Warning - This article contains spoilers for Black Widow.
Black Widow has officially kicked off Marvel Studios' Phase 4 flicks, bringing the MCU back to the big screen.
With the impending threat of Taskmaster and echoes of a haunted past coming back for her, Scarlett Johansson suits up as Black Widow one more time to team up with her found family. In addition to acting as a farewell to Johansson's tenure as Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow seemingly hands the baton over to Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova to continue the legacy of the fan-favorite character.
One rumored character was noticeably absent from the final film, begging the question of why?
WHERE WAS IRON MAN?
Prior to the movie's release, a report suggested that Robert Downey Jr. would be returning as Tony Stark in Black Widow. Now that the film is out, fans know that this is not the case.
Though the Avengers are mentioned multiple times throughout the movie, the billionaire playboy philanthropist was nowhere to be seen. So, what gives?
AN EARLY IN-DEVELOPMENT IDEA
As Black Widow picks up right after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the setting is prime for an Iron Man inclusion. Perhaps Tony Stark was included in one of the film's early scripts or concept art but ultimately cut due to a lack of story purpose or because Robert Downey Jr. is an expensive man to hire.
However, the original report came out in September 2019, well after Black Widow had commenced filming. This may indicate that Downey Jr.'s involvement may have actually been planned for quite some time.
A DELETED SCENE
The other possibility is that Downey Jr. actually did film a scene for Black Widow but was omitted for the final product. This could have been due to the filmmakers not feeling that the movie benefited from his inclusion, or that test screenings found his inclusion too distracting amidst everything else Black Widow was trying to achieve.
Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home were heavily dependent on Iron Man and his legacy, so a third appearance may have been a bit overkill and lessened the impact of his death.
That would have been an expensive cameo to leave on the cutting room floor, though.
TONY STARK'S POTENTIAL ROLE
So, how could Iron Man have played into Black Widow's plot?
General Thunderbolt Ross may have joined forces with Tony Stark in another version of the film since they are both on the same page regarding the Sokovia Accords. Iron Man could have provided Ross with intel on Natasha's whereabouts or might have chosen to carry out the operation to apprehend Black Widow himself. As Stark knows Natasha a bit better than Ross does, he may have stood a better chance at convincing her to stand down, or, at least, he may have thought he did.
Iron Man could have conversely been the big cameo to end the film on, arriving to arrest Romanoff after she was complicit in allowing a gigantic floating headquarters to come hurtling towards the Earth. It would be a surprising way to close out the movie for sure, but at the risk of undercutting what Black Widow achieved in her solo flick.
Stark could have instead appeared as an ally to Natasha as opposed to an adversary. Though they aren't on the best of terms during this period, Iron Man may have felt some necessity to help his friend take down Dreykov and the Red Room.
Whether this could have been through dealing with Taskmaster or helping to drop Dreykov's base-of-operations from the sky, an Iron Man-Black Widow team-up would have taken Natasha full-circle to her first appearance in Iron Man 2.
NO TONY STARK, BUT PLENTY OF BLACK WIDOW
Ultimately, a Tony Stark-less Black Widow film can't be too much of a bad thing. Having arguably the most popular Avenger in Natasha Romanoff's one and only solo project would have detracted from her own merits, so Iron Man's omission gives Black Widow the breathing room to stand on her own. And, it isn't as though the character is going anywhere for some time.
In addition to retroactively appearing in Loki, Tony Stark will return in a few animated forms in What If...? Stark will be working together with Killmonger in one episode whilst being reincarnated in a zombified form in another, so fans will get their fill of Iron Man fans for a good while longer.
Black Widow, which does not include Iron Man, after all, is out in theaters and streaming now on Disney+ via Premier Access.