While Avengers: Endgame won’t be the end of the Marvel Universe as a whole, it will mark the culmination of eleven years of superhero filmmaking that began with 2008’s Iron Man – which is why a lot of people think the end of Endgame will be the end of Iron Man, too.
But will Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark really bite the repulsor ray this spring? Well, the marketing around the film (and certain storytelling rumours) seems to suggest it's likely, with the first trailer and preview image released for the film revealing a downbeat, depressed Iron Man adrift in space and saying his goodbyes to longtime partner and fiancé Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) via his helmet.
UPDATE: Following the film's release, we've analysed what the ending of Avengers: Endgame means for the future of the MCU here (contains spoilers)
And Downey Jr himself hasn’t ruled out leaving his ferric franchise sometime soon, with many reporting that his contract with Marvel expires with Avengers: Endgame and the actor lining up multiple follow-up projects (like a Sherlock Holmes sequel and a Doctor Dolittle movie) to fill his time going forward.
“I could have said when the first Avengers came out: ‘It’s never going to get any better than that. Everybody stop,’” Downey told news.com.au in 2017.
“But to me it’s always about people and opportunities, like the [Avengers directors Anthony and Joe] Russos, who I adore.
“I just never want to blow it for the last six or seven (MCU movies) I have done by dropping the ball because I decided to go do it one more time,” he concluded.
“I just want to hang up my jersey before it’s embarrassing.”
Sure, it’s not quite Chris Evans-level expressions of wanting to get out of Marvel – but maybe, unlike the Captain America star, Downey Jr is keeping things on the DL for a reason, hoping to give fans more of a surprise when he does go (with Evans’ frequent public comments more of a smokescreen).
Fundamentally, the death of Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame just feels right from a storytelling perspective and when considering the future of the MCU. What better way to signal a break from the past and the rise of new characters than by killing off your founding hero, who was in the first film you ever made?
And going forward, with new figures like Black Panther, Captain Marvel and even Doctor Strange taking the lead it’s harder and harder to see how Tony Stark factors into the Marvel universe anyway.
Things are changing in superhero movies again and, just like the last time there was a big shift, Iron Man may be at the centre of it all – even if that’s just by making room for something new.
Avengers: Endgame is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 25th April