You know him as Iron Man, the wise-cracking millionaire playboy turned tech-savvy superhero. But Robert Downey Jr. enjoyed a long and varied career before he snapped into the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). We’re looking at films you forgot Robert Downey Jr. was in.
Before Marvel, there were the wilderness years. It’s common knowledge that Downey Jr struggled with drink and drug abuse. He even did a stint in prison as a result of his misadventures. His rise from recovery to super-stardom since 2008 is little short of miraculous. And let’s face it – Hollywood loves a comeback.
But this isn’t the whole story. Downey Jr. starred in a host of great movies, long before he donned the red metal suit. Let’s take a look at nine of those, starting with the most recent and working back to his baby-faced youth.
1. Zodiac (2007)
It’s the year before he debuted for Marvel Studios. Downey JR played seasoned journalist Paul Avery in David Fincher’s true-life serial killer tale.
A cynical, wise-cracking alcoholic. The role might have been tailor-made for the actor, who channels his easy charm into a performance so subtle, it was overlooked at awards season.
The perfect foil to Jake Gyllenhaal’s puppy-dog enthusiasm, Downey JR excels in this standout performance.
2. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Genius director Richard Linklater took cult sci-fi author Philip K. Dick’s novel of mind-bending druggy paranoia. Then assembled a stellar cast for this highly original film.
Using rotoscoping, a technique where animators paint over filmed frames, Linklater cast Downey Junior as Keanu Reeve’s skin-headed, opinionated housemate Barris.
The freewheeling comic dialogue is perfect for Downey’s scattershot style. Later exhibited when he became Tony Stark in Iron Man.
3. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
Downey Jr is searingly powerful in this independent crime drama which also features Channing Tatum and Shia La Boeuf.
A latter-day Mean Streets, the film is set in the 1980s and present-day New York. It’s a semi-autobiographical character study by director Dito Montiel.
Downey Jr plays Dito, a writer returning to his old neighborhood with mixed feelings about his ailing father, with whom he clashed as a boy.
La Boeuf plays 1980s Dito, which makes this the film where Shia La Boeuf grows up to be Robert Downey Jr. Wishful thinking, some might say.
4. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
This independently-financed action-comedy was screenwriter and director Shane Black’s comeback film. After the million-dollar spec script bubble burst in the 1990s, Black was persona non grata in Hollywood. He enlisted equally blackballed stars Downey Jr and Val Kilmer for his directorial debut.
Against all odds, they created a film that critics enjoyed, although audiences mostly stayed away. The film plays like a crazy pinball machine of twists and wisecracks. Downey Jr breezes through it with ineffable charm, even when a dog eats his finger.
5. Wonder Boys (2000)
It’s fun seeing Downey Jr playing a gay character for a change. As a publisher who seduces and toys with the affections of Tobey Maguire’s wannabe writer.
In a supporting role, Downey Jr plays it rather straight, leaving most of the witticisms to star Michael Douglas.
It’s a generous and roguish performance to add to his varied repertoire. The film also provides the answer to a perfect pub quiz movie trivia question – “in which film does Iron Man end up in bed with Spiderman?”
6. Bowfinger (1999)
It’s tough playing straight man to Steve Martin on a career-high. But Robert Downey Jr almost steals his scenes as smug Hollywood studio executive Jerry Renfro.
In a film that also features the comedic talents of Eddie Murphy playing two contrasting characters, Downey Jr. more than holds his own. He’s in a role where’s he’s required to do little but look slick and ridiculously handsome. Nice suit too.
7. Heat and Souls (1993)
In 1993 Downey Jr worked with the legendary Robert Altman on his Hollywood-set ensemble movie Short Cuts. In the same year, he also made this, largely forgotten, high concept comedy from City Slickers director Ron Underwood.
Downey Jr plays a man inhabited by the souls of four recently-deceased people with business on earth to complete.
The actor clearly relishes the challenge of playing four contrasting roles, including two female characters. His bouncing back and forth between the clashing personalities is a comic tour-de-force in an underrated and remake-worthy movie.
This is the film for which Downey Jr won his Academy Award, and rightly so.
Playing comedy icon Charlie Chaplin was a huge challenge for an actor who’d been stuck in mushy rom-com and dumb comedies for the best part of a decade. Richard Attenborough clearly saw more than just a likeness in the young actor. Here he displayed a previously unexplored gift for physical comedy.
Although critics were a little cool about the film, Downey Jr’s performance was singled out for praise. His career should have taken off. Alas, some unfortunate life choices (and career choices) kept him from superstardom for a little longer.
9. Less than Zero (1987)
Even before his Oscar, there were glimpses of real talent in the 22-year old star.
There’s a feeling that the “out of control” drug-addled character he plays in this long-forgotten 80s drama isn’t so much of a stretch for him. Two years before the better-known Drugstore Cowboy, Bret Easton-Ellis’s expose of the young and privileged of Beverley Hills allows Downey Jr to act everyone else off the screen. He even steals the scene after his character’s demise – that’s the sign of a charismatic actor!
Whether he’s a lowlife, a charmer, a silent screen star or a black single mum (in Heart and Souls – seriously), Robert Downey Jr has always been the comeback king. He’s worked hard to enjoy his newfound mega-stardom. Perhaps it’s time to cut the wisecracking reprobate some slack?
That’s our list of nine movies you forgot Robert Downey Jr. appeared in. Did we miss any? Which was your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.
Check out more of our MCU articles HERE.
Read about IMDB information on Zodiac HERE.
Read about IMDB information on A Scanner Darkly HERE.
Read about IMDB information on A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints HERE.
Check out IMDB information on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang HERE.
Read IMDB information on Wonder Boys HERE.
Check out IMDB information on Bowfinger HERE
Read IMDB information on Heart and Souls HERE.
Check out IMDB information on Chaplin HERE.
Read more about Less than Zero on IMDB HERE.
No Time To Die – Review
No Time To Die is the 25th instalment in the official James Bond series. It’s the VERY long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s Spectre. The 6-year gap between the two films is only matched by the same gap between Timothy Dalton’s last outing in 1989’s Licence To Kill and Pierce Brosnan’s debut in 1995’s Goldeneye. Here’s our review of No Time To Die.
SPOILERS: If you’re reading this then you’ve probably seen the film, but if not there are spoilers ahead.
Of course, there are mitigating factors in that enormous gap. Namely COVID. Which made No Time To Die the first major film to delay its release due to the pandemic. Although, this film has had a difficult gestation irrespective of the global situation in the last 18 months. As soon as Spectre was released the speculation over Daniel Craig’s future in the role began. With him initially suggesting he would rather slash his own wrists than play the iconic spy again. He did a mea culpa on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show in August 2017, where he confirmed he would appear as Bond for a fifth and final time. The original director and writer, Danny Boyle and John Hodge, left the project a year later over creative differences. Cory Joji Fukunaga took over as director. While Bond script veterans Robert Wade and Neil Purvis took charge of the screenplay – with a sprinkling of magic from Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Originally slated for release in April 2020, at long last, we finally get to see Daniel Craig’s denouement as 007. His portrayal of Bond has been very much in keeping with the character of Ian Fleming’s original novels. His performances have certainly followed the dramatic lineage of Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton. Rather than the lighter portrayals by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. Yet his Bond has displayed a vulnerability only really demonstrated with any plausibility by George Lazenby in his solitary outing as 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
The deference to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is presented in stark relief throughout this 2h43min epic. Making this the longest Bond film in the series. As this was the first film I’ve seen at the cinema since before the pandemic, I was already excited before I even sat down. As a massive James Bond fan as well, I was close to apoplexy! I felt a tangible shiver go down my spine as the iconic gun barrel sequence appeared before we see James cruising around Italy in the classic DB5 with Madeleine Swann at his side. This anticipation was clearly felt by other cinema-goers. They have made No Time To Die break the UK box office record for the biggest opening weekend. It took almost £26m, breaking the record previously held by Skyfall.
I’m not going to spoil the plot for those who’ve not seen it. I had made a conscious decision to avoid spoilers before I went.
A step up?
This film is another shot in the arm for those who see Craig as the definitive Bond. This was aided by a refocusing of the Bond canon after the main tropes of the series were stretched to breaking point by the invisible cars and melting ice palaces of Die Another Day. And then stretched still further by Madonna’s cameo as a fencing instructor. Daniel Craig was given leeway to truly regenerate James Bond for the 21st Century. The stripped-back nature of Casino Royale, without most of the supporting characters that have been a staple of the series like Q and Moneypenny. Gave him licence (pardon the pun) to explore the deepest and darkest recesses of the Bond psyche. Some well-drawn female leads and villains really allowed Craig’s Bond to spar with them with depth and genuine emotion.
That exploration continues and grows in No Time To Die. We get to see an ageing, truly world-weary Bond, whose past he appears unable to escape. This leaves him in a state of almost constant angst. Paradoxically though, we also see him truly relaxed at times. In a way I can’t recall ever seeing James Bond in any of his previous cinematic outings.
The issue with that exploration is that a number of characters then have their screen time cut. Moneypenny is reduced to little more than a cameo. And Remi Malek’s Safin is almost secondary as he features in the opening moments as his story is told, but then disappears for what seemed like an eternity. He of course reappears but he almost seems a mild irritation within the plot and merely a conduit to allow us to see the climax of Daniel Craig’s Bond era. It’s a disappointing underuse of a terrific actor. One with a captivating screen presence, who could have been one of the most menacing Bond villains of all time. That said, the influence of his dastardly but highly sophisticated plan is felt by all of the main protagonists. Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld continues to wreak his havoc with malevolent glee from his cell. He again revels in the chaos of his twisted sibling rivalry with Bond.
Lea Seydoux is wonderful again as Dr Madeleine Swann, picking up where she left off in Spectre and giving Bond as good as he gets in every way imaginable.
There are new characters who definitely cut through. Ana De Armas is utterly charming in her relatively brief time on-screen as Paloma, while Lashana Lynch takes no nonsense from Bond as Nomi. She also gives us a potential indicator as to the future direction of the franchise. Which has been the subject of much discussion in all quarters. That debate has even made its way into the political sphere with even Boris Johnson weighing in on what gender the next actor to play 007 should be.
Hans Zimmer’s score is classic Hans Zimmer, adding power and bombast to the usual mix of stunning scenery and brilliantly choreographed stunts. He brilliantly weaves nods to previous entries in the Bond musical tapestry throughout his score. While his cues are always thunderous, they never overpower the action on screen, but do add a sonic rumble that I don’t think has been heard in a Bond score for quite some time. I found Fukunaga’s direction a bit mixed, with some of the cinematography unnecessarily showy. Some of the tracking shots almost gave me motion sickness while some (admittedly beautifully composed) shots of the scenery seemed to have made the edit purely so as whoever the drone operator was could demonstrate their skills.
The film is much too long, although at no point did I check my watch. It’s not that any of the plot points are superfluous, more that the pacing is a little slow in places. Some of the dialogue feels cliched and clunky, making what is a great story feel a tad generic. Which doesn’t do anyone justice. However, there were some excellent jokes, and I laughed out loud several times. You don’t have to be a 007 super fan to get some of the self-referential humour that they seem to enjoy sprinkling throughout the film.
Billie Eilish’s theme song is a worthy addition to the collection and certainly sits comfortably within the top half of the ‘Bond Theme Chart’. It’s definitely more memorable and evocative than Sam Smith’s ‘Writing On The Wall’ for Spectre. Her voice trembles at times as you can almost feel she recognises the significance of singing the theme for Daniel Craig’s final appearance in the franchise.
It was also very pleasing to see that this film has moved with the times and reflects the world of 2021 with its portrayal of women. Every single female character had a genuine purpose and important role within the plot. While of course, the female actors playing those roles are all irrefutably glamorous and attractive. There was genuine respect and no objectification of women.
I came out of the screening with mixed emotions. Glad to be back in the cinema on one hand, sad that Daniel Craig’s stint ordering Martini’s was over on the other. I was pleased that such a good climax had been created to bring this era of Bond to a close, and all its story arcs had been brought to conclusions. I’m also excited and apprehensive in equal measure for the future of such an iconic film series. But I was disappointed with some of the characters not getting the necessary screen-time to truly develop their characters. Surprisingly, I was almost tearful at the final few moments, especially as the credits rolled.
Overall, this is a loving homage to the James Bond series, past and present. It’s a solid if unspectacular film in its own right, but the performances of Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux, as well as the Bond history it wraps itself in, elevate it beyond that.
It’s not Craig’s best Bond film, as Skyfall is almost untouchable in my opinion, but it does bring closure to his tenure in the tuxedo in a manner that should please Bond fans across the board. It also tantalises us as to what the 6th age of Bond will look like. Let the intense speculation begin!
CULTURE CROSSING SCORE 7/10
Thank you for reading our review of James Bond No Time To Die. Do you agree or disagree with our points or have anything to add? If so, leave us a comment below.
Check out who we think could be the next James Bond and why HERE.
Read IMDB information about No Time To Die HERE.
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