How PAUL BETTANY / THE VISION Can Solve Marvel's ROBERT DOWNEY Jr. Problem
What Robert Downey Jr. problem you ask? Let’s be clear and simple here – the 48 year old actor is the no-argument MVP and lynchpin of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which through Thor: The Dark World, has yet to show a crack in its armor (see what we did there?)
But, Downey Jr. is only signed for two more films – 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and the eventual Avengers 3, at a likely very high rate of pay, at that.
So Marvel Studios is likely going to someday face a future Marvel movie-verse without the now-iconic Downey Jr.-as-Tony Stark, maybe sooner than they’d like. After all, the now-nearly 50 year-old actor is likely going to want to flex his creative muscles and marketing power at its peak, without having to commit to months-long, highly-physical Marvel shoots every year or so.
If only there was a way for Marvel and ‘RDJ’ to have their Iron cake, and eat it too.
How can the reported casting of Paul Bettany as The Vision , graduating from his role as Iron Man’s on-board AI co-pilot/man Friday J.A.R.V.I.S. help extend Downey Jr.’s role in the MCU?
We’ve got a crazy theory about the plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron that we think would help get the job done.
First of all, the theory is steeped in the idea that Ultron will in some form or another be an evil version of J.A.R.V.I.S. culled together physically from old Iron Man armors, as suggested in Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con and D23 Expo teasers from last year. Take another look and meet us right below when you're done.
Now of course we also know James Spader will play the role of Ultron and director/writer Joss Whedon has suggested Spader’s role will be more than just voice work over a CGI Ultron, which leaves us with the problem of why would a computer program would change its voice, and delete its British accent no less, for the occasion of turning evil/going rogue?
But then there were also those Avengers storyboard animatics that turned up last year seemingly foreshadowing a once-written (if ultimately not used) dark turn by J.A.R.V.I.S.
And now we have Bettany reportedly as The Vision.
So how does it all fit together?
Here’s the conjecture of one Senior Editor that thinks about these things more than is probably advisable (Hey, I got Khan right a few years back!).
Let’s begin by reminding ourselves of a couple of key things that we know about Age of Ultron, or at least Whedon wants us to think we know.
Two things stand out, straight from the mouth the writer/director/guru himself:
1.) A theme of the sequel is “Death, death and death.”
2.) In an early interview last year, asked what threat they’ll face in the sequel Whedon responded cryptically – “Themselves. We're all our own worst enemy."
And thus we begin our speculative plot coverage of Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Playing off themes from Iron Man 3, in addition to the multitude of armors to face potential threats, Tony Stark (again, the lynchpin of the MCU) also created a series of protocols to take down – if the need should ever arise – his fellow Avengers, especially the Hulk and Thor, and even Iron Man, should the armor ever fall into the wrong hands.
Whedon, a fine comic book geek of the first degree, knows this is similar to Batman having created contingency protocols to take down his fellow Justice League members in both New 52 and pre-New 52 continuity.
These Avengers protocols only exist as computer models, however, and maybe Stark even thinks he destroyed them ala his legion of armors at the conclusion of Iron Man 3. But the program somehow survives and takes on nefarious sentience -- sort of J.A.R.V.I.S.’s evil (fraternal) twin brother.
This, combined with every single S.H.I.E.L.D. secret Stark pirated from their Helicarrier computer in The Avengers (remember that?), serves as the genesis of Ultron; something created to take out the Avengers if necessary, that knows everything S.H.I.E.L.D. knows, and now with a body pieced together from the various armors.
This takes care of the “Avengers against themselves” scenario, as Stark is now the creator of the greatest threat the Earth ever faced (until Thanos shows up, of course), pitting him against his one-time teammates and tearing the team apart from within. Maybe the Black Widow’s past and Banner’s pragmatism put them on the side of Stark, while Cap’s distaste for secrets and Thor’s godly-egotism pit them against the others.
Either way, Stark is still responsible for ‘fathering’ Ultron, and in tent-pole movie terms, the price you usually pay for this sort of tragic hubris is often the ultimate tragedy - your life. Tony falls trying to right his wrong.
Yes, you read that right, we’re saying Tony Stark dies at the hand of his own creation trying to make good. This not only satisfies Whedon’s “death” tease, but would also serve as the galvanizing force that brings the team back together once again for the sequel’s third act.
Then, when all hope is seemingly still lost and Ultron is still winning, even with new teammates like Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch in the fold to bolster the team, Stark’s ultimate failsafe protocol emerges – The Vision.
Who’s The Vision you ask – well, his body is an upgraded version of the "Phineas T. Horton" Easter egg version of the Human Torch in the early World’s Fair scene in Captain America: The First Avenger (what, you thought that was just a throwaway?), powered by J.A.R.V.I.S.’s programming (and looking a lot like Paul Bettany, of course).
But waitaminute you say – The Vision isn’t just an android. The essence of the Vision is he’s a “synthezoid”/artificial intelligence imprinted with the brain patterns ... or soul ... of a tragically fallen hero, in the comic books that being Simon Williams – a.k.a. Wonder Man.
Annnnndddd … it all comes together. Yes, Tony Stark becomes the soul of the Vision. Stark’s human brain patterns, combined with J.A.R.V.I.S.’s A.I., in an android’s body.
Too far-fetched? Maybe … hell, probably. But it does kill a few birds with one stone. For one it ups the ante on a film that’s going to be near impossible to top, and as Whedon well knows, the second act in a genre film series often have moments you least expect – think (SPOILER WARNINGS) “Luke, I am your father”, or Spock dying in Wrath of Khan. Whedon understands the history he’s up against.
Also recall Marvel has not announced or even hinted at a fourth Iron Man, and while Downey Jr. (and again, his escalating age and price tag) has signed on for Age of Ultron and Avengers 3 , no promises were made regarding the size of his role in the third leg of the trilogy.
But hold on, didn’t we just say Tony Stark dies?
Yup. So what the hell kind of role is 'dead guy #1' in Avengers 3?
Wait for it...
Imagine the inevitable Age of Ultron post-credits scene: Tony Stark’s funeral ... all the principle Marvel movie players gather ... the Vision looks on hovering from a distance. Then J.A.R.V.I.S./Bettany’s voice says something like, “it really is a lovely ceremony, sir,” and Tony Stark/Downey’s voice and face come on screen in the familiar inside-the-helmet-close-up delivering some wise-assy Stark-Downey quip.
…and moviegoers go crazy.
Yes, Tony’s brainwaves are now the Vision’s “human” co-pilot ala Simon's, with J.A.R.V.I.S. being in the captain’s chair – the movie Iron Man dynamic in reverse but also spiritually true to the comic book Vision.
Is that crazy? Yes, we warned you it was. But it would give Marvel a means to keep Downey Jr.’s trademark wit, charm, and more importantly, kinetic energy in Avengers 3 (and perhaps even in the future films) minus a full-on, months-long principle photography commitment from the actor, while Bettany takes over the motion-capture heavy-lifting.
It would give Age of Ultron a high-stakes, unexpected "death (maybe Rhodey takes over as Iron Man proper?), while at the same time giving birth to a new character paying homage (without being a slave) to Marvel history, and provides a very practical solution to a very practical RDJ dilemma.
Well, we said it was crazy… you didn’t believe us?