Black Panther: Wakanda Forever might be first and foremost about the world of Wakanda and its protector, but the project also sets up Riri William's Ironheart as a new mainstay character. Now, given her suit-building tendencies, the film's director touched on how the character relates to Robert Downey Jr.'s original Avenger.
In the comics, the two heroes aren't intrinsically linked. However, Riri does eventually get a new AI in her suit, one that is an exact replica of Tony Stark himself.
When it comes to the MCU, there are no immediate signs that this is the direction the live-action adaptation will go. In fact, it hardly seems like there's any connection between the two characters at all.
So in what ways do they actually connect? Well, it's complicated.
Ironheart & the Tony Stark Legacy
In an interview with DesiNerd, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever director Ryan Coogler talked about Iron Man and his connection with Dominque Thorne's Ironheart.
The director noted how it's "complicated," but that for Wakanda Forever, Riri Williams "is a supporting character in [the] film," one who is "in concert with a lot of other characters:"
“Yeah, yeah, that’s a great question. I don’t want to put any spoilers out there… I know you all haven’t seen the film yet. I know the same for your audience. But yeah, there is a connection there between her and Tony, but it isn’t… it’s a complicated connection. And Riri is a supporting character in this film, so she’s there kind of in concert with a lot of other characters. But she does play a major role and we will get to know a little bit about how how she became who she is when we meet her in this in this film."
Coogler then expressed how he feels that Riri "is a bit of an audience surrogate in [the sequel]," one who "doesn't really have any direct experience with Wakanda or with Talokan:"
"In many ways, I expect audiences to connect with her, because she is a bit of an audience surrogate in this film. She’s one of the few main characters in the film who doesn’t really have any direct experience with Wakanda or with Talokan. So she’s kind of the every person. She’s kind of reacting to things and seeing them for the first time, whereas the other characters are stoked in in the cultures of of Wakanda or Talokan, if that makes sense.”
He pointed out how Ironheart "has some things in common with [Shuri] but is also very, very different:"
“She brings a different type of energy, but she also has some similarities to characters that we’ve seen in this universe before. The film deals with a lot of things, but one of them is foils — people who exist in contrast, but there’s a thread of similarity. In this film, we get to see Shuri meet someone who has some things in common with her but is also very, very different.”
The director admitted that what he loves about Riri is how "she is just fully herself:"
“I love the fact that she is just fully herself. She’s definitely not the typical or traditional superhero. She’s very much Riri Williams, the 19-year-old student first, and then there’s this whole Ironheart business that she has to figure out.”
How Black Panther 2 Creates a Tony Stark Connection
It's not surprising to hear that Ryan Coogler's answer seems to indicate how Wakanda Forever won't be offering any direct connections between Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and Dominque Thorne's Riri Williams. Even ahead of her debut, audiences could tell it might be hard for one to exist, given how Tony Stark is dead and Riri is fairly young.
When it comes to connecting the two, the Disney+ series Ironheart and other future stories will likely try doing so more on a thematic level. It may also become clear that Tony Stark's technical contributions to the world are something that Riri admires greatly.
As for an AI copy of Stark, that could be in play down the line. The best place for it to show up might be Armor Wars, a film that'll likely have Tony's legacy felt across the board amongst several characters and plotlines.
This may also lead to Riri developing a friendship of some kind with James Rhodes, someone who will likely constantly remind her of how much she reminds him of Tony Stark.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hits theaters on Friday, November 11, while Ironheart is currently set to land on Disney+ in Fall 2023.