain extent. And they did cast Chris Pratt in the role, which means that he must be fun. Sean: True. Pratt is a likable actor, and I hope they allow him to play Star Lord that way. If James Gunn really is making a Star Wars-type adventure, as has been hinted at (perhaps half-heartedly), Pratt could be a Han Solo-esque character who comes down to Earth after Guardians and serves as he head of the MCU.

But I have one other option. What about Hawkeye? Do you think that Jeremy Renner could be handed the "keys" to the MCU, and asked to carry the load?

Eric: Well, Renner is obviously an established star and a box office draw, but I think he has the same problem as Chris Evans' Captain America … to an ever more extreme extent. Because of how little he was actually used in The Avengers, he ended up being a bit of a punch line, which doesn't help. One thing they could do to put him in a leadership role, however, would be to form the West Coast Avengers.

But what about other characters that don't necessarily have movie deals yet or haven't been featured?

This is where it hurts not to have Spider-Man in your arsenal!

Sean: Dude, I totally agree.

And the funny thing is, I don't really see anyone in the next Phase who, on the surface, fits the role of "leader." Ant-Man? Iron Fist? Even Doctor Strange strikes me as a perfunctory character who will make outstanding contributions, but I can't say that he's cut out to lead.

Of course, casting will make ALL of the difference, and when we see who they get for Ant-Man, it might tell us more about how Marvel plans to use them. But for now, I'm hard-pressed to think of characters outside of Cap who I'd like to see step into Downey's role as Unofficial Marvel Movie Star Extraordinaire.

Eric: And, like I said, which version of Ant-Man they use. I think Scott Lang, for example, would be a more interesting choice than Hank Pym.

Sean: Agreed. Now, Marvel will likely pay RDJ a boatload of money to stay. But I think they have options, and can cultivate a new "leader," or recruit from the current team. I don't want to see Downey go, per se, but I don't see the MCU falling apart at the seams if he eventually decides enough is enough. Right?

? Eric It might hurt a bit from a box-office standpoint, but yes, the MCU could take the hit. And from a creative perspective I actually kind of want them to move on from Iron Man. The most exciting thing about what Marvel is doing is that there's a chance to bring a whole diverse group of heroes to the big screen, and if they keep being dependent on Iron Man then that will stunt their growth.

Sean: Agreed. No offense, Mr. Downey. We loved what you did! But we're ready to move on, as well, so long as you are.

Watch Goose the Cat 'Audition' For Captain Marvel

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