It’s hard to imagine our lives today without Robert Downey Jr. His name and face have become synonymous with the Marvel Cinematic Universe; his Tony Stark/Iron Man is the fulcrum upon which all the Avengers pivot. But there was a time when his career was in serious jeopardy, owing to his drug addiction and tendency to run afoul of the authorities while high.
Ally McBeal ran from 1997-2002 and helped launch the careers of Lucy Liu, Portia de Rossi, and Jane Krakowski. It also tried to launch the comeback career of RDJ, who spent much of the late 90s in prison or rehab. He was fired from the series after being arrested again in April 2001 so we only got one, glorious season with Larry Paul. I still sometimes wonder if Ally and Larry would have gotten married if he had stayed. Lord knows she could have used the stability.
Season four blessed us with not one but two Christmas episodes. Episode six, “Tis the Season” begins with Larry and Ally carrying a tree and commenting that the Christmas season seems to start earlier and earlier and Ally finding out that Larry hates Christmas. She finds out his aversion to the holiday season is due to missing his son while John (Peter MacNicol) defends a man who was fired for announcing on the news that Santa Claus isn’t real. And then this happens.
Robert Downey Jr – River (Ally McBeal) from MaKaElectric on Vimeo.
This recording actually made it on to the show’s holiday album A Very Ally Christmas and it is a joy that you can re-live every year until the end of time. Some other stuff happens and Ally finds Larry in the end and they sing “White Christmas” together.
Episode eight, “The Man With the Bag” starts with Nelle (de Rossi) asking John to help her father who has been wrongfully terminated because he believes he’s Santa Claus. We first see Larry trying to woo Ally with his over-the-top Christmas office decor but they are rudely interrupted by his ex Jamie (Famke Janssen) who’s in town for one night only, so of course he invites her to the office Christmas party! After a bunch of talking and more singing, Ally and Larry end up dancing together, stronger than ever.
In 2005, Downey Jr. launched another comeback by starring in Shane Black’s noir-caper Kiss Kiss Bang Bang alongside Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan.
This wasn’t Bob’s first movie since being “back” but it was definitely the best one, or at least the one that has held up over time and become a cult classic on its own. It may not be a festive film in the traditional sense but it is certainly Christmas-adjacent. It starts with our hero Harry (RDJ) trying to find a Christmas present for his nephew… by robbing a toy store. While evading capture, he stumbles into an audition and is so emotionally unhinged that he gets a callback.
Harry runs into his high school friend Harmony (Monaghan) at a holiday party in LA. They go to a bar to catch up and it looks like they’re going to spend the night together but, movies being movies, they don’t. Meanwhile, Harry starts his “detective lessons” with Gay Perry (Kilmer) and they stumble upon a murder that only they can solve. The report among the three is terrific, with Downey as the neurotic centre and Kilmer and Monaghan hovering around him as a source of jaded wisdom and wide-eyed enthusiasm, respectively. After several misunderstandings, more murders, and some very dark comedy, everything gets wrapped up in a neat little bow because the real Christmas spirit was the friends we made along the way.
By 2013, RDJ had been sober for over a decade and already made three MCU movies. He was well-established as a big box-office draw and known for consistently bringing charm and pathos the franchise. For the third stand-alone Iron Man film, he re-teamed with Shane Black for a vaguely Christmas-themed instalment which also explored Tony’s PTSD following the attack in New York. This was also back when the scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a little more… earthbound.
The story begins on New Year’s Eve in 1999 in Bern, Switzerland. Tony is about to bed Maya Hansen and inadvertently makes an enemy of Aldrich Killian. We continue to the present day and find Tony in the R&D Department of Stark Industries, dealing with his anxiety by building more and more suits that he can control remotely. He’s testing a new suit that comes via a flick of the wrist and rocking out to “Jingle Bells” because, ’tis the season.
Tony has lunch with his best buddy Colonel James Rhodes aka War Machine aka Iron Patriot to find out about the new terrorist in town, The Mandarin. After signing an autograph for a child (and making a crack about A Christmas Story) he suffers a panic attack and runs away. Classic Tony. He’s also having problems with Pepper and after an attack on his home, ends up in Rose Hill, Tennessee with a busted Iron Man suit and no way to get home.
This is my favourite Iron Man movie for two reasons. One, it shows that Tony still is a worth adversary without the suit. He doesn’t need to be Iron Man, he just is. And two, I just love it. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s got a great supporting cast and interesting villains. And it ends with Tony blowing up all his suits as a gesture of love for Pepper because, hey, it’s Christmas. Don’t worry though, I have a feeling he’ll make a few more.