Why Marvel Execs Say Hiring Robert Downey Jr. Again Is “No Longer on the Table”

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Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man

Credit: Marvel Studios

The Walt Disney Company owns essentially the largest and most successful media conglomerate in the world. And their golden goose? Acquired Marvel Studios and its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which exploded in popularity with 2008’s Iron Man bringing Robert Downey Jr. back into the Hollywood spotlight as Tony Stark/Iron Man himself. Ever since, the MCU has expanded considerably, bringing superheroes from across the Marvel Comics into their own solo movies, before joining the epic, shared cinematic universe in The Avengers (2012). Director Joss Whedon’s The Avengers brought (alongside RDJ himself), Chris Hemsworth (Thor Odinson), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/the Incredible Hulk), Tom Hiddleston (Loki Laufeyson/Loki Odinson), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) to the forefront of the MCU.

(L-R) Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johannsson in 'The Avengers' (2012)
Credit: Marvel Studios

Related: Tiny Secret In ‘Ant-Man 3’ Reveals HUGE ‘Fantastic Four’ Future

The Marvel Cinematic Universe dramatically ended Phase Three and the Infinity Saga with two-parter Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019) directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Endgame saw audiences and Marvel fans bid goodbye to MCU heavyweights Robert Downey Jr. as the beloved Tony Stark/Iron Man, while Chris Evans as Steve Rogers retired as Captain America, passing the helm (and shield) onto the MCU’s new Cap. Now that Phase Five has begun and the Multiverse Saga is ramping up to Avengers 5 and Avengers 6‘s Secret Wars plotline, Marvel head Kevin Feige is already planning for Phase Seven.

Somehow though, it still seemed a no-brainer back then that RDJ would still be involved with the MCU in some capacity — being someone so intrinsically tied to the franchise for so long. However, new comments from Marvel themselves might cast doubt on many of those initial beliefs.

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark
Credit: Marvel Studios

Why Robert Downey Jr. was previously rumored to return

Rumors have floated around for some time around Downey Jr.’s continued involvement with the MCU, particularly with the upcoming Ironheart Disney+ series starring Marvel Studios newcomer Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams — the genius MIT student first introduced in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022). Incoming Armor Wars is another naturally Iron Man-related project with similar rumors abound, starring Don Cheadle as James Rhodes “Rhodey”/Warmachine, itself being a follow-up to Ironheart and Secret Invasion (2023), another Disney+ Original following Samuel L. Jackson as Director Nick Fury and his spacetime and Krull-centric exploits.

It would make a lot of sense narratively for Iron Man to return in some capacity, seeing as Iron Man is Ironheart’s mentor and AI in the Marvel Comics, and his previous ties to Nick Fury and best friend Rhodey might inspire even an AI version of Tony Stark to help out, or at least cameo. However it seems that that variant of the Multiverse might not actually occur.

Don Cheadle as War Machine/James Rhodes
Credit: Marvel Studios

What Marvel Studios is saying now about RDJ

Related: “Horrendous” Marvel Writer Is Attached to Upcoming ‘Avengers: Secret Wars’

Now though, it seems like Robert Downey Jr.’s time with the MCU is truly over.

Sitting down with io9, Marvel executive Stephen Broussard, who according to Gizmodo, is a member of the “Marvel Studios Parliament”. Broussard admitted that Phase Four’s “meta-narrative” was focused on new characters, and “new people stepping into mantles”. He specifically mention’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania‘s Cassie Lang, Scott Lang/Ant-Man’s daughter getting a suit, as well as Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) from Hawkeye (2021), and Jack (Russell) in Werewolf by Night (2022). Expanding on this, Broussard looks back on a decade of Marvel, as well as speaking out about the “new generation” and its comic book precedent:

After these first 10 years of Marvel storytelling, torches are being passed, like with Robert Downey Jr. no longer being (on the) table and stuff like that. So it was kind of like a new generation stepping to the forefront which, again, has always happened in the comics.

Josh Brolin's Thanos in Endgame
Credit: Marvel Studios

Why Robert Downey Jr.’s return could still be “inevitable”

As we’ve covered before, Robert Downey Jr. himself is likely still “inevitable” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It might not seem like it at first, and Marvel Studios might speak on the contrary — but Kevin Feige’s very own (insane) plans for Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars belies a different story. With Phase Five just beginning (Quantumania being the first official entry), the Multiverse Saga properly kicks into high gear, and is moving very clearly towards a Multiversal War of some kind, likely including the Fantastic Four as a central pillar of the MCU moving forward. But Feige has huge plans for the return of previous Multiversal heroes — and that almost inevitably includes the original Avengers team, the beloved Tony Stark — and by extension, Marvel darling Robert Downey Jr.

What do you think about Robert Downey Jr. returning to the MCU? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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