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The real reason Marvel decided not to make Iron Man 4

Iron Man is the greatest of all the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — so why did his solo films stop at three?

In a recent Vanity Fair interview, Avengers: Endgame screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely shed some light on why the Armored Avenger never got a fourth solo outing. Simply put, the scribes related that Marvel Studios brass felt that another flick centered on the adventures of the MCU's most popular character would've been a little bit too safe.

McFeely made the excellent point that — in contrast to the opinions of such luminaries as Martin Scorsese — Marvel has never been particularly interested in doing exactly what's expected of it. For evidence, he pointed to its decision to take a chance on one property in particular — James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy — rather than simply continuing to crank out sequels for its most popular Avengers.

"Whether you like all of the 24 movies or not, the capital that Marvel built up allowed them to do things like make a movie starring a raccoon and a tree, right? You would've already had Iron Man 4 if it was any other studio," McFeely said. "But they decided, 'No, we're going to take chances on all these other things.'"

To illustrate further how Marvel's affinity for risk-taking has paid off, the scribes suggested that we should look no further than Endgame — the highest-grossing film of all time, and one that definitively removed Iron Man and Captain America, the MCU's most recognizable players, from its increasingly crowded board. "To put a flag in the ground and say, 'We're going to end something and take characters off the table' is, I think, kind of daring, but selfishly it was really great for us," McFeely said.

Markus then chimed in with the final word not only on why Iron Man 4 never happened and never will, but why Tony Stark had to meet his end at the conclusion of Endgame. "[A story] needs an end or it loses meaning," he said. "The end is what cements the thing, to actually sew it together and bring it to a crescendo, and yeah, take people off the board, finish their arcs. If Tony made it out the other side, and Iron Man 4 was waiting there, you'd be like, [shakes head] One too many."

Would Iron Man 4 really have been that bad an idea?

It just serves to illustrate the extent to which Marvel has its finger on the pulse of its audience; it knows them well enough to not only know what they want, but what they might not have known they wanted. It's true — having Stark defeat Thanos only to pay a minimal price would have cheapened his action, and to then bring him back for Iron Man 4 would have been a transparent cash grab of the sort that the studio has thus far steered way clear of.

Heck, it's not even that Marvel is opposed to four-quels for individual Avengers: Thor, after all, will be getting a fourth solo flick with the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, but he is a character who happens to be smack dab in the midst of a huge, profound shift in his priorities and the way he sees the world (well, the universe, really). His transformation from often-stoic, sometimes unintentionally funny God of Thunder to hilarious, clinically depressed, still badass Guardian of the Galaxy (we assume) didn't begin in earnest until 2017's Thor: Ragnarok, and the Earth-shattering events of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame left him with a lot of unanswered questions about who he really is, and also with a lot of room for growth.

Stark, on the other hand, underwent a complete and convincing character arc between inaugural MCU effort Iron Man and Endgame. The "genius billionaire playboy philanthropist" didn't even begin to learn the meaning of teamwork and sacrifice until 2012's The Avengers, and the events of Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War forced him to confront his own shortcomings in a way that he had never before done. If Infinity War finally made him come to terms with the possibility — heck, the cold reality — of abject failure, then Endgame saw him learn that even such failure doesn't give one license to simply give up — and that some things, like the love of friends and family, are worth giving everything for.

It was as complete and moving an arc as any superhero could have ever hoped for (with the possible exception of Cap, who learned that there comes a time when even the consummate soldier must finally stop fighting). Of course, this probably doesn't mean that Marvel fans will never, ever see Iron Man again — signs are pointing to at least a cameo in the upcoming solo vehicle Black Widow (which takes place between the events of Civil War and Infinity War), and there are conflicting reports as to whether Downey will reprise the role in the Disney+ animated series What If...?

But as far as Stark's actual, complete story in the MCU goes, we're of the opinion that it couldn't have been executed any better, and that Markus and McFeely are absolutely correct — Iron Man 4 would have been one too many. However, we can't help but hope that Marvel finds a way to let Taika Waititi keep on making Thor movies forever.