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Why Iron Man could be more important to Avengers 4 than you think

With Infinity War behind us and mere months to go before the next Avengers movie hits theaters, speculation is rampant. But while most fan theories center around wild ideas, cropped photos, and unconfirmed leaks, a few facts and predictions are a bit more certain.

For one thing, after the wild ride of Infinity War, you can bet the next movie will have a heck of a lot of action. And who's more likely to be in the middle of it all than the man who launched the entire MCU from day one? Of course we're talking about Tony Stark. His ego is as big as his ability to save the day (most of the time), and they'll both undoubtedly have a central role in Avengers 4.

Not only is Tony always soaking up the limelight whenever he's within a hundred miles of a Marvel set, but he's got way too many (ahem) irons in the fire to sit back and let others do the dirty work of cleaning up after Infinity War. Here are some of the top reasons Mr. Stark is bound to be a crucial element during the second go-round with Thanos — and why Iron Man could be more important than you think in Avengers 4.

He's become a family man... sort of

From the beginning, Tony Stark has always been cocky, independent, and held back by no one. As Infinity War opened up ten years after the first Iron Man movie, though, this wild at heart (or arc reactor?) character had been tempered by age, experience, and love.

Early on, Tony is shown with Pepper Potts as they discuss their upcoming marriage, as the couple had gotten engaged at the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Tony is also already busily advocating for a family, something he's been dreaming about, before the scene is interrupted with a call to go to war against Thanos, and we all know how that ends.

But the idea of an "Iron kid" is left hanging. The conversation might be hinting that Pepper Potts is pregnant, something that seems to have been confirmed by Gwyneth Paltrow, or it might simply be buttering us all up to get even more invested in Tony's character just as a red herring for other possible storylines. Either way, with a fiancee and possibly a kid on the way, you can bet that personal motivation is going to be a factor in Tony's bid to fix the world that Thanos just left in tatters.

Master and Padawan

Spider-Man's entry into the MCU has occurred in the shadow of Stark's larger than life personality. From a guardian and mentor to a replacement father figure, the business titan has developed a unique bond with the teen. He even has a suit ready for him when they drift into dangerous waters in Infinity War. Not that he didn't also have one for Bruce Banner, too. Side note: can someone tell the Russo brothers that we'd like to see an Avengers team entirely decked out in Iron Man suits next, please?

The Stark-Parker relationship is special. The build-up of their relationship, though, has currently culminated in a very traumatic moment, as Tony holds Spider-Man in one of the most emotional scenes in Infinity War, with the young Avenger pleading "I don't want to go" as he dissolves and joins the other victims of Thanos' finger snap.

Tony Stark keeps most people at arm's length, whether it's through his cutting humor or the blast radius of his Iron Man suit. So you can bet that his growing affection for Peter Parker, cut short by the lad's sudden and distressing ending, is going to be a prime motivator in Avengers 4.

Injured pride

Tony Stark doesn't get put in his place, he puts others in theirs. At least that's usually how it goes. One of the hallmark characteristics of the headstrong superhero has always been his ability to make everyone around him feel small, even if underneath that occasionally scathing humor he's ready to literally lay down his life to stop the bad guys and keep everyone safe.

Not only that, but he's justifiably proud of his technological savvy. Apart from an endless parade of other high-tech marvels, over the course of the Iron Man and Avengers movies Tony has upgraded his suit to near godlike power levels. He was able to take on Thanos, who was holding four Infinity Stones, and last longer than pretty much everyone else.

Between his natural arrogance and that killer suit, Tony must have felt invincible, which had to make losing at the end of Infinity War unbearable. Not only did he fail to stop the mad Titan, but his life was literally exchanged for half of the universe... or at least that's how it looked on the surface.

The Time Stone exchange

After going forward in time in order to explore alternate futures and possible outcomes of the fight against Thanos, Doctor Strange informed the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy present that he had seen 14,000,605 different scenarios, following this up by dramatically announcing that only one ended in victory for our heroes.

All of which is to say that the very man who saw the extremely thin chances of their success was the same one who also decided to exchange the Time Stone for Tony's life. While the decision was clearly set up to look as foolish as it gets on the surface, it's obvious that Strange knew Tony needed to be alive. With that in mind, the fact that Tony being kept alive was literally worth an Infinity Stone (one that gave Thanos the ability to reverse Thor's devastating axe blow to the chest, no less) puts an incredibly high net worth on the Titanium Titan's value in Avengers 4.

The death of Tony Stark?

Iron Man and Captain America have shepherded the Avengers (and in many ways the bulk of the MCU) through countless dangers. But with the greatest existential threat to the universe playing out, the possibility of a great "final act" for either one or both of these heroes seems like a very real possibility for Avengers 4.

For Tony Stark in particular, two things stand out, one involving a fan theory about an Infinity Gauntlet Iron Man suit and the other having to do with possible leaked information about an early scene in the upcoming Spider-Man sequel. Both of them involve the fact that it looks likely that Tony is poised to make an epic, grand, and tragic sacrifice that would finally give him that measure of atonement he's been chasing pretty much since Avengers.

If Tony does end up passing on, he deserves a proper sendoff. Whatever happens, it shouldn't, and surely won't, be a quick death scene that's quickly shuffled into the rest of the story. You can bet it'll be a big deal.

Ticket sales

From the beginning, Iron Man has made an unreal amount of the MCU's cold, hard cash. Robert Downey Jr.'s brilliant onscreen adaptation of the classic comic book character was an instant hit with audiences around the world from the beginning, and remains a fundamental reason for the thriving MCU we have today.

The first Iron Man was released when the idea of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was in its infancy, and people still came and watched in droves — the movie raked in nearly $600 million worldwide. Out of the ten top-grossing MCU outings, Downey's Stark has played a major role in seven. Sometimes he's a lead and sometimes he's a supporting player, but the conclusion is clear: Tony Stark — specifically as played by Robert Downey Jr. — puts butts in the seats. You don't have him in the movie just to sideline him, and that's bound to be made abundantly clear in Avengers 4.

It's business, nothing personal

Hard facts about contracts can be hard to come by, but it seems likely that Robert Downey Jr.'s time as Iron Man is approaching its expiration date. While there are few faces that would be more devastating for MCU fans to part with, it's not like the move hasn't been coming for quite a while. He was the central figure of the first MCU movie, and has remained active and involved ever since.

However, after ten long, action-packed years and with his contract appearing to only stretch through Avengers 4 at the moment, it's looking more and more like Downey will be hanging up his suit sooner than later. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean he's done playing Tony Stark. He could always remain in the "Marvel vault" to be trotted out as a mentor or counselor at some future point, either in the flesh or as some sort of AI construct. But it may be time to pass the Iron Man mantle to someone else. Whether that's through Tony's death or just his final retirement, he's sure to go out with a bang if it's his final big-ticket appearance on the screen.

Burying the hatchet with Captain America

One meeting fans were severely disappointed to miss during Infinity War was the much-anticipated reunion of Iron Man and Captain America. Instead, the Iron Avenger ended up spending most of the movie in outer space and on Titan with Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, while Cap remained back on Earth with the rest of the crew trying to defend Vision and the Mind Stone in Wakanda.

Interestingly, earlier drafts of the script seemed to try to incorporate some kind of a reunion between the two, possibly at the Avengers HQ, but no matter how hard they tried they couldn't fit it in. Writer Stephen McFeely pointed out that "it became clear that this movie needed to be propulsive and be about Thanos and what he represented to the Avengers." And judging from the absolutely jam-packed nature of the final cut, he probably was right.

But while the lack of closure between the two heroes makes sense from a practical perspective, it still leaves us waiting for the emotional moment when they'll be reunited, leaving the option to add yet another layer to what will already be a very complex storyline.

That little scene about the arc reactor…

Tony Stark's clever, but he wouldn't have been able to stand up to Thanos if he didn't have all those fancy gadgets. But while the suit and other expensive trinkets took center stage in Infinity War, there was one subtle bit of information regarding a small (but vital) piece of equipment that the movie very purposely brought up and then promptly forgot: Tony's arc reactor.

During that park scene in Infinity War, did you catch Tony and Pepper's back and forth about the arc reactor? That detachable housing unit for nano-parts? We've gotten so used to the glowing bit of super technology in Tony's chest that we forget — since the end of Iron Man 3, he doesn't need it to stay alive anymore.

The obvious point being made here is that he can't bring himself to give up being Iron Man. But a possible deeper meaning might point to that very arc reactor as the central piece needed to defeat Thanos in Avengers 4. While some have suggested that Tony could build a second Infinity Gauntlet, it might be even simpler: the extremely powerful arc reactor (along with its owner) could be the key to everything.

Respect

Finally, one of the greatest reasons to bring Iron Man back to the forefront is simple and sweet: Thanos respects him. When the two duke it out on Titan, Thanos reveals that he knows who Stark is, as he is not "the only one cursed with knowledge." After the Mad Titan deals a finishing blow to the Armored Avenger, he tells him, "You have my respect, Stark... I hope they remember you."

This is special treatment for a fallen opponent, and a level of respect and honor that Thanos doesn't even give the Asgardian gods. Why? Well, for one thing, even though he didn't know it at the time, Tony defeated Thanos' machinations in the Battle of New York during the final act of Avengers.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. The Russo brothers and writer Stephen McFeely have pointed out that Thanos and Stark are connected through many parallels, as both are "aware of something from an early point and constantly having to deal with being smarter." This respect seems to run deep, which could very well end up being a crucial element in Avengers 4. It's often this type of respectful antagonism that leads an otherwise invincible villain to lower their guard. However things play out for Stark, you can bet he'll play a pivotal role as the endgame unfolds.