Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe has moved on from the Infinity Saga and the events of Avengers: Endgame, it keeps proving that it will never be able to fully escape Iron Man – but that’s not a bad thing at all. The MCU kicked off with Iron Man’s first movie back in 2008, and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) went on to become the leader of the MCU’s first three phases as well as one of the leaders of the original Avengers alongside Captain America.
Iron Man went through a difficult personal journey throughout the Infinity Saga as he struggled with his traumatic past as well as his ego, and in the end, he died as a hero when he sacrificed himself in Avengers: Endgame in order to save the universe. The MCU struggled to move on from Iron Man and his legacy in the first part of Phase 4, and while it doesn’t depend on him anymore, it has become clearer that this universe will never escape Iron Man, but that isn’t a bad thing anymore.
Iron Man Still Defines The MCU Even After His Death
Iron Man not only led the Infinity Saga but also defined the MCU and thus was key in making it what it now is. The success of his debut movie led Marvel to copy its formula in its subsequent movies, along with its tone that combined comedy and lighthearted moments with darker and more serious ones, which are the ones that add depth to the characters and allow the audience to connect with them. Although the MCU has tried to shake the formula up with movies like Eternals, it ultimately always goes back to what Iron Man established and has worked so well, so even if Stark himself isn’t around anymore, he continues to define the MCU because he shattered expectations and proved that his tone and style was what this connected universe needed to succeed and stay afloat.
Iron Man was also the first MCU movie with a post-credits scene that teased the character’s (and this universe’s) future, with the introduction of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his offer about the Avengers Initiative. This was the beginning of a tradition in the MCU that, even though has lost force and popularity lately with post-credits scenes that add nothing to the story nor the future of the MCU, continues to intrigue viewers, making them stay until the final credits are over. Iron Man also made the whole “everything is connected” concept a reality, with Feige (via Vanity Fair) adjusting The Incredible Hulk to make it feel more like Iron Man and including Robert Downey Jr in it to make that connection. Iron Man changed the superhero genre outside and within its own world, setting an example for other connected universes, and within the MCU, it established the first connections and built the formula for the rest of the movies to happen, and while the MCU has changed since Iron Man’s death, this universe is still defined by him, what he did, and what he established, both as a character and a movie.
The MCU’s Future Cannot Escape Iron Man’s Legacy
The MCU doesn’t depend on Iron Man’s actions anymore to push this universe forward, but it can’t escape Tony Stark’s legacy, either. Iron Man’s legacy goes beyond Earth, and by the time he died in Avengers: Endgame, he had touched too much of the MCU to be left behind once he was gone. Iron Man was responsible for the emergence of various villains, his technology continues to be used (look no further than to his best friend Rhodey, who continues to serve as War Machine), and he helped Spider-Man become the hero he is now (though Peter Parker is now starting over from scratch, but he surely won’t forget what he learned from his mentor), and he saved the universe, and that alone is enough for the MCU to not ever escape his legacy.
Although his closest friends and colleagues, as are the original Avengers, are no longer active, and Pepper Potts and Morgan Stark are no longer an active part of the MCU either, Iron Man’s legacy continues through characters like Rhodey, Spider-Man, Happy Hogan, and the newly introduced Riri Williams, the latter now his official replacement in the MCU. Even if not directly linked to him, there’s still a lot that connects in some way to Iron Man, all thanks to everything he did in the MCU and how he shaped this universe in many ways.
Why It’s OK The MCU Won’t Escape Iron Man
As the hero who started it all and the one who made the MCU post-Endgame possible thanks to his sacrifice, it makes sense, and it’s actually ok, that this universe hasn’t escaped Iron Man. The MCU has now reached a point where it doesn’t have to use Iron Man to push other stories forward (which still happened with Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Far From Home), but it doesn’t have to forget or ignore what he did either. Iron Man’s legacy will be mostly felt in the upcoming movie Armor Wars, which will see Stark’s biggest nightmare happening and Rhodey taking the lead to solve it, and there are also the many consequences of the blip and Iron Man’s snap that continue to be felt and discussed across the MCU. Iron Man shaped and saved the MCU, and while he shouldn’t still be the trigger of conflicts anymore, the MCU won’t escape his legacy and that’s exactly how it should be.
Iron Man’s Enduring MCU Legacy Is Why RDJ Never Needs To Return
With the concept of variants now an important part of the MCU, especially throughout the Multiverse Saga, there has been speculation over how Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. could return, but that’s unnecessary. RDJ doesn’t need to reprise his role as Iron Man because his and the character’s legacy continues to be present in the MCU and will surely stay for a long, long time, and bringing them back would taint Iron Man’s enduring legacy. Iron Man’s time in the MCU came to a satisfying end and his sacrifice is what allowed this universe to move forward with the Multiverse Saga, and that alone is a powerful enough legacy that frees Robert Downey Jr. from having to return. Iron Man was a lot more than the MCU’s genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist, and the MCU is what it is now and continues to grow thanks to him.
Next: Why Robert Downey Jr Left The MCU & Iron Man