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Marvel brought Iron Man back to the MCU, but will we see him again?

Published Aug 8th, 2022 1:56PM EDT
Iron Man MCU
Image: Marvel Studios

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Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), MCU’s Iron Man, 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 the 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 Endgame, we couldn’t help but wonder if Marvel would ever bring Iron Man back.

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 might die after bringing everyone back in the Infinity Saga finale. It turned out that predictions about Iron Man sacrificing his life to defeat 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 R.D.J.’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. Mind you, some MCU spoilers follow below.

Overview of Iron Man in the MCU

Anthony Edward Stark, aka Iron Man, was the fictional character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise based on the Marvel comics “Iron Man”. Robert Downey Jr played Tony Stark (Iron Man) in Marvel’s Iron man movies.

Tony Stark started out as an industrialist. While acting as the CEO of Stark Industries, he supplied weapons to the US military. He later started developing Iron Man suits that he used to fight against villains on Earth and from outer space.

After Nick Fury formed the Avengers Initiative, he recruited Tony Stark and other superheroes like Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk, and Iron Man to fight and protect the Earth against invaders from outer space. However, the team failed in their attempt to defeat Thanos as he killed half of the Earth’s population in Avengers: Infinity War.

After the events in Avengers: Infinity War, Tony Stark retired, married Pepper Potts, and had a child named Morgan. However, he was approached by what was left of the team to try and undo Thanos’ action and bring back the people who were snapped away in Infinity War.

In the end, Tony Stark sacrificed his own life to save the world from destruction as the team battled to defeat Thanos for the second time. It was a heroic death that became a pivotal moment in the MCU.

Early years

Tony Stark was born on May 29, 1970, to Howard and Maria Stark in Manhattan, New York. Although he had an estranged relationship with his father, he was a prodigy.

When Stark was 21, his parents were killed in a car accident later discovered to have been caused by the Winter Soldier. Following his parents’ deaths, Tony inherited his father’s company and became CEO.

Evolution as Iron Man and The Avengers Initiative

Iron Man – MCU Origins (first Iron Man film)

In order to test his new “Jericho” missile, Stark goes to Afghanistan in 2010 with his military liaison and friend, Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes. Following the successful testing, a terrorist organization known as the Ten Rings ambushes the convoy, badly wounding Stark and taking him into custody. Fellow prisoner and doctor Ho Yinsen implant an electromagnet in Stark’s chest to prevent shrapnel shards from hitting his heart and killing him.

Stark and Yinsen designed an arc reactor to power Stark’s electromagnet and a suit of armor. The Ten Rings attacked, and Yinsen sacrificed himself as a diversion while Stark finished the suit. Stark fought his way out of the cave, destroyed the Ten Ring’s weapons, flew away, and crashed in the desert until James rescued him.

Upon returning home, Stark built a more portable and powerful arc reactor. However, Stark’s mentor and friend Obadiah Stane was planning a coup to oust Stark as the CEO of Stark industries. Stane attacked Tony and removed the arc reactor from his chest, but Tony was able to use his first reactor to defeat Stane. The following day, Tony Stark announced to the public that he was Iron Man.

Tony Stark as Iron ManImage source: Disney

Battle with Vanko (second Iron Man film)

In 2011, while in his Iron Man armor, Tony fought to maintain peace but refused to sell his designs to the government. He later discovered that the palladium isotope in the reactor was poisoning him, and fearing that he might die, he named Pepper Potts as the new CEO of Stark industries.

While racing at the Monaco Grand Prix, Ivan Vanko attacks Tony Stark with electrified whips powered by a miniature arc reactor. Tony wore his Mark V suit and defeated Vanko, but his suit was seriously damaged.

Later at his birthday party, Tony, while wearing his Mark IV suit, got drunk and James (Played by Don Cheadle) tried to restrain him while wearing the Mark II. The fight ended in a deadlock, and James seized the Mark II and gave it to the US Air Force.

At a Stark Expo, Justin Hammer, a rival of Stark, revealed Vanko’s armored drones with Rhodes in the lineup of weaponized Mark II suits. Tony tries to warn James, but Vanko attacks him and takes control of all the drones. Stark and James (War machine) then fought together and defeated Vanko and his drones. Afterward, Tony started dating Pepper Potts.

Image source: Disney

The Avengers (first Avengers film)

Loki attacked earth in 2012 and seized the Tesseract from a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility prompting Nick Fury to activate the Avengers Initiative. While in Stuttgart, Captain America fought with Loki and surrendered after the arrival of Tony in his Iron Man armor.

However, as he is being led to S.H.I.E.L.D., Thor flies in and takes Loki in an effort to persuade him to change his mind and go back to Asgard. Thor offers to transport Loki to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s airborne aircraft ship, the Helicarrier, after a conflict with Stark and Captain America.

While on the Helicarrier, Loki possessed S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to attack the Helicarrier in order to disable an engine. Loki escaped as Tony and Steve worked to restore the engine’s power. Afterward, Loki used the Tesseract to create a wormhole in New York above the Avengers Tower to bring in the Chitauri army from space to invade earth.

In an attempt to stop the invasion, the World Security Council launched a missile on Manhattan, but Tony intercepted the missile and took it into the wormhole for detonation. The missile’s detonation resulted in the destruction of the Chitauri’s mothership. However, Tony’s suit ran out of power and began to crash down to earth until Hulk saved him.

Image source: Disney

Encounter with the Mandarin (third Iron Man film)

Shortly after the alien invasion, Tony started to have PTSD leading to panic attacks, leading him to build more Iron Man suits as he was too restless. The head of security for Stark Industries and Tony’s bodyguard, Happy Hogan, was injured in a terrorist attack by the Mandarin.

The Mandarin bombed his home in Malibu, but Tony escaped in an Iron Man suit and crashed in Tennessee. However, the suit lacked enough power for him to return home, and the world thought he had died.

Stark tracked the Mandarin to Miami and infiltrated his head office. He soon learned that Trevor Slattery, an actor, was really the Mandarin. In order to capture Stark, Aldrich Killian revealed himself to be the genuine Mandarin. However, Tony escaped, met with Rhodes, and learned that Killian planned to attack US President Ellis on Air Force One. Stark managed to save the passengers and crew but couldn’t stop Killian from kidnapping Ellis and bringing down Air Force One.

Killian planned to kill the president on an oil platform on live television. Tony and Rhodes (War machine) arrived on the platform, and Tony went ahead to save Potts while Rhodes saved the president. Tony called for his Iron Man suits controlled by the AI J.A.R.V.I.S. to provide additional support. Potts then killed Killian, and Tony ordered J.A.R.V.I.S. to destroy all the Iron Man suits.

Afterward, he had surgery to remove the shrapnel lodged near his heart.

Image source: Disney

Avengers: Age of Ultron (second Avengers film)

In 2015, the Avengers attacked a Hydra facility headed by Wolfgang von Strucker, who was experimenting on the twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff using the energy from Loki’s scepter. Tony gained access to the laboratory but was attacked by Wanda, who gave him a vision of the death of all the Avengers except himself. He woke up later and then took the scepter.

Back at the Avengers Tower, Tony and Bruce found an A.I. in the scepter’s gem and tried to finish Tony’s Ultron global defense program. However, the more intelligent Ultron destroys J.A.R.V.I.S. and then attacks the Avengers.

Ultron escaped with the scepter, built an army of drones, killed Strucker, and then recruited the Maximoff twins, who blamed Tony for their parent’s death. The team tracked Ultron to Johannesburg in South Africa, but they were swiftly attacked by Wanda, who incepted disturbing visions into their minds as the Hulk went on a rampage until Tony stopped him with his anti-Hulk suit.

Nick Fury arrived at Clint Barton’s house, where the team had been hiding to spur them to stop Ultron, who had forced Dr. Helen Cho to create a new body for himself. Steve (Captain America), Natasha (Black Widow), and Clint (Hawkeye) tried to retrieve Ultron’s synthetic body, but Ultron captured Natasha.

Image source: Marvel Studios

Back at the tower, Tony and Bruce uploaded J.A.R.V.I.S. into the synthetic body, and then Thor activated the body to create Vision, the team’s newest member.

The team, alongside the Maximoff twins, tracked Ultron to Sokovia, where he had used vibranium to build a device capable of lifting a part of the city in an attempt to drop it on earth, initiating extinction. However, Tony and Thor overloaded the device’s power, destroyed the landmass, and saved the world.

Captain America: Civil War

After the events in Avengers Age of Ultron, the U.S. government wanted to pass the Sokovia Accords, which gave them oversight over the Avengers. However, not all the team members were on board and were divided. Tony was in support of the Accords, while Captain America was against it as he believed they needed no oversight.

Steve (Captain America) and Bucky (Winter Soldier) were framed for a terrorist attack and then went rogue with Sam (The Falcon), Wanda, Clint, and Scott (Ant-Man). Tony was tasked with bringing in the rogues, so he called on Natasha (Black Widow), T’Challa (Black Panther), James (War Machine), Vision, and Peter Parker (Spider-Man). This led to a civil war between the team, but Steve and Bucky escaped.

Tony later learned that Bucky had been framed and requested that Sam gives him Steve’s location. Tony went into the Hydra facility to secure a truce with Steve. However, they discovered that all the super soldiers had been killed by Helmut Zemo, who then played a recording of Bucky killing Tony’s parents in the car accident. Tony attacked them and broke off Bucky’s robotic arm, but they escaped while leaving his shield behind.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Two months after the events in Captain America: Civil War, Tony informed Peter Parker (Spider-Man) that he couldn’t be a member of the Avengers yet. He saved Peter from drowning after a fight with Adrian Toomes but advised him to stay away from fights with criminals. However, Tony saved the day again after Peter had another fight with Adrian, which led to his weapon malfunctioning. Tony seized Peter’s suit to prevent future recklessness.

Peter prevented Adrian’s plan to commandeer a plane carrying weapons from the Stark Tower to the new Avengers headquarters. The impressed Tony invited Peter to become a full-time Avenger, but he refused, and Tony used the already planned press conference to propose to Potts. Later, he returned Peter’s suit.

Avengers: Infinity War (third Avengers film)

After an encounter with Thanos, Bruce crash-landed at the Sanctum Sanctorum and warned Stephen Strange (Doctor Strange), Wong, and Tony about Thanos, who has set out to wipe out half of all life in the universe with the Infinity Stones. Afterward, Thanos’ emissaries, Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian arrived at the Sanctum Sanctorum to get the Time Stone but were engaged by Tony, Strange, Wong, and Peter. While Cull was incapacitated, Strange was eventually captured by Ebony, but Tony and Peter snuck on the ship to attempt to rescue him.

Image source: Disney

They overpowered Ebony, killed him, and rescued Strange. The three of them headed to Thanos’ planet Titan where they met with members of the Guardians of the Galaxy. They hatched a plan to attack Thanos and take away his Infinity Gauntlet, but they were unsuccessful as Thanos ended up stabbing Tony. Strange then gave up the Time Stone to save Tony’s life.

Following his victory on Titan, Thanos departed for the earth to seek the Mind Stone. He arrived at Wakanda through a portal, and after a confrontation with the Avengers, he retrieved the Mind Stone from Vision’s head, causing him to die. Afterward, he snapped his fingers, and half of the universe’s population turned to dust.

Avengers: Endgame (fourth Avengers film)

The opening sequence of Avengers Endgame showed Tony and Nebula stranded on Titan until they were rescued by Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel). The surviving members of the team regrouped and, together with Captain Marvel, tracked down Thanos in order to force him to undo the snap. However, they found out that he had destroyed the stones, and Thor angrily cut off his head.

Each of the last remaining team members went their separate ways. Tony retired as Iron Man and lived with his wife and daughter Morgan. However, five years after the blip that wiped out half of all life, Scott (Ant-Man), who had been trapped in the Quantum Realm, escaped from there and discovered that his wife had died. So, he went to the Avengers Tower and told them how time travel could provide a loophole to bring back everyone that died during the blip. However, they needed Tony’s help, but he refused as he believed they had truly lost.

The team approached Bruce, and he agreed to work with Scott to develop a safe mechanism for time travel into the past to retrieve the stones before Thanos gets them. However, the experimental time travel attempts were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Tony secretly worked on Scott’s theory and found out about the possibility of time travel. he arrived at the Avengers Tower to offer his assistance. The team’s final experiment on time travel attempted to send Clint to the past, which worked as he saw his family that had died during the blip.

Therefore, they devised a plan to go in groups to 3 separate timelines where they had encountered any of the Infinity Stones. Tony and Steve traveled back to 2012 during the “Battle of New York” to retrieve the Space Stone, but they failed. So, they decided to travel further back in time to 1970 to steal the Space Stone from a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. Tony met his father there as he was rushing home to see his newborn son.

The fight against Thanos

All the stones were eventually retrieved and returned to the present (2023); however, Natasha had to sacrifice her life for Clint to get the Soul Stone at Vormir. Also, the presence of Nebula on Titan caused a malfunction in the Nebula of the past, and thus Thanos piggybacked on the signal and discovered the events that happened in the future. He traveled to the present day of the Avengers to get all the stones and destroy all life in the universe.

Bruce wore the newly designed Gauntlet and snapped his fingers to restore the population that had died during the blip. However, he was severely injured, and then Thanos launched an attack on the Avengers Tower, and the final battle to save the universe began in earnest.

Iron Man stuck in spaceImage source: Disney

Thanos, with his army, fought against the Avengers and their army in an attempt to secure the Infinity Stones. Thanos then confronted Iron Man to take control of his Gauntlet.

As they both wrestled for it, Thanos overcame Tony and tried to snap his fingers while saying, “I am inevitable,” only to discover that Tony had transferred the Infinity Stones into his armor. Tony Stark activated the Gauntlet and snapped his fingers after saying his famous line, “I am Iron Man”.

This disintegrated all of Thanos’ forces and saved the universe.

Tony was fatally injured by the energy from the snap and was on the brink of death. His wife, Potts, came around with James and Peter to say goodbye as he died.

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 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 suitable return.

But Iron Man died in Endgame. It was incredibly emotional, leaving audiences in tears. One of the MCU’s most important characters (and actors) 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

Iron Man embracing Spider-Man
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) embracing Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in an emotional scene from the climactic Avengers: Endgame final battle. Image source: Marvel Studios

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) embraces Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in an emotional scene from the climactic Avengers: Endgame final battle.[/caption]

We heard rumors that Marvel wanted to bring 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 treatment 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 (Jonathan Majors) — a terrifying multi-variant villain who is just getting started. We will see more of him in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

We’re eager to see more variants 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 delivers three versions of Peter Parker. Then there’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, with the myriad of rumored cameos. Iron Man/Tony Stark is rumored to be one of those cameos, by the way. People have debated whether Tom Cruise would make his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut as an Iron Man variant.

The massive reshoots on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness have been said to be because the plot needs work and more characters need to be added. Execs at Marvel reportedly felt the film was “too “light on Easter eggs to please fans.” The “cameos can be endless in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and we can’t notice.

All of these shows and movies follow Tony Stark’s films chronologically. But rumors hint that Marvel could choose a different Tony from the multiverse for future MCU crossovers.

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

The massive and incredible Marvel reveal

As we learned through its run, What If…? was a multiversal story. I had speculated a little bit before the show premiered that What If…? would be that way. It was the only option now that we have got the variants in Loki. And Marvel confirmed that as well. Everything in What If…? happens in the multiverse, and it’s connected to the MCU. And everything is canon, including any Iron Man variants.

Here’s What If…? executive producer Brad Winderbaum:

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.

This we obviously learned about in the latest Spider-Man and it’s right in the title of Doctor Strange 2. Just don’t worry about whether or not the MCU is ruined or not, because plot holes can do that. But you have to remember that Marvel always has a plan.

Iron Man is dead, but Tony Stark did come back in the MCU

Once you take all of that into account, you realize Marvel already brought Iron Man back to the MCU. Our Iron Man still died, but What If…? featured a new Tony Stark. Here’s the season 1 trailer again:

Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) saves Tony Stark in this version of events. As you may remember from that episode of the series, Killmonger eventually does save him but also kills him while subsequently taking over the role of Black Panther. What was interesting was that R.D.J. did not appear in the massive list of Marvel stars reprising their roles for What If…?. Mick Wingert voiced Tony Stark in four different episodes of the show. But you have to remember that the multiverse allows for myriad Iron Men.

Finally, there’s an indication that the Tony Stark we’ll see in What If…? will reappear in the MCU down the road. Tony Stark kept dying in What If..? in more or less every story in the MCU. That is also something we’ll like to keep an eye on as the multiverse continues to expand. Not for nothing; we wouldn’t hate to see the continuation of the Killmonger episode to see how Pepper and Shuri handled this betrayal.

But we did get to see Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell) as a central character in What If…? leading the “Guardians of the Multiverse” and “that she might appear in Multiverse of Madness as well. She also could be a member of the Illuminati, which leaks have mentioned recently in connection with the second Doctor Strange film.

There is so much information out there that we aren’t sure what to believe. But some of these spoilers and leaks have panned out over the past few years, so we’re willing to take a listen. Therefore, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see this Stark variant in future MCU movies and shows. After all, you can’t introduce a random Iron Man without having more extensive plans for the character now that the Sacred Timeline version is dead and buried.


Is Iron Man done in the MCU films?

After 11 years, Robert Downey Jr’s as Iron Man came to a sad end, as seen in Avengers: Endgame. In 2019, Tony Stark saved the universe by sacrificing himself by snapping his fingers to bring back everyone who died due to the blip.

Is Tony Stark coming back to life?

Tony Stark (Iron Man) died in Avengers: Endgame, and he’s officially out of the MCU franchise, not unless Marvel has a change of heart. It will be fantastic to have Downey jr. back in the Iron Man suit on screen.

Who replaces Iron Man in the MCU?

The perfect replacement for Iron Man would be Doctor Doom, making him the key focus in the next phase of the MCU and beyond.

Has Marvel confirmed Iron Man 4?

Officially, there will be a fourth Iron Man movie, and Robert Downey jr. may portray the billionaire playboy philanthropist.

Who’s the boy standing alone at Tony Stark’s funeral?

The boy is Harley Keener Ty Simpkins). He first appeared in Iron Man 3 when he helped Tony Stark recharge his armor while trying to solve a mysterious death case.

Does Marvel own Iron Man?

Yes, Marvel owns Iron Man.

Is Tony Stark’s death an absolute point?

Yes, Tony’s death is an absolute point (irreversible point) in a particular timeline). That means Iron Man won’t be coming back unless a loophole appears in the multiverse.

What were Iron Man’s last words?

Before Tony Stark snapped his fingers after extracting the infinity stones from Thanos’ Gauntlet, he said, “I am Iron Man.”

More Marvel coverage: For more MCU news, take a look at our ultimate 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.