HEAT VISION

'Avengers: Endgame' Final Path — The Journey of Iron Man

The Hollywood Reporter launches a new 'Avengers' countdown series with predictions for Robert Downey Jr.'s fate as Tony Stark.
Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man   |   Courtesy of Marvel Studios
The Hollywood Reporter launches a new 'Avengers' countdown series with predictions for Robert Downey Jr.'s fate as Tony Stark.

Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye, Captain America. The six founding Avengers are on a collision course with destiny in Avengers: Endgame, an adventure from which one or more of them may not walk away. As the end of the line draws near for the original heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Hollywood Reporter's Josh Wigler offers up predictions in a new series of Final Path columns, with all eyes on the six aforementioned Avengers and their deadliest enemy yet, Thanos. Up first in the series: Tony Stark.

Robert Downey Jr. started the road toward Endgame. It's only fitting that he provides the first words on the matter.

"Is this thing on?" a lost-in-space Tony Stark asks aloud with signature snark, speaking at his own ruined helmet, using the thing as a makeshift blackbox. It's the first line featured in the first Avengers: Endgame trailer, offering up the best look yet at what to expect from the Armored Avenger, last seen nursing a wound to the side on the barren battlefield of Titan, surrounded by the ashes of his fallen comrades. Though he speaks into the eyes of his own superheroic alter ego, Tony is actually addressing two very different audiences: his fiancée Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), as well as the millions of Marvel fans who have charted his journey since 2008's Iron Man.

"If you find this recording, don't feel bad about this," he says. "Part of the journey is the end."

As Iron Man looks ahead toward his own end, there's no better time than now to look back on the greater journey. That's exactly what lies ahead, in the first edition of our Final Path: Avengers series.

Name: Tony Stark, the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist occasionally known as Iron Man.

Powers: Superior intellect, highly sophisticated technology and a bottomless armoire filled with Iron Man armor. 

Defining Quote: "Sometimes, you gotta run before you can walk."

First Appearance: Iron Man, the 2008 film that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tony's origin story charts his journey from careless war industrialist through his eventual rise as an armored hero — one who proudly identifies himself to the world, in fact, dispelling the need for a secret identity.

Worst Appearance: Iron Man 2, the 2010 sequel. It has its moments: Tony eating donuts in sunny Los Angeles, Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer dance moves, the MCU debut of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow… but it's otherwise forgettable, especially compared to the other Iron Man sightings.

Best Appearance: Spider-Man: Homecoming, fulfilling something of an Uncle Ben role to young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) on his first solo MCU outing. Really, it's easy to quibble over the best Tony turn because there are so many of them, but his role in Homecoming may prove the most instructive about Downey's own future with the brand as someone who can pop in and add extra oomph. (Spoilers that we're predicting Tony's Endgame survival? Maybe.) 

Last Appearance: Avengers: Infinity War, specifically at the battle on Titan, Thanos' ruined home planet. Stark aligns with a disparate group of heroes to take on the Mad Titan, and almost defeats him if not for an erratic attack from grief-stricken Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Tony nearly loses his own life, surviving only thanks to Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) offering the Time Stone to Thanos. Following the infamous "snap," Tony watched in horror as everyone around him disintegrated into nothingness — including Peter Parker (Tom Holland), who evaporated in Tony's arms.

Best Friends: So many! There's the original crew: James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and fiancée Pepper Potts. There's the Avengers squad, most specifically Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Tony's fellow science bro. These days, some friendships are shakier than others, thanks to the fallout from Captain America: Civil War. Following Infinity War, one imagines it's in Tony's best interest to befriend Nebula (Karen Gillan), and stat, considering they are the only two survivors still on Titan. Oh, and there's also Wong (Benedict Wong), who is totally invited to Tony's wedding, assuming it's still happening.

Worst Enemies: With three solo movies and five different crossover appearances under his belt, Tony has squared off against a number of opponents — most of them since deceased, by the way. The O.G. baddie: Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), the Iron Monger, killed by his own hubris, and by "his own hubris," we mean a huge explosion. Others include Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), Ultron (James Spader) and, of course, Thanos. Sadly, Tony and fellow Avenger Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) were feeling pretty punchy when last they met; odds are good they'll square things up when they rendezvous in Endgame.

His Most Heroic Moment: Distilling the Iron Man experience to a single act of heroism is tricky, as it will be with all the other Avengers. If one has to pick, it's the very first team-up: 2012's The Avengers, in which Stark buys into the Steve Rogers premise of falling on the proverbial fence in order to fulfill a greater mission. At the height of the Battle of New York, Iron Man snatches up a nuclear bomb and flies it off through a portal and out into the other side of the galaxy, very nearly losing his life in the process. The fact that he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice tells us quite a bit about his head space heading into Endgame.

His Biggest Mistake: Standing on the wrong side of Steve Rogers. Tony's reasons for supporting the Sokovia Accords were rooted in his own personal ego, his guilt over creating the circumstances that led to the nation's veritable destruction. Merit behind superhero oversight aside, Tony choosing not to trust the man who literally wears the American flag as a uniform proved disastrous for the team's unity, and their division certainly paved the way for Thanos' success.

Final Predictions: Here's what we already know about Tony's future: it's bleak. As mentioned, the Endgame trailer begins with Stark stranded in space, in dire straits. "Food and water ran out four days ago," he says. "Oxygen will run out tomorrow morning, and that will be it." Stark notes there's "zero promise of rescue," which is true in the context of his circumstances, but from an outside point of view? We know better — especially thanks to the second Endgame trailer, which ends with Tony walking side by side with Earth's other mightiest heroes.

For months, fans have awaited the debut of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, first teased at the tail end of Avengers: Infinity War. Ever since Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sent the distress signal out into the universe, questions have centered on Carol Danvers' next move. Will she be the one to defeat Thanos in combat? Maybe; we certainly saw her powers in action in her solo movie debut. But more importantly to Tony Stark's current situation, Carol was last seen heading off into the universe to fight for Skrulls and other aliens in need of support. It stands to reason that Carol, already revealed to make contact with the Avengers based on the Captain Marvel post-credits scene, will be the one who finds Tony and brings him back to Earth — possibly with an assist from the Skrulls or others she's found along the way. (Maybe she's responsible for helping Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie and the other Asgardian survivors? Let's go ahead and add that to the predictions list.)

So, Captain Marvel rescues Tony and brings him back to the Avengers fold. What next? Well, one has to wonder who's still standing from Tony's old life. Rhodey remains intact, but what about Happy — and, more importantly, Pepper? Not that Tony doesn't already have significant skin in the game thanks to witnessing Spider-Man's disintegration firsthand, but if he's lost Pepper as well, the road toward a sacrifice play becomes even more natural.

And yes, one expects the "sacrifice play," either from Tony or from another Avenger from the original lineup. If Endgame truly intends to close the door on the old guard and usher in a new era for folks like Carol Danvers, Stephen Strange, Scott Lang and the other relative newcomers, then it's worth girding ourselves for the deaths of some old favorites — including Tony, the one who started it all, and the very same person who has foreseen the cosmic fall of the Avengers dating at least as far back as his Age of Ultron nightmare sequence.

But Tony has already fallen on the barbed wire before, hasn't he? That was the entirety of his arc in The Avengers, escorting a nuclear warhead to the other side of the universe. Would it feel satisfying for Marvel to retread that same territory? Maybe, depending on execution! But Tony's survival in Infinity War, even after nursing a near-fatal blow from Thanos, suggests Marvel wants to keep the door open for its original icon.

Given the current grimness of the MCU, it's understandable to walk into Endgame expecting an equal amount of despair. But this is the end of an era, not the start of a new fresh set of nightmares — and it's the official Final Path prediction that Tony will indeed survive the battle against Thanos, while still walking away from the MCU for the time being. The predicted method of his departure: Tony takes up Carol Danvers' current cause. He repays the favor for her rescue by heading off into deep space, ideally as a newlywed with Pepper, to put his brilliant brain to the good use of aliens in need. It allows Tony to survive, while still allowing for the possibility of Downey's rolling Marvel involvement in the form of cameos (Tony becoming a "JARVIS" like system for Spidey, or showing up in some other hologram form, comes readily to mind) in the near term, and a grander return if ever the need or interest arises. (See: Tony coming crashing back to Earth a decade from now, heralding the arrival of Galactus, or whoever fills the role of Thanos successor.) 

Much of Tony's arc has centered on atoning for his past as a war profiteer. Sending him off to space not only continues that arc, but also satisfies the man's growing cosmic curiosity — all while allowing both Marvel and Robert Downey Jr. to see other people, with the promise of a reunion if ever the occasion should arise down the line.

Last Hope: For Tony and Pepper's wedding to close out Endgame. Seriously, if the post-credits scene is all Stark wedding all the time, from Wong's camera phone point-of-view, it will go down as the best stinger in Marvel Cinematic Universe history. I hope they serve shawarma.

Follow THR.com/HeatVision for more on Avengers: Endgame, in theaters April 26.

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