It appears that Robert Downey Jr’s time with the MCU may be coming to an end with Avengers: Endgame, after multiple reports indicated that the lead actor’s contract may be expiring with the fourth instalment of the franchise. Many have questioned what’s next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, following what are sure to be game-changing events in the next Avengers film. The character of Iron Man has been a mainstay of the universe and an integral part to its success. Catapulting Marvel Studios with 2008’s Iron Manit’s hard to deny the impact that the house of ideas creation has had upon movie-going audiences over the last decade. Whilst the future of other characters has been speculated about endlessly, there has been a gap in the debate regarding the billionaire hero.

Fans have been arguing for years as to whether Bucky or Falcon should replace Steve Rogers as the new Captain America, but it seems to be a non-issue amongst viewers as to whether Iron Man is replaced at all. It seems important to the universe to have an Iron Man type hero present within the future films and it’s a role that I don’t believe any existing characters can fill. There are certainly positive points to having Shuri as the next Iron Man, or perhaps Pepper Potts officially taking on the role of Rescue long term. Maybe even a returning Harley  from Iron Man 3 could be a suitable candidate for the role. But to me, Ironheart seems like the most natural replacement for the Stark character, heading into Phase 4 of the MCU.

I’d like to point out early into this article, that some of this is grounded in facts. It was reported in mid-2018 that an Ironheart script had been added to the Black List, an oddity considering films on that list are primarily to attract the interest of studios in order to sell the project. The likely reason for this, therefore, is that screenwriter Jada Rodriquez must have been commissioned to write an adaptation of the popular comics character. This provides evidence to suggest that Marvel must be looking at developing the character for the big screen moving forward, a fact that should come as no surprise considering the success of the brand and desire to have it continue to run far into the future, with fresh characters, plots, and talent. The MCU is often considered to be like the biggest, longest running TV show with consistent characters, continuity and long running themes. It seems fitting as part of that, Tony Stark has one more kid to mentor into being a greater hero than he ever was, keeping the Iron Man legacy alive as the MCU continues to evolve. Or perhaps it shouldn’t be him doing the mentoring at all, but I will get onto that later.

Riri Williams, aka Ironheart, is an African American teenager created by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato, who first appeared in Invincible Iron Man Vol 3 #7. She possesses a very high degree of intelligence, comparable to some of the smartest in the Marvel world and has a physical design based upon Disney Channel star Skai Jackson. The character faced backlash upon her debut after many felt that she had been introduced into Marvel Comics purely to boost diversity, rather than to actually add a compelling and fleshed out character.

Since then she has been developed further to become a beloved character in her own right and shows no signs of slowing down in terms of audience reach and fan’s respect. She’s the sort of character that’s prime for a big screen re-imagining, taking some of the quality components from the comics and adding a cinematic spin to bring in brand new viewers. It seems natural to choose such a recent character, one with a flexible continuity and a lot more potential to grow and evolve. It’s the same reason that Marvel chose Guardian’s of the Galaxya little known property that has gone from strength to strength. In terms of her characterization, she ticks many important boxes for Marvel, as a hero that would be fantastic to promote.

She has a skill set that is understandable due to her Iron Man links, but a background that is relatable due to her status as well… definitely not a billionaire, or a member of a royal family, or a soldier from WWII. She’s also a great addition to the increasing field of female heroes in the MCU, being able to stand beside the likes of Shuri, Captain Marvel and Black Widow as strong, intelligent, capable women. What’s more, her youth and relation to the Champions, a set of some of Marvel’s youngest and newest heroes, make her well equipped to be launched as part of an initiative of change in phase 4.

For her introduction and narrative throughout the MCU, there is very real potential for some quality storytelling here too. Introducing her as a high school kid with big ambitions, much like how Spider-Man has been brought into the MCU, would be a secure way to bring her into the MCU. Having her tinker on her own suit throughout her story, showing the capabilities of her technological skills, whilst grounding her life with a dose of reality that is crucial to allow the character to work. I think it’s important for the mantle to be officially passed over once her superheroine days have started, but perhaps not in an expected way. Earlier I mentioned that Stark becoming a mentor once again, much like his role in Spider-Man: Homecoming, could be the way to go to tell this tale, but it would produce something that may be a little derivative. Within the comics, an A.I. version of Tony Stark has also been used, following the Civil War, in order to provide guidance to the young Riri Williams, in her journey. Perhaps a third option can be sourced from the comics as well though and one that could be a bit more left field.

It has been rumored for years that Pepper Potts would finally take up the Rescue mantle. After some experience with it in Iron Man 3 and years of learning from Stark about the many suits and their functions, it seems that the character portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow, may actually be more useful to a larger story. Having Rescue as the mentor for Ironheart could be a unique way of passing on the mantle, with Potts looking for the Iron Man legacy to be continued in Williams. For this narrative to function well it would probably mean that Stark has to die in Endgame.

The other factor of this story that would promote the Iron Man legacy whilst giving Riri her own demons to deal with, is the villain of the piece. It seems fitting to have a villain that has been created by Tony Stark, or perhaps one he has faced before. The top contenders for this could be a returning Ultron, Justin Hammer, A.I.M or the real Mandarin; a villain that Stark never truly captured. For me though, the choice seems to be a newly introduced character but one that has strong ties to the past. The introduction of Zeke Stane, the secret son of Obadiah Stane, former Stark enemy and Iron Monger, would be a fantastic way to form a parallel between the antagonist and protagonists, tying the Ironheart story into Stark’s and indeed Pepper’s. Having a former enemy emerge in the form of something new is exactly what this theorized franchise would be about; having a brand new legacy built upon what has come before, whilst carving out something perhaps longer lasting. Of course, Justin Hammer could still be slotted in there and the argument about two characters with similar skills might be used, but for storytelling purposes, the introduction of this enemy would be unexpected and produce a narrative thread that has some stakes and consequences.

Riri Williams, alongside some of her crucial story elements as well as some additional ones that would fit perfectly with the character, is the natural replacement for Iron Man in phase for. The Ironheart character has such huge potential and would fit perfectly into the MCU lineup in the future. The story I’ve mapped out is one of many that would work for the character. Having an individual this versatile but importantly for Disney, marketable as well, makes her a surefire hit amongst audiences and executives.

Perhaps you disagree though and can think of a much better option to replace the cornerstone of the Marvel movie universe. Let me know in the comment section below or on social media!