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How Nick Fury's 'Death' (And Logan's Ending) Led Kevin Feige And Co. To The Answer About How To Wrap Robert Downey Jr's Run As Tony Stark In The MCU

 Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man at the end of Avengers: Endgame.
Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man at the end of Avengers: Endgame.

Death, particularly when it comes to major characters, is complicated business in blockbuster filmmaking. On the one hand, it provides serious stakes and emotional weight to a story, but there is an understandable reticence to conclude the arc of a popular hero or villain. It's a conflict that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had to deal with from the very beginning, but to date, it was never a bigger deal than the sacrifice of Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame.

Needless to say, a lot went into the decision to have Tony Stark die at the end of the Infinity Saga's massive capstone film, but back in 2019 (in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame's release), Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige specifically pointed to the influence of two movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Logan. Speaking with Empire, the executive specifically noted that the former was a key movie in the early years of the MCU that played a bit fast and loose with "death" (namely with Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury), and it led to audiences asking for more substantial turn of events. He said,

Around the time we started working on this film, there was some sense that deaths don't matter in our movies – Nick Fury gets shot and died in Winter Soldier and comes back in the third act, which was awesome, but is not a death. And people were clamoring for, not death necessarily, but stakes and real emotion. And I remember thinking, 'Be careful what you wish for,' as we started getting closer to this. But we never questioned it. All of the angst and all of the effort went into sticking the landing, to making it worthwhile.

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For regular filmgoer, it's understandable to be cynical whenever a major franchise character dies. To briefly step outside the realm of the MCU, I'll point to the ending of John Wick: Chapter 4. Having Keanu Reeves' character die in the third act of that movie was a powerful choice... but it took practically no time at all for an executive at Lionsgate to start talking about John Wick: Chapter 5. That kind of thing happens all the time in blockbusters, but the filmmakers at Marvel Studios knew that they needed to provide something special for audiences at the end of Avengers: Endgame and Tony Stark's final act of heroism.

At the time, killing off a beloved big screen character was not without precedent. In 2017, director James Mangold orchestrated the death of Wolverine in Logan, and it was effective as an emotional conclusion to Hugh Jackman's run as the three-clawed mutant. Kevin Feige and others at Marvel Studios saw the impact of that powerful ending, and it was kept in mind as Avengers: Endgame was coming together:

We saw Logan like the audience did, in a theater having nothing to do with the making of that film and went, 'Oh my god, what an amazing ending for Hugh [Jackman] as this character.' And there are only a handful of examples where an actor so associated with a character can go out perfectly. That's what we desperately wanted to give Robert [Downey Jr.], and that was what our focus was on.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't once again point out that these quotes are from 2019 a.k.a. before the development of Deadpool & Wolverine, which is going to feature the return of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine opposite Ryan Reynolds' titular Merc With The Mouth. The expected excuse for the character's return is that there are an infinite number of Wolverines in the multiverse (there have been reports that Jackman will be playing multiple variants in the film), and one has to wonder if that might be a way to see the eventual return of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man... perhaps in 2027's Avengers: Secret Wars.

We won't ever rule out future events changing things, but for now, the death of Iron Man remains an incredibly powerful and seemingly permanent moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and audiences can reexperience its emotional weight over and over again with a Disney+ subscription. To stay on top of what's on the way from the superhero franchise, check out our Upcoming Marvel Movies and Upcoming Marvel TV guides.