Why Marvel Studios Shouldn’t Make ‘Iron Man 4’

Iron Man - Captain America: Civil War

Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War | Marvel Studios

The majority of critics and audiences agreed that Captain America: Civil War is among the best installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. The film’s marketing campaign has hinged on the epic showdown between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), as the former allies butt heads over a new legislative act designed to keep the Avengers accountable for their actions. Civil War also kicks off the buildup to the two-part Avengers: Infinity War, serving as the first installment in the 10-film Phase Three of the MCU. Beyond that point in 2019, the future of the Marvel heroes remains unknown, though rumors have continued to persist that Downey could very well suit up for Iron Man 4.

The star himself has vacillated between casual interest and indifference on the prospect of leading another MCU film, but most recently, he appears to be leaning towards the former. While Iron Man 4 would undoubtedly become a huge hit — its predecessor is the only solo MCU effort to earn more than $1 billion worldwide, after all — taking on a fourth solo adventure for Tony Stark could prove to be the jump-the-shark move that ultimately signals a lack of imagination for the MCU. Of course, Downey is endlessly charming in the role, and it’s natural for audiences to want more of him (and, in turn, for the highers-up at Marvel and Disney to be willing to pay him top dollar to return). Still, before Marvel Studios green-lights Iron Man 4, here are some points to consider.

Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man 3 | Marvel Studios

Thus far, the MCU has established an unspoken “trilogies only” rule that has enabled the shared universe to adapt and change, wherin more established heroes like Iron Man and now Captan America graduate out of their own solo trilogies into supporting roles and ensemble films. Downey’s Tony Stark has already done just that, as he appears in a major role in this third (and presumably final) Captain America film and has already been announced as part of the cast for this year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Putting a finite end point on each hero’s solo franchise like this allows the filmmakers to craft a standalone arc that develops over the course of three films, applying the same narrative cohesiveness to the respective Iron Man and Captain America trilogies that Christopher Nolan brought to his Batman films (our issues with The Dark Knight Rises, notwithstanding).

 

Captain America Civil War

Team Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War | Marvel Studios

Moreover, this trilogy model has allowed Marvel to take chances with riskier projects like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, both of which paid off handsomely due to the brand loyalty cultivated since the 2008 release of the first Iron Man.

With Thor: Ragnarok likely the final film centered on Chris Hemsworth’s God of Thunder, the big three tentpole Avengers will be able to step aside and allow new figures like Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Captain Marvel to emerge as the next generation of leaders.

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man | Marvel Studios

The alternative is to keep harping on Iron Man and company, and while that would certainly earn boatloads of box office cash, it would likely damage the long-term vision (no pun intended) Marvel has for the MCU. Much speculation in recent years has centered on whether superhero fatigue will set in. Notions like endlessly sequelizing popular heroes — even those as widely beloved as Iron Man — at the expense of other characters from Marvel’s archives is a surefire way to burn audiences out on the genre.

Of course, this doesn’t prevent stars like Downey, Evans, and Hemsworth from popping up in supporting roles (as Downey is already proving) in other heroes’ films or appearing in ensemble films like the MCU’s flagship Avengers series. To the contrary, freeing up these actors to pursue other film work and not fill up their entire schedules with Marvel projects would make it easier for the studio to “keep the talent happy” and ensure that they stick around for the forseeable future, delaying the need to recast or otherwise eliminate characters that audiences the world over have come to adore over the course of the MCU.

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 3

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 3 | Marvel Studios

However, if Marvel turns to the dark side (to reference another Disney-owned property) of limitless sequels for its popular heroes, they might earn hefty profits but ultimately could dilute what has become the strongest, most bankable brand in cinema today.

Iron Man 4 clearly isn’t the only way we’re going to get more of Downey’s Stark, and considering that the character is truly at his best when he’s “not playing well with others” (to paraphrase his dialogue in The Avengers), the MCU has much more to lose from the prospect of a fourth film than it has to gain.

Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable

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