I Am Iron Man.” – Tony Stark

Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark, better known as the Invincible Iron Man. Promotional poster from the first Iron Man movie, via the Marvel Movies wiki.

Those words practically ignited the landscape of the popular film universe Marvel Studios has created that’s officially known as the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, and cemented the role Hollywood star Robert Downey Jr. has immortalized forever. He is Tony Stark. He is THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN!

After starring/ appearing as the armored avenger for five movies in the MCU, Downey’s next appearance will be at next year’s  Avengers: Age Of Ultron – which is the team blockbuster sequel to 2012’s The Avengers. However that will also be the actor’s second-t0-the last confirmed appearance in a Marvel Movie, as RDJ is only contractually obligated to appear in Age of Ultron and the next Avengers film after that, which has a tentative title of “Avengers 3”.

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So the big question is: Will Robert Downey Jr. return for another solo Iron Man movie? Even he doesn’t know the clear answer to that according to a report by Variety, as an interview with the man himself confirms that there are “No Plans For Iron Man 4” at this time.

Still, will a new solo film or spin-off after Age Of Ultron benefit RDJ and Iron Man in the long run? Let’s weigh in on the films the hero has appeared in, and reflect if past experiences should merit a return for Ol’ Shellhead in his own feature once more.

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IRON MAN (2008)

The one that started it all, and literally rocketed Robert Downey Jr. to stardom thanks to his portrayal of the egotistal, eccentric, but very brilliant industrialist and inventor Tony Stark. Directed by Jon Favreau, Iron Man was a first for many things – it jumpstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know, lay in the ground work for a shared and unified comic book movie universe, and planted the seeds for the big payoff that would come four years later with The Avengers. However, it also told a solid origin story and successfully introduced the character to a modern audience. The tagline “Heroes aren’t born… They’re built” pretty much embodied Tony Stark’s journey from weapons maker to superhero, as his near-death experience and building his very first suit of armor to escape captivity from terrorists makes him reborn with a new purpose to right his wrongs and become a better person. Improving on his design and finding out those responsible for his captivity hit close to home, Tony literally turned his life around and went the way of the superhero, becoming the Invincible Iron Man!

Arguably, the first Iron Man movie still resonates as the best among RDJ’s stand alone appearances as Tony Stark. It introduced us to his quirkiness and mannerisms, not to mention sealing the deal that he was the right actor for the job. That success would prove to work to the actor’s advantage, as he remained too iconic a presence not to have show up a few more times in the build up to the seismic metahuman team group film that is Marvel’s The Avengers.

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THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)

A few months after making his rockstar debut as Tony Stark, Downey reprised his role in the Edward Norton starring Hulk film, making a small cameo as a favor to Marvel Studios and building bridges for the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to interconnect with one another. This appearance would also play out in the one-shot feature called “The Consultant” found in the special features of the Thor Blu-Ray disc, and shows that Stark’s new relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D is pretty sketchy and funny at best, since he doesn’t “play well with others”. That attitude is put to good use in that cameo, and starts connecting the dots to the Marvel Universe film timeline as a whole.

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IRON MAN 2 (2010)

Riding on the hype and success of the first film with a lot of potential to offer at the same time, Iron Man 2 is literally the follow-up everyone was expecting to succeed and pave the way for the awesome that would the next Marvel films down the line in the road to The Avengers. It may have ridden on those coattails a bit too much, as most of the movie literally is a patch working its way to assemble the core cast that would make up Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the big screen. However, that’s not to say that Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t get his time to shine once more as the billionaire industrialist and inventor, and Iron Man 2 comes packing a plenty with those moments. Six Months following his outing to the world of his armored alter ego, Tony Stark is now an international celebrity and super hero saving the world in his own way and with style to boot. Unfortunately, old enemies from his family’s legacy come back to haunt him, as well as problems at home concerning his health and technology. With new armor, new allies, and enemies from all corners wanting to take him down, Tony has to resolve all these issues if he wants Iron Man to survive and come out alive in one piece.

Unlike the first film, Iron Man 2 allows RDJ to play around without the restraints of an origin story and just do what he does best –  being a playboy, have fun, and be a hero in his own way. The quirkiness and eccentricities come at an all time high this time around, thanks to the internal problems with the technology that keeps him alive as well as personal conflicts with his close friends and allies. He gets to suit up more and be the hero, but with a new heroic ally in best friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes, who finally gets his own armor that’s dubbed “War Machine”. Overall, this movie is one that gives style and purpose as to why Downey was the perfect actor to be the man behind the suit, and the anticipation to him being among other heroes in The Avengers was amped up all the more thanks to dealings with Nick Fury, Agent Phil Coulson, and future teammate Natasha Romanoff, aka The Black Widow.

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THE AVENGERS (2012)

And then here’s the BIG ONE… The day finally came to “playing with others” once this blockbuster superhero team up of a movie – THE AVENGERS finally forced Tony Stark to be a team player, but not without butting heads first with his teammates, who come from all kinds of backgrounds and legendary statuses that become much of a concern for the ego of the armored superhero. Robert Downey Jr.’s tenure this time around is just PHENOMENAL, and he is literally all over the place to get the team bantering and playing to their strengths while remaining true to his character and eccentric personality all throughout the film. Even with a super soldier, a thunder god, a couple of agents, and a giant rage monster by his side and sharing the spotlight, Downey is still the guy who straight up puts his dukes up wherever he shoots his mouth off… And proves that Tony Stark can be a force to reckoned with… Courtesy of the fact that “He Is Iron Man”, ’nuff said. It remains to be seen how much teamwork is going to play out in the sequel, but before that…

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IRON MAN 3 (2013)

The last and recent full appearance of Downey in his iconic role for a solo film sequel that bears the name of his character, Iron Man 3 is what brings things to a fresh new start – namely “Phase Two” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and upping the ante once more by not just doubling or tripling the character’s armor set… But creating an IRON LEGION of suits that is surely a techwonder’s wet dream come true. Directed by Shane Black, part 3 focuses more on the “man behind the suit” rather than Tony strictly fighting with the suit on all the time, and presented thriller-action movie elements that include espionage blended with superhuman terrorism that puts the superhero inventor right smack in the middle. Coupled with his traumatic experience following his adventure with The Avengers, Stark is grounded once more and somewhat taken back to square one, which ultimately gives viewers a chance to see how the zany industrialist can solve his problems once all his “toys” are taken away (which was of his own doing of course). The final result is a film that shifts gears and gives RDJ time to play more as himself, highlighting his comedic timing while also showcasing that he can improvise things without relying on the Iron Man armor too much.


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THE FUTURE OF IRON MAN

So with Avengers: Age Of Ultron up for May 2015 and then another Avengers sequel a few years after that, Robert Downey Jr. still has some milage with his role as Tony Stark/ Iron Man before contract negotiations will be played again to see if he and Marvel Studios can reach a deal to see him back. While no plans for Iron Man 4 are up at the moment, that doesn’t mean there won’t be somewhere down the line. Another solo film featuring the Armored Avenger wouldn’t hurt, and Robert’s still definitely got the knack to do things. But to keep it fresh, it’ll probably be better to team him up with another Avenger like how Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff worked together so flawlessly in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Perhaps with his buddy Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk as played by Mark Ruffalo would be a good way to put two brainheads together and have their alter egos fight against and with each other (which will be played out in Age of Ultron as well), or perhaps putting RDJ on a supporting role with another Marvel franchise… Like having him appear in Space Armor and joining the Guardians of the Galaxy like he did recently in the comics? Plus, the fact that Sir Ben Kingsley’s role as “The Mandarin” in IM3 doesn’t seem quite finished means that there could be more to see with that, and fans would love to see that character meet Ol’ Shellhead in a Marvel film.

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There are so many ideas to play around with, but time is also a crucial factor, as Downey isn’t getting any younger and he may have to pass the torch eventually to a successor. Whatever the future may bring, there will always be an Iron Man. Let’s hope that RDJ still sticks around though, so he can bring more to the game as the “Big man in a suit of armor” and the “Genius, Billionaire Playboy, and Philanthropist” that he is.

Robert Downey Jr. returns as Iron Man on Avengers: Age Of Ultron on May 1, 2015.