Sorry, folks. Iron Man 4 isn’t coming anytime soon. But perhaps that’s a good thing.
Throughout the past 11 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown into the most financially successful film series of all time. Audiences the world over have become so invested — literally and figuratively — in these characters. And that’s precisely why Avengers: Endgame felt like both a payoff and a gut punch.
After 22 movies, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes united with just about every character fans have met. The whole thing culminated in the grandest finale any superhero film has ever seen. But way back in 2008, it all started with one man.
The most unlikely Tony Stark
It’s funny to think about how far from a sure thing Robert Downey Jr. was before Iron Man hit theaters. The actor’s personal life had sunk his career. And while he was on the verge of a comeback — thanks to 2005’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang — major studios were far from ready to hand him a franchise.
Yet, Downey made Tony Stark his own, and a cinematic icon was born. With that character as a foundation, Marvel Studios acted quickly to get Iron Man 2 out just two years later. Then The Avengers blew up, setting the stage for the inevitable Iron Man 3 in 2013.
Since then, Downey has reprised Tony Stark for the Avengers films, Captain America: Civil War, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. However, despite rumors and some fans’ hopes, Iron Man 4 never did happen. But do fans really need one more Downey-led adventure?
Why ‘Iron Man 4’ would have been a bad idea
After all, by the time Downey bid farewell to the role, Tony Stark had completed his own trilogy, kicked off Tom Holland’s Spider-Man series, and rounded out his own Avengers arc. Marvel Studios could have opted to continue wringing billion-dollar grosses out of Iron Man. But, in an interview with Vanity Fair, Avengers: Endgame co-writer Stephen McFeely said he thinks Marvel made a wiser call.
Whether you like all of the 24 movies or not, the capital that Marvel built up allowed them to do things like make a movie starring a raccoon and a tree, right? You would’ve already had Iron Man 4 if it was any other studio. But they decided, “No, we’re going to take chances on all these other things.” To put a flag in the ground and say, “We’re going to end something and take characters off the table,” is, I think, kind of daring, but selfishly it was really great for us.
Truly, even with Disney behind it, Marvel only has so many resources to go around. The studio is already on the verge of releasing four films each year starting in 2021. If Marvel doesn’t think long-term, it risks alienating the very audience that made the MCU work in the first place.
McFeely’s co-writer, Christopher Markus, told Vanity Fair just how important it is for stories, even ones about superheroes, to reach their natural conclusions.
It needs an end, or it loses meaning. The end is what cements the thing, to actually sew it together and bring it to a crescendo, and yeah, take people off the board, finish their arcs. If Tony made it out the other side, and Iron Man 4 was waiting there, you’d be like, [shakes head] “One too many…”
Could Robert Downey Jr. return to the MCU?
Markus and McFeely may advocate for giving heroes like Tony Stark a definitive ending. But that isn’t often the way comic books work. So fans still have their doubts, giving birth to countless theories about how Downey could return.
Marvel Studios is showing no signs of stopping in the coming years. In fact, the addition of several Disney+ series could provide a way for Downey to hop back into his mech suit. In particular, some reports claim he is already slated to voice Tony Stark for an upcoming episode of the animated Disney+ What If…? show.
Of course, even if Downey does reprise the role on that series, its very premise is to explore alternate ideas of where the MCU could have gone but didn’t. At this point, Downey is unlikely to make a proper return to the MCU anytime soon. Then again, it’s a great big multiverse out there. So never say never.
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