Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) was one of many candidates for “Heroic Death in Avengers: Endgame” in the months that preceded the film’s release. We knew going into theaters that some of our beloved Avengers would do whatever it takes to beat Thanos. Some of them might die after bringing everyone back in this Infinity Saga finale. It turned out that predictions about Iron Man sacrificing his life to beat Thanos (Josh Brolin) were accurate. And as a result, the Endgame finale was heartbreakingly beautiful.
But the moment we left the theaters after our first Endgame viewings, we couldn’t help but wonder if Marvel would ever bring Iron Man back. Was there a way to have our cake and eat it too? Could RDJ’s Iron Man return to the MCU without ruining Endgame’s legacy? It turns out that we already have an answer. Marvel brought back Tony Stark, and we nearly missed it. The jury is still out on whether Downey Jr. will return to his most iconic role to date, though. Mind you, some MCU spoilers follow below.
Iron Man’s death is final
Unlike in Infinity War, the deaths in Endgame were final. That’s one reason why the MCU is so amazing.
Some superheroes died for good in Infinity War as well, as Thanos killed them before the blip. He sacrificed Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and killed Loki (Tom Hiddleston) early in the film. Marvel brought back both those characters in Endgame, where we saw variants from other realities. The studio did the same thing with Thanos, potentially priming the audience for Tony Stark’s inevitable return.
But Iron Man died in Endgame. It was incredibly emotional, leaving audiences in tears. One of the most important chatacters (and actors) in the MCU wrapped up a truly satisfying arc. The problem is that the MCU is now deprived of Iron Man, which was always one of its best defenders.
Theories about the return of Tony Stark
We heard all sorts of rumors that Marvel wanted to bring both Iron Man and Steve Rogers’ Captain America (Chris Evans) back to the MCU. Meanwhile, both actors confirmed that they wouldn’t return to the MCU.
The interesting thing about those rumors is that there are ways to bring the dead or retired Avengers back to the MCU without ruining the Endgame finale. Iron Man’s death should not be undone. And Captain America’s retirement is well-deserved. But there are infinite Stark and Rogers variants out there.
Enter the multiverse
Loki made two things clear. First, it firmly introduced the multiverse and established the rules that govern it. Secondly, it proved that Marvel could deliver more than one fantastic arc for the same character. Hiddleston played a different Loki — a version of the beloved anti-hero that would never be explored in the movies. Then there’s Kang (Jonathan Majors) — a terrifying multi-variant villain who is just getting started.
We’re going to see more of that in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 when a different Gamora will appear alongside the rest of the gang. Even better, Spider-Man: No Way Home will deliver three versions of Peter Parker. Then there’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, with the myriad of rumored cameos — and Iron Man is one of them, by the way.
All of these shows and movies follow Tony Stark’s death chronologically. But rumors hint that Marvel could choose a different Tony from the multiverse for future MCU crossovers.
The massive Marvel reveal
I speculated a few days ago that What If…? is a multiversal story. It’s the only option, now that we’ve seen Loki. And Marvel confirmed that in the past few days. Everything in What If…? happens in the multiverse, and it’s all connected to the MCU. And everything is canon, including any Iron Man variants.
Here’s What If…? executive producer Brad Winderbaum again:
It’s no coincidence that the show picks up right after Loki. The multi-verse has erupted in every possible direction. What If…? gives us a chance to explore that. Without going into great detail, I can tell you that What If…? as a project [and] as a story that exists in the MCU is as important as any other. It’s woven into that same tapestry. So, there’s a lot of potential.
And here’s what head writer AC Bradley said in a recent interview:
The events of What If…? are canon. It’s part of the MCU multiverse. The multiverse is here. It is real, and it is absolutely fantastic, people.
Iron Man is dead, but Tony Stark is back in the MCU
It’s only once you take all of that into account that you realize Marvel just brought Iron Man back to the MCU. Our Iron Man still died, but What If…? will feature a new Tony Stark. Here’s that trailer again:
In this version of events, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) saves Tony Stark. Does that mean he won’t become Iron Man? We have no idea what will happen next, but the trailers did show Tony Stark wearing his Iron Man suit. In other words, Marvel will tell at least one more Iron Man story in the MCU in What If…? season 1.
What’s interesting is that RDJ does not appear in the massive list of Marvel stars reprising their roles for What If…?. It will be someone else voicing Tony Stark. That’s both a blessing and a curse. We’ll get to see whether anyone else can pull off the same great Stark as RDJ. Then again, the multiverse allows for a myriad of Iron Men.
Finally, there’s no indication that the Tony Stark we’ll see in What If…? will reappear in the MCU down the road. But we do know that Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell) is a central character in What If…? and that she might appear in Multiverse of Madness as well. Therefore, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see this Stark variant in future MCU movies and shows. After all, you can’t just introduce a random Iron Man without having bigger plans for the character now that the Sacred Timeline version is dead and buried.