When fans hear Iron Man, the only actor that comes to mind is Robert Downey Jr.
Downey spearheaded the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he debuted as the Armored Avenger in Jon Favreau's Iron Man back in 2008. The film's success then made it clear that Marvel was working towards something big, and it was ultimately revealed that the plan was to assemble the Avengers on the big screen.
After Iron Man, Downey reprised his role ten times over eleven years in films like The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 3, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. The MCU veteran capped off his run during Endgame, with Tony Stark sacrificing his life to save the universe against Josh Brolin's Thanos.
As the MCU moves on from Iron Man, an emotional letter from Downey was officially revealed in a special tie-in book for the franchise.
Robert Downey Jr. Shares Powerful MCU Tribute
As a part of the recently released The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe book, Robert Downey Jr., who portrayed Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man, shared a heartfelt 1000-word tribute to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that he wrote back in 2018.
Downey opened his afterword by doing a rundown of how the MCU came to be before reflecting on being cast as Tony Stark for the first Iron Man film in 2008. The MCU veteran then shared how Iron Man director Jon Favreau realized that the film was going to work then:
I distinctly remember she, Favs, and me sitting in a dilapidated Quonset hut, talking Potts and Stark, when he suddenly swelled up with a wave of emotion . . . joy, relief, faith, and grief all made a showing:
(Me, looking at him)
"What's up, boss?
(Him, looking at her)
"I just realized this movie's gonna work."
Turns out he was right; yet, there were other oxymoronic keys to Iron Man's unlikely success, namely:
A) Unorthodox efficiency
B) Ceaseless development
After reflecting on Iron Man's success, Downey then praised the casting of Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans as Thor and Captain America respectively, strongly admitting that the "hale and hearty" results of their involvement meant that the Avengers "seemed inevitable."
The Avengers' success in 2012 effectively catapulted the MCU to greater heights. Downey made sure to note that in his letter before eventually praising the bonafide additions of Chris Pratt, Paul Rudd, and Benedict Cumberbatch into the fold, describing them as "third quarter QBs" that helped the franchise to "float higher still."
The Iron Man star then turned his attention to Black Panther's Chadwick Boseman and Ryan Coogler, pointing out that the latter is now the "bleeding edge of an overdue paradigm shift" in Hollywood while praising the former as "the most reflective and grounded frontman of the bunch."
Downey then awarded Paul Bettany as having the "best arc" of the group due to his transition from voicing JARVIS to being the guardian of the Mind Stone, Vision. The actor continued by giving a shout-out to Samuel L. Jackson's role of serving as a "connective tissue" of the franchise while also admitting that he remains in close contact with Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Elizabeth Olsen.
And it goes without saying that Jackson's presence throughout (and portrayal of Fury) have been a connective tissue, our bridge over numerous credibility gaps. Johansson, Cheadle, Renner, Ruffalo, Hemsworth, Evans, Olsen, and I remain close-knit. (Yes, there's talk of a group tattoo.)
Downey only continued paying tribute to more Marvel stars like Tom Holland while passing the torch to Brie Larson, saying that she will be a "fitting and capable advance guard for the second decade" of MCU "shenanigans."
We are more than impressed with Pratt, Lilly, Rudd, Cumberbatch, now Boseman, not to mention Larson, whom we all agree will be a fitting and capable advance guard for the second decade of shenanigans. I would loathe not to include Holland (therefore Watts) in the mix, having somehow re-relaunched the most recognizable of all Marvel creations.
In a surprising move, Downey also paid tribute to Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds to prove that he is "not distribute-specific regarding fellowship." In addition, Downey also mentioned original James Rhodes actor Terrence Howard as well as the actors who played the villains that he fought in-universe:
I'll extend to Reynolds as well (to further prove I'm not distributor-specific regarding fellowship). While I have your car, I'll reach way back to day one, and express gratitude to Howard (our original Rhode)'), who was integral to my being cast. Almost lastly, every nemesis that Tony has encountered thus far deserves an honorable mention, so kudos to Bridges, Rourke, Kingsley, Pearce, Hiddleston, Spader, and, finally, Brolin.
Downey then thanked the directors of his film, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, and executives Victoria Alonso and Louis D'Esposito.
To finish off his statement, Downey expressed his gratitude toward the fans, sharing an emotional tribute to the audience by revealing that they "co-piloted the narrative" all these years:
The Who, is YOU .. . If you made it to the "end credits" of this anniversary edition, you're likely a fan, so there's your Easter egg, darlings . . . a mirror! Folks who respond to mythological storytelling arc positively the propellant of all things Marvel. It's always been that way, no supply required without demand. Ever since Comic Con 2007, it's been apparent that the audience (no offense, THX) was no longer just listening. For ten years, YOU have copiloted the narrative.
Finally, I hope these films have evoked a dialogue on equality, justice, freedom, embracing diversity, and combating intolerance with the power of partnership, sacrifice, and love.
At this point, Tony might say: "You're welcome." I'll balance that with a boundless eternal: "Thank you."
Iron Man's Legacy Will Last in the MCU
This powerful tribute from Robert Downey Jr. should serve as a fitting reminder of the massive legacy that the actor left behind in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The emotional letter is essentially a trip down memory lane, with Downey sharing how the superhero franchise shaped his life. In many ways, it is a celebration of the actor's impressive run, but he also made sure that his peers would get the same amount of recognition.
Downey's notable passing-of-the-torch moment to Brie Larson is appropriate, and it seems that Captain Marvel is poised to fill in the gap that Tony Stark left behind in the MCU. This mention aligned the previous statement of Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige when he confirmed that Carol Danvers is "about to take the lead and be at the forefront of the entire Cinematic Universe."
Downey's shout-out to Ryan Reynolds is also surprising, and this could hint that the MCU veteran knew that the Deadpool star would eventually join the Avengers universe then.
Meanwhile, the actor's sincere thanks to fans should put a smile on everyone's faces as it shows their impact on the cast and crew who worked hard in crafting these amazing stories on the big screen.
It is unknown if Downey would ever return to the MCU down the line, but the actor previously teased a potential return, sharing that fans are capable of
"[moving] us toward what they want."
At this point, many would agree that anything is possible.
The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now available in stores.