Avengers: Endgame (2019) was the culmination of years of work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It completed Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers/Captain’s America (Chris Evans) arcs that began the story of Earth’s mightiest heroes.
The one-two punch of Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – directed by the Russo Brothers – left a deep emotional impact in both the hearts of Marvel fans and the world of the MCU. The Avengers ultimately defeated Thanos (Josh Brolin), but they were not able to erase the fact that the Mad Titan was able to eradicate half of all life in the universe with a snap of the Infinity Gauntlet.
Marvel Studios is working on moving past the Infinity Saga with its new Phase 4, which will be — and has been — focused on expanding into the multiverse and new unexplored cosmic corners of the MCU.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) was fans’ first glimpse into a world without Tony Stark and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which is now airing on Fridays on Disney+ is, establishing how the MCU can move on without Steve Rogers.
Marvel boss Kevin Feige has his eyes looking forward to the future of the MCU after the success of the first Disney+ original series, WandaVision. In the final episode’s post-credits scene, Wanda took Agatha Harkness’s (Kathryn Hayn) spellbook, the Darkhold – which was previously in the Dark Dimension. This will lead directly into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (March 25, 2022).
The Doctor Strange sequel will reunite the Sorcerer Supreme with Wong (Benedict Wong) and Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). But, fans are still looking to the past to try to process everything that happened in the epic climax of Endgame.
A new theory that popped up on Reddit from user OmegaRed12 takes fans back to the final moments before the snap in Infinity War. He theorizes that when Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) looked at the possible 14,000,604 timelines he found more where Thanos was defeated than the ones fans saw in Endgame.
OmegaRed 12 put it this way:
“[Doctor Strange] most likely saw a few months or years ahead into each timeline at least he probably saw that Tony is the catalyst for a lot of problems. So, he eliminated [Iron Man] and Thanos in one fell swoop.”
What was Doctor Strange’s motive?
Iron Man is beloved by fans, so much so that many overlook a lot of the problems Tony Stark caused. The billionaire industrialist kicked off a wave of superheroes that would become the Avengers back in Iron Man (2008) when he was recruited by SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). But a wave of super villains followed soon after. It started with Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) AKA Iron Monger who used Tony’s arc reactor technology to create his own armor.
Tony was already making his own enemies by the time Iron Man 2 (2010) hit theaters. Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) only teamed up because of how Tony and his father treated them.
The same can be said for Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) in Iron Man 3 (2013). He only became a criminal after Tony dismissed him at a party in Munich. Tony handed Killian the Extremis formula without even noticing. And his compulsion to create a new Iron Man suit, even when Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) begged him to stop since he had so much armor already almost got the President killed.
In every MCU movie even when Stark wants to the right thing, it seemingly always has negative consequences. He tried to clean up New York after the battle against Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the Chitauri in Avengers (2012). He created Damage Control, but this put Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) out of work and turned him into the criminal known as the Vulture by Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).
Not the least of Tony’s mistakes was creating Ultron (voiced by James Spader) in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). His intention was to protect the world, but Ultron went insane and tried to destroy the world, not at the hero Tony and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) AKA the Incredible Hulk intended him to be.
Ultron even teamed up with Wanda Maximoff /Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and her twin brother Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The Maximoff twins were only radicalized after a Stark Industries bomb killed their parents.
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The entire plot of Captain America: Civil War (2016) only happened because of Tony’s mistake in Ultron. Tony’s reaction to learning that Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) killed his parents led the Avengers disassembling. That opened the door for Thanos’s victory in Infinity War.
Even after his tragic death in Endgame, villains that Tony created still pop up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The team behind Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) only came together over how much they hated Stark.
What does all that mean?
As the Reddit theory suggests, perhaps Doctor Stephen Strange used the Time Stone to look farther into the future than the events seen in Endgame. The Sorcerer Supreme may have found more than one outcome where Marvel’s Avengers defeated Thanos.
He may have even seen one future in which he was stopped before the snap. Sparing characters like Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) AKA Hawkeye and Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) AKA Captain Marvel from the trauma they endured during the Blip. Fans will never know. But, we do know that he sent the Avengers down the path that leads to Iron Man’s death in his final movie.
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He may have been trying to avoid some future where Iron Man does more harm than good — something that happens multiple times in Marvel Comics. So many Iron Man comic books are like Marvel movies, including Invincible Iron Man, Ultimate Iron Man, and especially Superior Iron Man in that Tony’s attempts to help people often end up hurting them.
More evidence to support this theory is the final two seasons of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. While some debate whether SHIELD is MCU canon, the show was originally billed as existing alongside the movies. Up through season 5, SHIELD has cameos from the MCU films and follows the events of the Marvel films. However, the fifth season has the agents stuck in a time loop trying to stop the world from being broken apart.
In the final episode of season 5, the team is facing off against their own extinction-level event but the events of Infinity War play on in the background. It is mentioned that Thanos arrived for the stones, but it is never mentioned again.
Most fans believe when SHIELD breaks their time loop they were sent down a different timeline since they never interact with the movies again. If this is true then they exist in a timeline where Thanos was defeated before his snap – the show never addresses half the population being erased. This is presumably a timeline where Tony lived and Thanos was beaten.
There is also the question of the timeline that Steve Rogers lived out his life with Peggy Carter (Hailey Atwell). While he does not tell Sam Wilson/ Falcon (Anthony Mackie) or Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) anything about his new timeline – it is implied that he lived a good life. I doubt even a retired Captain America would have been satisfied in a world where Thanos was not defeated but who knows if Tony lived in that universe.
Perhaps letting Tony live would have led to something worse than Thanos. However, it does raise the question of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johanson) AKA Black Widow’s fate. Could there have been a timeline where Thanos was defeated and Black Widow lived, but Iron Man went out to do something worse? Could Tony’s potential misdeeds have killed Natasha as well?
Let us know in the comments if you think Doctor Strange intentionally let Iron Man die and if you think he was right.