SPOILERS AHEAD (DUH)
Gee, that didn’t take long. After a year’s worth of anticipation and speculation, Avengers: Endgame finally came out. So — we’re all satisfied, right? We’re satiated. Crisis averted, bad deeds unsnapped, we have our answers, we know who lives and who dies, and we’re ready to sit back and wait patiently to see the what the MCU has in store for our eyeballs next.
LOL, of course not! We’re already tearing the Endgame plot apart at the seams, looking for any potential hint at the shape of things to come. Mike has shared his own thoughts on what the future of the MCU might look like, but I’ve been holding onto a theory of my own. Holding it, and polishing it, like the precious and destructive gem it truly is.
Because here’s the thing: Mike already indicated that Endgame left the door open for our dearly departed Tony Stark to return, now that our heroes have mastered the magic of “Time Travel Shenanigans.”
But what if Tony could come back, no shenanigans necessary? What if Tony is ALREADY back… as an artificial intelligence?
Why It Could Happen
A.I. Tony Stark is already a real thing, at least in the comics. In fact, there are a few times over his character’s long history that he’s made digital back-ups of his brain. In recent years he created an A.I. duplicate of himself to help guide Riri Williams, a.k.a. Ironheart, when his own body was trapped in a comatose state after a fight with Captain Marvel (OH YEAH SHE DID… it’s still a sore subject, honestly).
But that’s the comics. As far as the movies are concerned, we know Tony has already built at least two A.I.s: J.A.R.V.I.S., which eventually formed the foundation for Vision’s personality, and F.R.I.D.A.Y., which replaced J.A.R.V.I.S. Part user interface, part personal assistant, Stark’s creations became indispensable to his life as a hero and a business mogul. The other thing about Stark is that he’s always tinkering. We know that, after the events of Infinity War, Tony returned to Earth and started a family. And we know that, during that 5-year window of domestic bliss, he kept working on his assortment of armors (his daughter was playing with one mask, and Pepper arrived for the climactic Endgame hurrah in her own suit).
But probably the biggest clue is his own holographic farewell to his family after his death — which he prerecorded, just in case the worst happened. Sure, it’s blue, just like in the comics. But more than that, it’s indicative of one of Tony’s key traits: He thinks ahead. He’s a planner. He assesses risks and comes up with contingencies. And with a wife and child to consider, he’d be more inclined than ever to build himself a fail-safe. “Just in case.”
The Avengers, as we know them, are over. But as a concept, they can always live on with fresh blood. We already know that, though Tony may be gone, his legacy — and his tech — is still around. It may be too soon to hear Robert Downey Jr.’s disembodied voice mentoring Peter Parker from his Spidey suit in Spider-Man: Far From Home, but in the future? Who’s to say we won’t discover a Tony-shaped ghost in his machines.
Why It Won’t Happen
Just because characters rarely stay dead in the colorful pages of comics, it doesn’t mean that Marvel won’t follow more cinematic sensibilities in its MCU — and it’s hard to argue that Tony’s death wasn’t cinematic. With the release of Endgame, Marvel didn’t just kill off the character — it closed the door on an era defined by Tony Stark and the unlikely juggernaut that made the MCU possible, 2008’s Iron Man. It tied everything up with a nice bow, and the impact would definitely be lessened if the ending didn’t stick.
But in more practical movie-making terms, Robert Downey Jr. became one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood thanks to the success of the MCU, and it may simply be too cost prohibitive to keep him around longer — even if he is just doing day-work as a hologram. Due to his unique deal with the studio, RDJ gets a backend cut of the profits on the MCU films he appears in — which worked out to a $75 million dollar payday for Infinity War (and likely more for Endgame, which has already doubled the worldwide opening weekend box office numbers of its predecessor, and could wind up being the highest grossing film ever). If you look at his supporting turn in Spider-Man: Homecoming instead, RDJ earned $5 million dollars per day for 3-days of work.
Robert Downey Jr. may have cost a lot, but he also was a solid investment. His relationship with the MCU was a two-way street, with both parties benefiting. So the question is, of course: What happens next? Will RDJ see that level of success again, and will Marvel reach those same dizzying heights without him? For now, there may be no reason to bring back Tony Stark. But in a few years, should they need him (and should he need them), at least we know there’s a way to bring Tony back into the fold — without time travel, and without undoing his death.
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Header Image Source: Disney/Marvel