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This Iron Man Avengers 4 theory is both epic and tragic

As we steadily move closer to the release of the next highly-anticipated Avengers movie, every day seems to bring a fresh revelation, a new theory, another spin on what the title might be, and soon, even a trailer. The big question on every fan's mind: who can stop Thanos now? The Marvel Universe has no shortage of possible contenders, but the movies could be poised to bring their focus back to where they began: Iron Man.

Recently, Reddit user sfmarch07 proposed a rather lengthy Avengers 4 theory, which was further broken down by Chris Smith at BGR. And we have to admit, it's a pretty darn good one. The post unpacked an idea that magically wove several existing predictions for both Captain Marvel and Avengers 4 together into a plausible storyline that just might work. Essentially, this theory supposes that the Captain Marvel movie may find Nick Fury getting informed (possibly by Dr. Strange) about everything coming in the future. A time-traveling Stark, meanwhile, could be behind his own parents' death and the whole Civil War mess. 

The most interesting part, though? If true, it makes the entire character arc of Tony Stark absolutely tragic. But if sfmarch07's guesses are even close to the mark, there are quite a few stars that are going to need to align for everything to come to pass.

Time travel

A key part of this whole theory (and pretty much every other one out there) is that time travel will become a more central element of the MCU, rather than the exclusive purview of Stephen Strange. With Thanos now possessing his shiny new Time Stone, it will be absolutely imperative that the good guys — particularly now that they've lost Strange to the snap — find another way to at least move through time, even if they can't control it beyond that. The theory in question includes a long-held belief among conjecture-happy fans that a time travel element would enable the Avengers to retrieve each of the Infinity Stones.

The good news here is that the need for time travel already seems like a pretty solid bet. Leaked photos show a set that looks identical to the Battle of New York in the first Avengers movie (with the new addition of Scott Lang and an older Tony Stark among the rubble). And then there's the fact that Ant-Man has made his way to the Quantum Realm (even if he's currently stuck down there after the events of Ant-Man and the Wasp), where time travel becomes a possibility. At any rate, it seems pretty likely that some sort of temporal displacement will occur, which gives this theory some wings.

Parents and the Soul Stone

Of course, time traveling all over tarnation to gather up a handful of the most powerful jewels in the universe sounds like a pretty cool adventure. Each stone levels you up, and by the end, you're set with the building blocks to take the gauntlet-wielding Mad Titan down one way or another — including the possibility of an Infinity Iron Man suit. The one problem with this plan, though, is the Soul Stone. You remember, the stone that required a sacrifice in order to possess it? Thanos literally cast Gamora to her doom in order to get his hands on it.

Of course, if we consider the leaked images of Lang and an older Stark in NYC, it seems likely that Stark will be the one traipsing around gathering up the universe-controlling loot. And if that's the case, he's going to have to give up something precious to claim the Soul Stone, right? That might give us reason to fear for the life of Pepper Potts, but the reality is, there are two other people who are extremely important to the Iron Avenger as well: his parents.

Now, Tony's parents are already dead… and that's the point. In this theory, it's Tony himself who, equipped with the knowledge of what is to come (or informed by Nick Fury — more on that later), must head back in time in order to place the hit on his own parents. Tragic? You betcha.

Bringing it back to the 90s

Of course, the death of Stark's parents has played an important role in the development of his Iron Man persona, as well as being the catalyst for his showdown with Cap at the end of Captain America: Civil War. Their deaths have been thoroughly woven into the fabric of the MCU, which means they can't just make up when and where it happened. It's quite well-documented at this point.

Tony Stark lost his parents on December 16, 1991, which means for the theory to hold water, Stark will need to head back there. Of course, this would be otherwise uncharted territory, requiring a bunch of backstory in an already crowded Avengers 4 storyline. But let's not forget the Captain Marvel movie coming out shortly beforehand. With the cosmically-powered Carol Danvers sure to play an important part in the Infinity War sequel, we can be pretty sure that it's no coincidence that her movie happens to be set in the '90s. 

And not just the '90s, either. Some eagle-eyed fans noticed a recent picture with Captain Marvel in a phone booth surrounded by Rock the Vote signs. Through some super sleuthing, they were able to conclude that the signs were part of a political campaign from 1991. Coincidence? We think not. All of this could provide the perfect launching point to flesh out things for a possible Stark/Lang visit in the next movie.

The Fury factor

Nick Fury is the other major player in the theory, with the big question being, did he know all along? Let's not forget that it was Fury who, in that last-second scramble after the finger snap, reached for the Captain Marvel beeper.

That isn't his first seemingly random plan in the MCU. His fingerprints have been all over critical moments and storylines through the years. The theory elaborates on the apparent purposefulness of practically every Nick Fury scene in the franchise, even when you might have missed it. For instance, check out the quiet, meaningful glance between Fury and Maria Hill while everyone around them cheers after Iron Man saves the day in Avengers.

If, as the theory professes, we end up seeing quite a bit more of Fury in Captain Marvel, it may be the perfect way to unveil just how much he's actually been up to. After all, at the very least, the beeper and his communication with Carol Danvers are certain to be fleshed out in the upcoming film. If we do, indeed, get to see the story arc of Nick Fury unfold alongside Danvers, perhaps we'll see a man who knows too much, who is given knowledge in advance and thus becomes the agent of change, striving with everything he does to keep things on track with that fateful "one in fourteen million" timeline that Dr. Strange sees on Titan.

The architect?

While Fury may be a prime mover behind the scenes, and Stark may be the driving force in the spotlight, another important character that the theory brings into play is Dr. Stephen Strange. The question that arises here is, has Dr. Strange's somewhat muted role throughout the larger movies been underplaying how pivotal he actually is?

After all, if anyone was going to be involved in a time-traveling romp, one would only naturally expect it to be the keeper of the Time Stone, right? Who else would possess the ability to head back and warn someone (Nick Fury, for example) of what was to come? Fury's knowledge (both as confirmed in the films as well as postulated in theory) has to come from somewhere, right? Sure, it could come in the form of some sort of time loop where Stark comes back to visit him, but the Sorcerer Supreme popping out of a portal to deliver some universe-shaking news could be the perfect way to set the stage.

Strange pity

The other side to the Dr. Strange coin is his apparently intimate knowledge of what was to come as Infinity War reached its climax. Not only does he see that there is just one good timeline that they must strive to reach, but as he prepares to crumble to dust, he leaves Stark with the haunting words, "There was no other way." While the emotions of the moment make it easy to dismiss this quick little line as Strange simply communicating that Stark was alive in that one timeline, this theory dives a bit deeper into the Doctor's ominous parting words.

It's quite easy to take this statement as something of an apology. After all, Strange doesn't look like he's expecting a thank you afterward. Rather, the line seems to drip with a latent sadness, as if Strange is sorry that he's putting Stark through whatever is about to come. Sure, feeling like you were just exchanged for the half of the universe is already quite a bit to deal with, but the apology could just as easily be a reference to whatever tribulations Tony Stark is about to go through.

Civil War

One highlight of this theory is Captain America's involvement. Perhaps future-Tony, sfmarch07 proposes, will have to make a stop on his journey through time and encourage Steve Rogers not to sign the Sokovia Accords. This would mean he was literally perpetuating the very struggle that left him bitterly at odds with his former ally, beginning with the events of Captain America: Civil War all the way through the end of Infinity War (and onward… the two still haven't made up yet). 

If there is indeed any truth to the theory, Stark would literally be sowing the seeds of all of his own grief. As it is, we already know that the man doesn't process trauma very well, and he tends to hold on to guilt. Sacrificing his own parents and having to drive his own teammate away would just be the perfect cherry on top of his already sky-high pile of misery.

The Russos

Another factor that would help tie a lot of this theory together is the fact that, even before Avengers 4, the Russo Brothers have already directed a terrific trio of MCU movies: Winter SoldierCivil War, and Infinity War. While they have clearly not been involved in everything, the dynamic directing duo has certainly been at the helm for three of the most critical films of them all, at least as far as overarching storylines go.

Not only were these increasingly epic movies satisfying to watch, they also showed that these two siblings have a knack for telling incredibly complex stories without making the audience feel completely confused. So, with the Russos handling what's sure to be a staggeringly complex crossover in the Infinity War sequel, we do know we're dealing with filmmakers capable of weaving everything together in order to make a theory as grandiose as this one come to fruition.

Deeply woven webs

Of course, you can't stop with the Russo brothers. The decade-long development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a group effort. From Iron Man all the way through to Spider-Man: Far From Home and the plethora of other films that are sure to follow, the diverse array of directors and performers within the MCU have always worked as one coherent unit to push the various threads forward.

Whether it's the Russo brothers orchestrating cosmic showdowns, James Gunn overseeing the haywire adventures of the Guardians, or the likes of Kenneth Branaugh, Ryan Coogler, Taika Waititi, and a host of others, the MCU has always had tight-knit direction and focus. Many elements are woven throughout it, and several of them are clearly heading toward an epic conclusion in the next Avengers film. They've left room for theories like this one to develop into reality, but the truth is, they've also got any number of other ways out of the jam in which they've left their universe. With filming already wrapped on Avengers 4, the only thing that's certain is that the folks at Marvel know exactly what they're doing. The rest of us just have to wait and wonder.