Robert Downey Jr. is arguably the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – if not, he’s definitely one of the major faces of the ever-expanding world. His initial turn as Tony Stark in 2008’s Iron Man is what launched the mega-franchise, and although he hasn’t headlined a solo film since 2013, he keeps popping up in other characters’ movies as a co-star, including this week’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
But that ride may be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
Downey is confirmed to star in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War, but beyond that, his involvement in the MCU is unknown (though, to be fair, not much is known of Marvel’s movie plans beyond the fourth team-up flick). Some speculation has even suggested that Stark might bite the bullet in that film, which would be a heck of a way to lead into 2019’s yet-to-be-subtitled Avengers 4, which is still technically a direct continuation of Infinity War. Some comments Downey made in a recent interview with News Corp Australia Network suggest he’d be alright with that, and that, more generally, he’s considering hanging up the helmet – no, actually, for real this time.
“I have to start over every time but I am starting over with a pretty solid base,” Downey said. “I just never want to blow it for the last six or seven (MCU movies) I have done by dropping the ball because I decided to go do it one more time. I just want to hang up my jersey before it’s embarrassing.”
Of course, none of this is new, and it’s not just Downey either. It’s unknown whether other MCU mainstays Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth will continue in their roles beyond Avengers 4, but Downey is the only one of that trio to have made several public showings of being unsure of his future in the universe over the last few years. Similar statements dating back to the leadups to Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War have all fueled speculation that this might be the last adventure for Tony Stark, or at least a version of Tony Stark played by RDJ. At this point, it’s hard to know how much of it is a genuine reflection on his career and how much of it is a not-so-subtle signal to Marvel and Disney that this time they’ve really bring out more money trucks if they want him to keep popping up.
That seems cynical, granted, and it is a common refrain heard ’round the Internet whenever Downey makes these comments – that his primary motivation is based on money, and indicating to the press that he might want to get out is a way to signal to Disney that it’s time to start writing checks. But to be fair, the News Corp piece characterizes Downey’s comments as one of someone who genuinely doesn’t want to outstay his welcome and wants to make sure he stays engaged with the material. Downey also says that his current role in the MCU – a major player who pops up in other characters’ films or ensemble pieces, but not starring in any solo outings himself – is “very conducive to having children;” he’s got a five-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter with his wife, producer Susan Levin, who he married in 2005.
Regardless, most of the solo franchises that kicked off the MCU in its first “phase” of movies are getting a bit long in the tooth, and there are no stated plans for further Captain America films either, or any Thor flicks beyond November’s Ragnarok. Much of the company’s solo plans currently seem to revolve around establishing new characters and (finally) diversifying the universe, with first outings for characters like Black Panther and Captain Marvel due out in the next couple of years.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is in theaters Friday. Avengers: Infinity War releases May 4.