The MCU’s Phase 4 is finally about to get going, starting with the Disney+ series WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, followed by Black Widow in May.
The MCU may be moving into its next phase of films, but it'll certainly still be influenced by the phases that came before it. How couldn’t they be? In fact, Phase 4 wouldn’t even exist if Phase 3 hadn’t brought the Infinity Saga to a close, finally resolving the decade-long looming issue that was the Mad Titan Thanos.
Fans have Tony Stark to thank for that. Arguably the most influential MCU character ever, Stark sacrificed his life in order to save the universe from Thanos’ plan for destruction in Avengers: Endgame.
Stark was a genius billionaire known globally as Iron Man. He made more than his fair share of messes during his time as the Armored Avenger, but he also did a lot of good. He shared his tech with those that he trusted, built multiple headquarters for the Avengers, and bankrolled the Avengers team essentially to no end.
Stark also had a hand in approving and later enforcing the Sokovia Accords, and he donated a vast amount of his fortune to many good causes, including the MIT September Foundation Grant. These are just a few MCU elements that recently took form, so fans will surely see these examples further explored well into the MCU’s Phase 4 and beyond, as well as other elements of Tony Stark’s legacy. But where? And how?
There were several instances in Spider-Man: Far From Home that led fans to believe that the world is waiting for “the next Iron Man” to step up.
Many believe it was supposed to be Peter Parker to step into Tony Stark’s spot, considering his close ties with Stark and his frequent dependence upon Stark tech. But Far From Home also showed audiences that Peter still has a lot of growing to do, and Happy Hogan even said “nobody could live up to Tony. Not even Tony.”
So, right off the bat in the first MCU film since Tony’s death, Marvel Studios made it clear that it’s going to take a lot for anyone in the MCU to get to Tony’s level. Fans likely won’t see anyone come close any time soon, but Marvel Studios is still promising that the impact of Stark’s legacy will soon be explored to an even greater extent.
Disney’s Investor Day event finally gave some substantial evidence that Tony Stark’s influence and legacy are here to stay in the MCU when two new series coming to Disney+ were announced: Ironheart and Armor Wars.
According to Marvel Studios, the Ironheart series stars MCU newcomer Dominique Thorne as “genius inventor Riri Williams who creates the most advanced suit of armor since Iron Man himself, Tony Stark.”
Just from the single-sentence synopsis fans were given, it’s clear that Tony Stark is not to be forgotten in the MCU, and his legacy will have a big hand in how this series plays out. Plus, the phrasing “most advanced … since Iron Man” implies that Riri will look to Tony Stark for inspiration in some capacity (you know, in case the name Ironheart didn’t give that away).
There’s been no indication of Riri even existing in the MCU as of yet, so the possibilities of where she comes from in MCU lore are endless.
Some fans believe Riri will be some sort of blood relative to James Rhodes, the longtime friend of Tony Stark, which would actually work really well. Maybe Riri grew up admiring her uncle Rhodey and his work, and wants to follow in his footsteps? That would certainly give her a foot in the door to building her own armored suit if she’s related to someone who wears a suit built by Tony Stark himself. Perhaps Riri gets curious, and sneaks around and studies the War Machine suit’s mechanics when Rhodey isn’t around, until she’s gathered enough data to try building her own?
Imagine Ironheart coming up the way Spider-Man did, handling the local, petty crime until an Avenger takes notice and steps in, such as Rhodey, to steer her in the right direction to becoming something greater. That would essentially mirror Stark’s legacy and how he set Spider-Man on the path to becoming an Avenger, but more on that later.
Speaking of up-and-coming heroes, the MCU's Phase 4 is supposedly going to be a big stepping off point for the Young Avengers, and a lot of the supposed Young Avengers lineup looks to be “legacy-type” characters that are taking over very familiar roles of previous members of the Avengers team. Whether they be the daughter of Ant-Man like Cassie Lang, or the children of Wanda and Vision (Wiccan and Speed), or a mentee to a superhero veteran like Kate Bishop will be to Clint Barton in the upcoming Hawkeye series, a lot of the Avengers will be succeeded by someone close to them.
However, as far as fans are aware, there's very little evidence right now that Riri will have any relation to Tony Stark at all, so it'll most likely be retconned now that Stark long gone. Riri Williams was an MIT student in the comics; perhaps she was one of the many recipients of the September Foundation Grant that Tony Stark presented to an MIT audience in Captain America: Civil War.
Marvel Studios will surely have a blast writing Riri Williams into the MCU, but nevertheless, Stark’s “legacy character” in the Young Avengers lineup (assuming that’s where Riri Williams ends up) will likely be a girl that Tony might not have ever even met. Legacy can’t get much more influential than that.
The beauty of Riri’s character is that there are so many directions that can be taken with her and how her new Ironheart identity is related to Tony Stark. She could be inspired by Stark and his good works like Peter Parker, which motivates her to build a suit of armor resembling Tony’s (and possibly even using scrap Stark tech like she did in the comics). Alternatively, Riri Williams could direct her focus towards Stark’s flaws as a hero and strive to become an even greater one than the original man-in-a-can.
There’s a good chance that Riri Williams surfaces as Ironheart on her own, much like Peter Parker did as Spider-Man. Riri’s talents and capabilities could be what prompts someone to monitor who else is out there messing around with Stark tech, which could lead fans directly into the next Stark-inspired MCU series, Armor Wars.
According to Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios’ Armor Wars will explore what happens if Tony Stark’s tech falls into the wrong hands.
Don Cheadle will lead the new series, returning as Rhodey aka War Machine. As many know, Rhodey is the long-time companion of Tony Stark (who also wears armor that Tony builds for him). So, right off the bat, you see Tony’s influence continuing to impact the MCU through Rhodey and his War Machine armor.
Rhodey has been kept around through all four MCU phases, and is also Rhodey’s first appearance leading an MCU film or TV series. But more significantly, this is Rhodey's first confirmed appearance without starring alongside Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man.
Rhodey may be the most obvious Iron Man legacy character, as Tony Stark was the only reason for the majority of Rhodey’s MCU appearances. That could change in Phase 4, giving Rhodey his own time to really grow independently as a character. However, the more likely possibility is that Rhodey’s continued inclusion in the MCU is to be the designated character to carry Stark’s legacy into Phase 4, so that Stark's influence can be further explored in a way that makes the most sense to fans: by using Tony Stark’s best friend that also wears an armored suit.
The only known premise of Armor Wars is literally a direct answer to the question “what happens if Stark tech gets into the wrong hands, now that Iron Man is gone?” There’s no hiding that this series will be a direct observation of the preservation of Stark’s legacy, and possibly how Rhodey attempts to be the one to preserve it.
In fact, Armor Wars may be Rhodey trying to both carry and protect Stark’s legacy by keeping Stark tech from those that would misuse it. That was the majority of the focus in the first two Iron Man films, and it continued to be an underlying issue in future MCU films as well like Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Fans saw what the terrorist group the Ten Rings did when Tony introduced the Jericho Missile. Imagine what it would be like if Taliban soldiers wielded repulsive gloves and rocket boots. No thank you. Armor Wars will likely be the MCU project that shows fans how that is prevented.
Armor Wars will also likely explore the continued impact of Tony’s desire to not be like his father. Tony always fought against the idea of becoming his father and repeating his mistakes. It may not seem like an important part of Stark’s legacy, but when MCU fans lose sight of it, Howard Stark shows up again in another movie like Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, and even Avengers: Endgame, to remind fans of who motivates Tony to be better.
Rhodey could help with that, too. By not becoming like his father, Tony was preserving his legacy by not making the same mistakes as his dad and letting his work get into the wrong hands. Rhodey could easily step in and take over this part of the Iron Man job, as he was basically already doing it for the US government for years, as shown at length in Iron Man 2.
Stark kept control of Stark Industries from Obadiah Stane for the same reason in 2008's Iron Man. Tony preserved his legacy by defeating Stane, but ended up not stopping once he did so. Why? Because he had to do all that he could to leave a legacy greater than himself, which quickly took Stark’s focus in Iron Man 2, when Stark was building a better future with his technology while also keeping it out of the hands of the US government.
Tony’s company staying with someone he trusts was an obvious priority for Stark, so much so that he signed the company over to whom would later become his own wife, Pepper Potts. Perhaps it isn’t stolen Stark tech that Rhodey is tracking down in Armor Wars; maybe Stark Industries is at risk of falling into the wrong hands. Stark Industries could be facing a hostile takeover now that Tony is out of the picture, and Rhodey may have to act as both the brains and the firepower to stop it.
Armor Wars could certainly be a political thriller as much as it is expected to be an action-packed joyride, throwing Rhodey back into a very similar dual-role that he played in Iron Man 2 when he had to find a balance between lieutenant colonel and War Machine. So whether it be in the name of anything from the Sokovia Accords to the Department of Homeland Security, Rhodey’s role in Armor Wars will likely be very similar to how fans have seen him in the past: Helping to protect Tony Stark and his legacy.
HOW THE TWO SERIES CAN CONNECT (AND HONOR STARK IN DOING SO)
The two Disney+ series Ironheart and Armor Wards won’t be closing the book on Tony Stark’s legacy, though, but rather they’ll set it up to live on even further, and may produce several elements that symbolize and immortalize Tony Stark’s influence in the MCU for years to come.
Perhaps while Rhodey is tracking down thieves of Stark technology in Armor Wars, he finds Riri Williams using Stark tech in a more responsible fashion . Maybe she’s not using it for anything other than her own personal interests, but she’s also not causing any trouble with it either. This could prompt Rhodey to keep tabs on her, as he’s always been the more cautious type. But this could also be a sign to Rhodey that she could be of some use on his mission to keep Stark technology out of the wrong hands. After all, if Riri could find enough Stark tech for herself, maybe she knows where to find more, or someone who does.
Conversely, Riri could also be Rhodey’s answer to the events in Armor Wars as well. With a name like Armor Wars for the series, Rhodey will most likely not be lone-gunning it (he never believed in that approach anyway).
Instead of tracking down a thief, maybe Riri is Rhodey’s first (or most promising) recruit in his efforts to preserve Stark technology. This would have Stark’s influence all over it as well, as this decision would very closely resemble Stark’s choice to recruit Peter Parker back in the day when he needed all the help he could get. Rhodey has always been the reserved type, doing everything he can to follow the rules until it was absolutely necessary to do otherwise. Riri could actually be the first one Rhodey trusts with Stark tech, just as Tony Stark did with Peter Parker.
Imagine Ironheart coming up the way Spider-Man did, handling the local, petty crime until an Avenger takes notice and steps in, such as Rhodey, to steer her in the right direction to becoming something greater. This would directly reflect Stark’s influence on the MCU, as he brought Peter Parker onto the Avengers scene in the same fashion.
OTHER MCU PROJECTS
Armor Wars and Ironheart are two series that will surely serve multiple purposes in the MCU’s storytelling, but the biggest purpose they’ll both serve is preserving and carrying on Stark’s legacy through Phase 4 of the MCU and beyond. But this pair of Disney+ series aren’t the only two places we’ll ever hear about Tony Stark again. What about all of the projects that don’t directly relate to Tony Stark/Iron Man? How can Stark still be impacting those, too?
First up on the expansive slate of Phase 4 films is Black Widow, which takes place between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. You know, the good ole days where all of our favorite Avengers were still here?
Natasha will likely be on the run from the US government for the majority of the Black Widow film thanks to the events that played out in Captain America: Civil War. Black Widow defected from Iron Man’s superteam in their efforts to stop Captain America and his crew, and in doing so made herself a fugitive under the Sokovia Accords that she had just signed earlier that week.
So, in a way, a lot of what fans will see Natasha go through in Black Widow should remind them specifically of Tony Stark, as he was the one who led the charge towards enforcing the Sokovia Accords, which is the leading reason why Nat won't be safe anywhere in her new film.
Another place fans will surely see Iron Man’s impact continue to play out is in the highly anticipated Spider-Man 3, specifically with the E.D.I.T.H. technology introduced in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Terrorists in the Middle East aren’t the only ones who got their hands on some Stark tech in the MCU. Fans also saw Quentin Beck criminally misuse the E.D.I.T.H. technology in Spider-Man: Far From Home, almost immediately after Tony Stark died.
That was a former Stark employee misusing Stark tech, and no one even noticed until Spider-Man intervened, and Beck still managed to frame Spider-Man as the bad guy! So, once Spider-Man is able to clear his name and it comes to light that Beck was really the villain, this could be a huge prompt for someone like Rhodey to take action and assume the responsibility of preventing that from happening again. In essence, Far From Home could very well be what sets up the premise for Armor Wars.
Additionally, E.D.I.T.H. is simply too monumental to be ignored, and Peter continuing to keep the E.D.I.T.H. glasses on his person at the end of Far From Home was most likely to show fans that Pete isn’t just throwing them in his closet as soon as he gets back home. So, since Spider-Man 3 probably picks up right where Far From Home left off, one of Stark’s most intuitive inventions yet in the E.D.I.T.H. glasses will definitely be making another appearance.
The upcoming Disney+ series She-Hulk also shows promise that Stark’s impact will be felt in the Disney+ side of the MCU lineup.
Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk) is a lawyer in the comics, and in several runs she studies superhero law exclusively. That could be a very real practice by this time in the MCU, as “superhero law” is already a topic that’s been introduced via the Sokovia Accords.
The Sokovia Accords took effect in 2016 during the events of Captain America: Civil War and there hasn’t even been a hint of their repeal in any film through Spider-Man: Far From Home, which took place in the MCU’s 2024.
Stark is a lot of the reason that the Sokovia Accords had a successful takeoff, so Stark’s legacy could also further play out if Jennifer Walters studies superhero law like she does in the comics, as the Sokovia Accords will be a very popular reference point in that arena and for Walters' profession.
Now that Marvel Studios has finally announced their Fantastic Four movie, so many possibilities now present themselves in the MCU, as well as plenty of questions as to how Marvel's First Family will fit into the MCU.
If the Fantastic Four film is set in the MCU’s present day, then Reed Richards will almost certainly be compared to Tony Stark. How couldn’t he be? Richards is an inventor and leads a team of superheroes that live in their skyscraper headquarters. It would be near-impossible to not compare Richards to Stark.
Stark’s impact can be felt in Fantastic Four in a couple different ways. Reed Richards is one of the greatest minds of all time. The MCU just lost what was widely considered the biggest mind that they had in Tony Stark. Despite others like Hank Pym and Shuri coming into the picture, Stark was still accepted as the greatest mind to the public, mainly due to his fame. Richards will undoubtedly take over that role when his time comes, at least to the public eye - and possibly to someone like Nick Fury, too.
Reed Richards could very well become the consultant that Tony Stark was to Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., which would be a very easy was to connect the Fantastic Four to the Skrulls that they have frequent run-ins with in the comics, since Fury seems to be working alongside the MCU Skrulls (for now, at least).
If Fury decides to put his trust in a new hero/leader like Reed Richards, it would be credited largely in part to Fury’s experience with Tony Stark, and how their relationship benefited the greater good.
STARK MAY BE GONE, BUT HIS LEGACY IS HERE TO STAY
Beyond these examples, Stark’s influence on the MCU will be felt in many other ways, and the most obvious would be through his family and his company.
Fans have already seen the former Stark bodyguard Happy Hogan looking after Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Happy also presented a very generous check to Aunt May’s FEAST organization in that film, which was signed by Pepper Potts. Tony’s generosity may have come from his guilty conscience, but the generous acts of Stark Industries will surely live on under Pepper Potts’ leadership.
It makes sense that Tony’s legacy would live on past Phase 3, when his greatest act came right as Phase 3 was ending. People aren’t just going to forget about what Stark did for the universe, and his tech certainly isn’t going anywhere either. Monuments and memorials had been erected in Stark’s honor after the sacrifice he made in Endgame, ensuring that his legacy will live on.
And now, with an aspiring inventor in Riri Williams following in Stark's iron footsteps in Ironheart, and Tony Stark's best friend keeping his tech out of the wrong hands in Armor Wars, fans can be sure that Tony Stark's legacy will be preserved as the MCU transitions into a new phase through many projects, and that Stark's influence will continue to be felt for years to come.