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6 ways Iron Man can return to the MCU without ruining Avengers: Endgame

Updated Oct 19th, 2022 4:47PM EDT
Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame final battle
Image: Marvel Studios

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With every new Marvel TV show and movie, we’re getting closer to the endgame of the Multiverse Saga. We’re using “close” loosely here, as we have three more years of MCU adventures before we get to that massive Secret Wars movie. While Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is dead, MCU Phase 4 has already given us 6 different ways Tony Stark can come back to life. And it’s all possible without ruining the character’s legacy from in the Infinity Saga or his sacrifice in Endgame.

Before we explain any further, you should know that massive spoilers from the latest MCU Phase 4 movies and TV series will follow below.

She-Hulk is the newest Marvel adventure, and the first episode was easily one of the strongest openings for an MCU Disney Plus show. The series’ main story isn’t clear and the VFX aren’t perfect. But episode 1 gives Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) a strong entrance while also giving the audience plenty of exciting Easter eggs.

Iron Man might be dead, but Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) references his friend more than once during the episode. Banner is still suffering, and it’s been almost two years since Tony died. These heartbreaking moments remind us how much Tony Stark meant to everyone.

There’s a similar Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) mention, by the way. And Marvel can also bring Natasha back just like Iron Man, by the way. But given how Disney treated Johansson following the release of Black Widow, that seems unlikely.

In what follows, we’ll explore how RDJ can return to the MCU soon. Maybe in time for a significant Secret Wars appearance. And it can all happen without belittling his sacrifice in Endgame.

Flashbacks and prequels are expensive options

This one is the easiest way to accomplish a soft Iron Man return. All we need is a Marvel movie or TV show that requires some sort of Iron Man presence. It can be a prequel, where the action happens in the past. Or we could have flashbacks from the pre-Endgame days when Iron Man was still alive.

This wouldn’t necessarily count as Iron Man’s return to the MCU. The character would not appear in the current timeline. And that’s not exactly the way we want to see Tony Stark again.

Not to mention that flashbacks and prequels are expensive to pull off, no matter how amazing they could be.

What If...? Iron Man
Iron Man showing up in What If…? trailer. Image source: Marvel Studios

Alternate Iron Man variants from the multiverse

The multiverse is the obvious source of a different Iron Man that RDJ could play. We’ve been speculating about this sort of “return” even before we started experiencing Marvel’s MCU multiverse in earnest. Let’s not forget that we already saw a few character variants appearing in the MCU.

The 2014-Thanos (Josh Brolin) is one. Then there’s the current Gamora (Zoe Saldana), hailing from the same universe. Finally, we have the Loki (Tom Hiddleston) variant from the Loki TV show.

Before Multiverse of Madness, we saw plenty of rumors that Tom Cruise might play a different Iron Man from the Illuminati universe. That never happened. But we know after Doctor Strange 2, Earth-838 took a massive superhero beating.

The Illuminati are gone from that world, dead at the hand of a powerful Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen). Not only that but there’s an incursion coming.

Doctor Strange in Avengers: Endgame final battle
Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Avengers: Endgame final battle. Image source: Marvel Studios

For all we know, Earth-838 and Earth-616 might be on a collision course. And Earth-838’s Tony Stark will definitely want some sort of revenge. It would still count as a return even if it’s not RDJ playing this Iron Man.

On the same note, What If…? is also a source of alternate Iron Man stories. And they might count as Tony Stark returning to the MCU, especially if Marvel gets RDJ to voice an animated Iron Man.

Fake Iron Man options

We could also have a fake Iron Man return to the MCU via a different route. The Secret Invasion TV show will tell us that some superheroes might be bad Skrulls. How crazy would it be if the Tony Stark who died was actually a Skrull in disguise?

In that case, Tony Stark would be a prisoner somewhere in the universe. However, this option obviously ruins Stark’s sacrifice in Endgame. And the entire scenario is somewhat of a plot hole. A dead Skrull would shift back to his natural appearance.

Samuel L. Jackson as Agent Fury in Secret Invasion.
Samuel L. Jackson as Agent Fury in Marvel’s Secret Invasion. Image source: Marvel Studios

On the same note, some Skrull might always impersonate Tony Stark after his death in Endgame. Just to mess with the Avengers and the world. After all, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) convinced plenty of people he was a superhero. Why couldn’t a Skrull do the same thing while pretending to be Iron Man?

Admittedly, we’d have to see an evil variant of Iron Man in that case. But that’s also an exciting proposition. And, remember, the multiverse can also surface bad Tony Starks.

Life after death in the MCU

Things get more interesting if you rule out the multiverse. Or at least the physical multiverse. As we’ve explained after Love and Thunder, the new Thor movie exacerbates Marvel’s religion problem.

We have all sorts of gods in the MCU, with different degrees of power. And we have different life-after-death experiences.

Some of them might offer the possibility of resurrection. We saw that happen in Moon Knight already. And Valhalla can practically give us a way to resurrect dead characters like Heimdall (Idris Elba), Jane (Natalie Portman), and the MCU’s main Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) in Thor 4 trailer.
Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), the Thor: Love and Thunder villain. Image source: Marvel Studios

With that in mind, we have to assume that Tony Stark also went to some life-after-death dimension. Maybe he’s also in Valhalla, having died in battle like Jane. And this paves the way for a surprising Iron Man return to the MCU via resurrection.

Divine Celestial intervention can resurrect Iron Man

But what if we bring some science into the whole idea of having Iron Man return to the MCU? What if these life-after-death dimensions can be explained by advanced science?

Maybe the souls that experience places like Valhalla are stored in some type of repository. If you’ve seen Eternals, you already know where I’m heading with this one. The Celestials who created the Eternals have “backed up” their memory banks. And they can make as many additional copies as they need to fulfill their needs.

That’s why Ikaris (Richard Madden) isn’t really dead. That was just one of the clones who failed their mission. Arishem (David Kaye) can always make another one using an older memory.

Eternals Final Trailer
Ajak (Salma Hayek) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) in the Eternals trailer. Image source: Marvel Studios

Put differently, say that Tony Stark has been conserving his conscience somehow via a secret project we have yet to discover. His entire personality might be stored there up until the events in Endgame. Like an iPhone backup. Arishem would have the technology not only to clone Stark but also give him the exact personality we’re used to from the MCU.

This kind of Iron Man return would let Tony rejoin the Avengers in time for a massive fight. Maybe the threat of Kang (Jonathan Majors) would scare even Celestials. And Arishem knowing what the Avengers can do with the help of Iron Man, could always revive the character so he can face Kang.

Eternity’s peculiar wishes

Celestials aren’t the only MCU characters who might have the power to return Iron Man to life. We’ve just met Eternity in Love and Thunder. It’s a character so powerful that it managed to give Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) his daughter back. She died early in Thor 4, setting in motion the chain of events that led us to Eternity.

The problem is that Eternity will only grant one wish. And nobody can use it to resurrect Tony Stark. But Eternity might decide that, of all the beings in the MCU primary universe, it needs Iron Man to return to life.

More Marvel coverage: For more MCU news, visit our Marvel guide.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.