May 9 2013 9:00am

Iron Man 4 Should Be About Tony Stark the Futurist

Iron Man 4 Tony Stark futurist

Now that Iron Man 3 is in theaters a lot of rumors and news are flying around about Robert Downey, Jr.’s involvement in future Iron Man movies and the Avengers franchise as a whole. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has already stated that the Iron Man actor can be as ever-changing as James Bond has proven. But Marvel will forgive fans if we can’t imagine anyone but RDJ in the role. To my mind when Tony Stark says “I am Iron Man” I believe that of the actor and the fictional character he portrays.

Aside from the issue of who would play Iron Man in further movies is the question of just where Tony Stark’s story can go following the events of Iron Man 3. I think there’s a way to tackle both of these issues, though, while staying true to the character and utilizing elements from one of the character’s best storylines.

Spoilers for Iron Man 3 follow.

Further Avengers films aren’t under the same pressure as another Iron Man film would be. There’s no need to justify Tony’s presence, and a lot of the fun of seeing that character is seeing how the personal growth that Tony undergoes in the Iron Man films meshes with the earth-shaking events of the Avengers films. To put it more simply, Avengers is about Tony being largely reactive, whereas the Iron Man movies are about Tony being proactive.

So an Iron Man 4 needs to give the fans, and Robert Downey, Jr., further developments in Tony’s character in order to justify its own existence. A reboot of his origin story would be a backwards step (especially considering how the Avengers films continue to progress), and killing him off would feel cheap. But what else is there to explore after four films featuring Iron Man?

The events of Iron Man 3 leave Tony without his armor, without the arc reactor in his chest, and ready to move on with his life with Pepper and Stark Industries. On an emotional level, he still considers himself Iron Man, but now lacks the acoutrements that physically make Iron Man.

And personally, I think this is fine. We’ll see him fight again. We’ll see the armor. They’ll handwave a reason to do so at some point. What the ending of Iron Man 3 really gives us is an opportunity to see Tony Stark the Iron Man become Tony Stark the Futurist.

Iron Man 4 Tony Stark futurist

In the early 2000s Marvel Comics, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, and other comics writers crafted a more well-defined science fiction aspect to Tony Stark’s character. Here was a man who wasn’t just a playboy or warrior or industrialist. He was a futurist. A genius inventor whose mind raced along at several times the speed of yours or mine and was constantly crafting responses to possible futures and scenarios. In his head, Tony Stark was literally building the future of mankind.

Downey, Jr. and the current Iron Man films have embodied this aspect of the character perfectly. He creates a new form of energy reactor “with a box of scraps!” in the first film, forges a new heavy element in the second film, and has an entire fleet of remote-controlled Iron Men in the third. Now that Tony doesn’t feel the need to obsessively tinker with Iron Man technology he has the time to focus on Stark Industries and what he and it can do to make the world a better place. This thread runs quietly throughout the films. In Iron Man 2 he takes credit for being a deterrent that has brought peace to warring regions of the globe. (This is a very spurious claim on his part, but he believes it, and that’s the important part.) And in The Avengers he demonstrates that Stark Industries has become the leading name in clean, renewable energy.

Around ten years ago in the Iron Man comics Tony began demonstrating this motivation in earnest, and the longer that this character development went on the more proactive he became about problems he perceived in the world at large.

And that’s when it all began to fall apart. Suddenly Tony was implementing drastic solutions to problems that no one else could visualize. (He secretly shot the Hulk into space because Bruce had gone on one too many rampages over the years.) Further, he had branched out into constructing organizational solutions to social issues, something that despite his genius intellect he had no previous experience with. (He essentially strong-armed all superheroes in the U.S. to register their secret identities and powers with him and the government or else face imprisonment. The ensuing chaos split families in two and eventually caused the death of Tony’s closest friends.)

Iron Man 4 Tony Stark futurist

Despite constant protest, Tony’s obsessive focus kept him on his wayward path. He was convinced he was right because he knew was a genius. It was just that no one else could see the social apocalypse that would result if his plans weren’t implemented. And Tony is so charming that you believe he’s right, even if everything else is falling apart.

Charm and obsessive focus is already a key element of Robert Downey, Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark, and we’ve seen across multiple movies that he has a compulsive need to lose himself inside a project, whether it’s creating Iron Man, being an egomaniacal playboy, hunting down the Mandarin, unraveling his father’s secrets, or drinking like a fish and ruining his birthday party.

Iron Man 4 could have a field day depicting this kind of Tony Stark. The one using Stark Industries to legitimately better the world but who goes too far. The one who gets this close to becoming an arch villain. It would echo key themes from the previous movies, be a natural progression for Downey’s portrayal of the character, and be a new emotional struggle for the character that an Avengers movie wouldn’t have room to depict.

Plus, such a story would give Tony ample reason to begin training a protege as Iron Man. (And it would be a cheeky callback to Iron Man originally being depicted as Tony Stark’s bodyguard.) And bringing Tony back from the edge in a story like this would allow the actor to bow out gracefully while establishing a new Iron Man with his or her own struggles, villains, and emotional progression.

Let’s not James Bond-ify this, Marvel. You’ve already done the hard work of redefining the concept of superhero movies. Keep going.

Chris Lough is the production manager of and was so happy that Tony saved Dummy at the end of the movie.

Paul Weimer
1. PrinceJvstin
Tony Stark can be Iron Man without the suit. Tony Stark the Futurist? Yeah, I'd watch that. Extremis in IM3 was mainly "volcano CGI" but technology and the future is what Iron Man should and could be.
2. Tesh
It could definitely lead to the Civil War arc. I wasn't a fan of that, but it could prove timely and interesting, so long as it wasn't clearly politically biased in any direction.
3. Sarah W
I'm pretty sure Tony's going to fix the problems with extremis and inject himself either in Avengers 2 or Iron Man 4 to save the team, the world, the universe, or to survive Thantos, or so on.

He has the formula now and Tony might have blackouts but there's nothing wrong with his memory or penchant for Treading Where Angels Fear or What Safety Protocols stuff.

Plus, whatever armor and/or abilities it given him, extremis isn't even *technically* (pun intended, or not) a suit, so he wouldn't be breaking the letter of his implied promise to Pepper at the end of Iron Man 3. Which is pure Tony Stark, too.

This doesn't necessarily negate the predictions in this article, which make sense to me. But maybe extremis would do a Doctor Who on Tony Stark when he's too damage to go on. I'd hate to see that, because it's the wrong kind of Deus ex cheat . . . but I *could* see it.

I'm just sayin'.
4. AdamMcGovern
Good perspective, and a characterization which is thriving in the current Hickman Avengers comic with much of the RDJ personality now stirred in. Stark accomplishes so much through his panic attacks in IM3 that it could be interesting to see a whole movie about how well it doesn't go when he's truly confident, though the almost-villainous Stark of Civil War might not be a necessary stage to escalate to from the gray-shaded Stark who was full-grown in the movies from the first one -- what might be more interesting is to have the highly-placed Stark (who was both Secretary of Defense and head of SHIELD for a while in those 2000s comics) implement some policies that are not controversial but everyone *agrees* with, and then turn out to have miscalculated thus bringing on some elemental disaster or letting in some alien horde -- then watch the consequences of Earth picking up the pieces and Tony having to reconcile with his ultimate fear, which is not being bad but being wrong :-).
5. JasonT


Tony already fixed extremis, that's how he helped Pepper. He also already injected himself with it, which is how he was able to have the shrapnel finally removed from his heart.
6. Sarah W

Sorry--I meant modifying it further, not creating Pepper's antidote. I don't remember him injecting himself. I thought he just decided to risk the surgery. I'll pay more attention the next three times I see it . . .
j p
7. sps49
I was mostly going along with the article until the end.

Because only Tony Stark is Iron Man.

Sure, another actor can be cast (and will be in RDJ's shadow, certainly). But any protege or hireling will just be a guy in the suit. The films have trouble giving Rhodey character; how will someone else be an improvement?

JasonT @5- DId he inject himself? I thought Tony was just badass enough to go ahead with the surgery. And that Extremis is still probably fatal to too high a percentage of those subjected to it.
8. AlanMorlock
7. I think they meant in terms of story not in terms of casting. Another actor may eventually need to replace RDJ but that doesn't mean they should return Stark to some early status quo.
9. ian the great
what would be smart for marvel would've been to write IM3, setting up the death of tony stark, then (like in the comics/g.novels) go to an alternate universe (which has been established with the tesseract in all of the marvel movies) where an alternate tony doesn't have shrapnel. then they could reboot the series, tie in IM3 and Avengers, and get 3 new movies with a new actor to be Alternate Tony Stark.
Steven Pattingale
10. Pattingale
I am hoping for the "Demon in a Bottle" storyline.
Alan Brown
11. AlanBrown
I would prefer to see the mantle to be passed to another, younger person in the iron suit in future movies rather than have the role of Tony Stark be recast. I like the idea of Tony's bodyguard (for sentimental reasons) or even better, a young scientist from Stark Industries becoming the new Iron Man (the idea of geek gaining power being such a compelling archetype).
12. excessivelyperky
Another alternate--what if Jarvis keeps being loaded up with additional capacity--something I could easily see Tony Stark doing--only to have him 'wake up' like Mike the Computer in _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_? And then Jarvis, like his maker, gets a serious case of big head and Something Has To Be Done About It?
13. Tonystarkalterego
I believe everything in the 60 secs post credits really leads to Tony Stark shedding the "cocoon" of the suit and BECOMING iron man. I see Tony engineering extremis to allow him to change his own body INTO Iron Man and more. Clearly In Iron Man 3 the people with extremis had unbelieveable power to regenerate their bodies, and the ability to draw from the power stored atomically in their cells. Add Tony's flair and now extremis can regenerate his body into whatever the super hero needs. No need to go get an iron suit in a closet.... It's always inside you.

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