MCU: Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man Is the Only Original Avenger Without an Obvious Successor

Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man sacrificed himself to save the entire universe in Avengers: Endgame. That noble action will be tough for any subsequent hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, it seems Marvel Studios might be having an equally hard time lining up a suitable replacement for Tony Stark.

Robert Downey Jr. at San Diego Comic-Con
Robert Downey Jr. at San Diego Comic-Con | Getty Images

Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a transitional period

Following the epic, literally universal scope of Avengers: Endgame, the MCU is scaling things down considerably in Phase 4. Rather than rushing into the next Big Bad, the franchise is instead focusing on tying things together through the official introduction of the multiverse.

Likewise, the MCU is building out its bench of heroes in Phase 4. New additions like Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi and the Eternals will soon hit the big screen. And Ms. Marvel and Moon Knight series are slated to arrive on Disney+ in the coming years.

But there’s one other fundamental goal underlining the MCU’s Phase 4. Between the movie and TV projects in the works, Marvel Studios is quickly bringing in new versions of almost all of its original Avengers.

RELATED: MCU Phase 4: How Hulk’s Solo Movie Could Lead the Way Forward

All but one original Avenger have new heroes lined up to replace them

Avengers: Endgame ended with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) handing the shield to Sam (Anthony Mackie). And Mackie will debut as the new Captain America on Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Likewise, Thor: Love and Thunder will see Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) wield Mjölnir instead of Thor (Chris Hemsworth).

Fans heavily expect the Disney+ Hawkeye show to introduce Clint Barton’s (Jeremy Renner) replacement, Kate Bishop. And another series, She-Hulk, will likely see Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) pass his Avengers spot on to its title character. Even Black Widow director Cate Shortland has confirmed — will see Scarlett Johansson “pass the baton” to Florence Pugh.

RELATED: A Florence Pugh-Led ‘Black Widow’ Sequel Could Eventually Happen

Why Marvel Studios is waiting to introduce “the next Iron Man”

As for Iron Man, there’s a number of reasons why Marvel Studios could be waiting to introduce the next generation. Perhaps it’s out of respect for Downey. After all, the MCU only came together because Iron Man worked. Maybe it’s the series’ way of paying tribute to his character’s sacrifice.

Spider-Man: Far From Home does essentially play like a feature-length in memoriam for Tony Stark. And Spider-Man’s (Tom Holland) entire journey in that film is deciding if he must become “the next Iron Man.” As the movie decides, there isn’t another Tony Stark waiting in the wings. So rushing into a new incarnation of the character now entirely betrays that story.

Marvel will face tremendous pressure whenever it does follow arguably the most beloved MCU hero. The comics provide a couple of options for moving forward. But fans shouldn’t expect either Iron Lad or Ironheart — as Kevin Feige has teased — to arrive anytime soon. Rather, Marvel and its fans need a break before Iron Man receives the legacy treatment in Phase 5 or later.