Sam Rockwell as Iron Man: What Could Have Been

By  · Published on April 8th, 2010

I’ll begin by saying it almost pains me to think of anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. donning the red and gold armor of Iron Man. I also realize, however, that this is born of familiarity, even through a single film. Downey was a stellar pick, without question. I was immediately comfortable with him in the role. While the Tony Stark I remember from the comic books was much darker and emotionally tarnished than the one we’ve seen on screen, Downey owns this Stark. It’s his, and we clearly love it. That however, is the kicker. We forgive some meandering on the part of great actors when they bring a spirit to characters we love that is still recognizable. Stark is a playboy, multi-millionaire with a thing for the ladies. Downey played that aspect of his character up to perfection. Good on him.

Still, when Geoff Boucher of Hero Complex noted that Sam Rockwell was on the short list to helm the Iron Man franchise, I couldn’t help but feel like we may have missed something equally amazing, if not slightly different than the RDJ portrayal. That said, it’s all subtle flavors. Downey and Rockwell are both masters of the manic, smoothly shifting gears from throwing off energy like a stellar explosion, to making the viewer hang on their subtle tics and gestures. To me, however, Rockwell has this strong Gonzo undercurrent to his acting, and a mischievousness that’s darker than what Downey has in the bag.

No matter how sleazy Downey’s Stark appears, it’s always playful sleaze. If Pepper Potts ever brought him home to meet the parents, sure, he’d hit on her mother and drink dad’s scotch, but they’d still think he was aces. Rockwell’s Stark? I’m guessing there would still be laughs all around – but it would be uneasy laughter. Were you not totally charmed and equally repelled by Rockwell’s Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind? Rockwell has a natural edge on dark, and that’s definitely something I enjoyed about the Tony Stark character from the comic books. He was a drinker, drug addict, philanderer, and a cutthroat Capitalist. Rockwell does a fantastic flawed man, and Tony Stark was very much that. With the promise of more Iron Man down the road, will we perhaps see Robert Downey Jr. play up to this aspect of the Stark character? Perhaps. Will he do a fine job of capturing that if so? Without question.

Lucky for us, we’ll have the opportunity to see both men share screen time with the much anticipated Iron Man 2 soon to be in theaters. Still, I believe it would have been a lot of fun to see an edgier Iron Man; a Tony Stark with a little more danger than mischief in his eyes.

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