In 2008, Marvel took a gamble. They hired Robert Downey Jr. — a man whose career was genuinely believed to be over due to addiction issues — and they gave him a flagship role in the nascent MCU. Jon Favreau, Director of 2008's Iron Man, insisted that only Downey could truly play the part of Tony Stark. After a lot of intense debate, Marvel agreed.
And so history was made.
Nowadays, it's pretty much impossible to imagine anyone other than Downey playing the part of Tony Stark. The #IronMan trilogy are among the most popular movies in the MCU, and he brings enough star-power to command a staggering salary for his appearance in Captain America: Civil War. But, if some rumors are to be believed, his time as Ol' Shellhead may well be coming to an end.
What Are the Rumors?
Back in August, Parent Herald 'broke' the news that Downey's Tony Stark was to be replaced by Riri Williams, a teenage girl. Of course, comic book fans will know that Riri Williams is just the latest in #Marvel's famous line of 'Legacy Heroes'; the teenage character has been introduced over in the comics, and has indeed taken over the role of Iron Man — albeit under the codename 'Ironheart'.
More recently, Master Herald reported that Iron Man 4 is now scheduled for 2019, and that Downey no longer feels like the role's for him. They report:
"Robert thinks that his time of donning the suit is up and that a younger person should take over from him. Superhero movies are for the youngsters. Hence, it would be unfair for an older person to carry on after three successful titles."
This rumor has been fairly widely-reported (although not often sourced), and has sometimes been conflated with the previous rumor that Riri Williams will be introduced in the #MCU. On other occasions (including in the initial Master Herald report), other names such as Ty Simpkins — the boy in Iron Man 3 — have been mentioned.
Can These Rumors Be Believed?
First of all, the rumors are right when they suggest that Iron Man 4 may well be on the cards. The Iron Man franchise is tremendously popular, and Marvel's Phase 3 slate does indeed include as-yet-untitled films scheduled for 2019. More interestingly, though, back in April, #RobertDowneyJr himself expressed interest in the idea. In the above featurette, he observed:
"I feel like I could do one more."
More recently, though, in November Kevin Feige was asked about the possibility of replacing either Robert Downey or Chris Evans. His response was telling.
"Luckily we don’t have to make that decision anytime soon. There are a lot of movies that everyone is signed on for, and we get to enjoy them for a long time. Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man, and right now I can’t envision anyone else."
In other words, if Marvel choose to do Iron Man 4, then we can be pretty certain Robert Downey Jr. will be reprising the role of Tony Stark.
As regards the rumor that Riri Williams will soon be introduced to the MCU? Parent Herald's original report incorrectly assumes that a change in the comics will result in a change in the movies. Consider: Is the MCU version of Peter Parker a successful businessman? Has Steve Rogers had a stint commanding S.H.I.E.L.D.? Have any Legacy Heroes made an MCU debut to date? In the case of Riri, she's really too fresh and new for Marvel Studios to gamble with until they've got a better idea of how she's being received by fans, so this would seem to be a very unlikely move on Marvel's part.
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It's pretty clear that I don't put much stock in these rumors, but just the fact these rumors are proving to be popular suggests that fans are definitely invested in Iron Man 4. That in itself is news, because it reminds Marvel Studios — if they need reminding — that there's real fan interest in seeing the franchise continue. My hope is that, behind these rumors, there's a hint of something real; that there really are conversations taking place about Iron Man 4, and that the film really will be one of Marvel's as-yet-untitled Phase 3 releases. Given Marvel's usual timescales, I'd be expecting to get those titles pretty soon...
Do you want to see 'Iron Man 4' starring Robert Downey Jr.?
(Poll Image: Marvel Studios)