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Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's official: Robert Downey Jr. will suit up for 'The Avengers,' Jon Favreau on board as an executive producer


Marvel Studios announced Tuesday that the "Iron Man" tandem of star Robert Downey Jr. and filmmaker Jon Favreau will assemble for the "Avengers" film, although the role announced for Favreau is that of executive producer, not director.

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It's no surprise that Downey will reprise his role for the "Avengers "movie, but the official word is part of the ongoing campaign to stir excitement for the first major motion picture that will bring together superheroes from separate franchises. You can see all of this leading up to some future Comic-Con International panel that will have Downey sitting next to at least two other Oscar-nominated actors: Edward Norton, who played the Hulk this summer and is, by all appearances, on board for more action, as well as Don Cheadle, who will pick up the role of Col. James 'Rhodey' Rhodes in the "Iron Man" franchise. The Marvel announcement today made his addition to the cast official and made a point to announce that he would be in the "Avengers" film as well.

It's not clear yet who will be playing Thor, the Wasp or Ant-Man in the film, the other founding members from the Marvel Comics hero team that began in 1963 in the classic issue shown here on the left. There's also the question of who will play Captain America (the most famous Avenger, but one who didn't show up until issue No. 4 in the comics) in the hero's solo film as well as the Avengers project that will follow it into theaters in 2011, if all goes as planned. No substantive word yet on the director for either the Cap movie or the Avengers project. Favreau, of course, will direct "Iron Man 2," which is slated for 2010.

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The announcement on Tuesday was a mild attempt at spinning the news coverage toward Favreau, Downey and Marvel newcomer Cheadle ("Hotel Rwanda," "Crash," "Ocean's Eleven") and away from Terrence Howard, whose ejection from the "Iron Man" franchise is still a sticky subject. Howard was poised for a meatier role in the franchise as his character is set to follow a story arc adapted from the Marvel comic books that has him getting armor of his own and becoming War Machine.

Now Cheadle, who was in action-movie mode earlier this year with "Traitor," will suit up. Why the change? "Sources close to the deal" told the Hollywood Reporter that the switch came after a salary dispute between Marvel and Howard, but the actor later told NPR that he was befuddled about that characterization. "It was the surprise of a lifetime," he told interviewer Scott Simon. "There was no explanation ... I read something in the trades implicating that it was about money or something, but apparently the contracts that we write and sign aren't worth the paper that they're printed on, sometimes. Promises aren't kept, and good faith negotiations aren't always held up."

The debated departure of Howard from the "Iron Man" cast has been a nasty jolt in an otherwise magical year for Marvel Studios, the Hollywood start-up that saw its first two projects, "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk," finish among the top movies of an exceptionally crowded summer for popcorn films.

"Iron Man" has grossed $318 million at the U.S. box office (a total that trails only the history-making numbers of "The Dark Knight") and "Hulk," with $135 million domestically, stands right now as the 11th highest-grossing film for 2008 to date, pulling in a larger total than more celebrated films such as "Tropic Thunder" or "Wanted" and finishing right behind "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian."

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