The first MCU follow-up to Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark was announced in 2020 to be a Disney+ series called Armor Wars, which was described to be a study of what the MCU would look like if Stark Technology fell into the wrong hands. This premise was exciting to fans since it follows up on plotlines from Spider-Man: Far From Home and WandaVision. Plus, Don Cheadle was attached to lead the show, which was a first for the Iron Man sidekick.
Because little had been heard about the show's production lately, some fans were speculating if the show would be delayed; others were even worried if the project would be canceled altogether. But, that all changed when Marvel released a surprise update that moved Armor Wars from a limited series on Disney+ to a full-blown feature film that will release in theaters.
The source of the news claims that the reason the studio switched gears on Armor Wars was that it's committed to "getting the story told the right way." This has led many fans to question what could be included in Armor Wars that warrants a theatrical release, and a common theory says that Robert Downey Jr. could return as Tony Stark in Armor Wars (and it actually makes sense).
Does RDJ's Stark Make Armor Wars a Movie?
Almost immediately after the news broke that Armor Wars will be reformatted and only hit Disney+ after having a theatrical run, industry insiders like @GraceRandolph on Twitter began speculating that this news meant that the Iron Man spin-off will feature the billionaire philanthropist returning to the MCU, only this time as Artificial Intelligence.
The theory claims that "Armor Wars is now a movie because Tony Stark comes back as AI," and would warrant a theatrical release due to the return of actor Robert Downey Jr.:
Here’s my theory - #ArmorWars is now a movie because Tony Stark comes back as AI
JUST A THEORY
This would mark Downey Jr.'s first MCU appearance following his death in Avengers: Endgame, which is why fans seem to agree that this would be too big of a deal for Disney+.
@JayBanzia thinks that "the mere presence of RDJ could have upped the stakes for" Armor Wars' release:
"@therealsupes There has to be a reason they upgraded this to a movie feature, and although I would normally rule this kind of thing out, the mere presence of RDJ could have upped the stakes for this production."
Fandom-favorite account @therealsupes seems to think it's "very possible we could see Tony return as an A.I." since Armor Wars is essentially "a movie that's about Tony Stark's technology getting put in the wrong hands:"
"With ‘Armor Wars’ being a movie that’s about Tony Stark’s technology getting put in the wrong hands I think it’s very possible we could see Tony return as an A.I."
Some fans, including @DonQuixoteFace, are cemented in the certainty that this news means that the Iron Man actor "will appear in this in some capacity as AI Tony Stark:"
"Mark my words, Robert Downey Jr. will appear in this in some capacity as AI Tony Stark."
@WatsonStPics is "guessing Robert Downey Jr/ is going to be making a return" after hearing the news that Armor Wars is now going to be playing in theaters, posting a picture of the uptick in online searches for Iron Man-related topics since this news dropped:
"I'm guessing Robert Downey Jr is going to be making a return to Iron Man..."
@NerdPerson5 defended the theory, making a fair point that "it's been 3 years since Endgame." They claim that "enough time has passed since Robert Downey Jr. left" for Marvel to show Tony Stark again:
"@TheQueenofSkaro It's been 3 years since Endgame so I think that enough time has passed since Robert Downey Jr. left for Tony to show up again. I don't want them to bring him back from the dead just a cameo because it would show that Rhodey is still thinking about his best friend."
Is It Time For Tony Stark's MCU Return?
There are several ways that Marvel Studios could bring Robert Downey Jr. in for another round of Iron Man adventures--especially now that the Multiverse is a tool in the MCU sandbox. However, possibly the most intriguing way to reintroduce Tony Stark is to make him Artificial Intelligence.
There's a moment in Marvel Comics when Tony Stark creates an A.I. backup of himself so that when he died, he could be uploaded and continue living in that form. Similar to how audiences know Tony Stark’s A.I. programs like J.A.R.V.I.S. and F.R.I.D.A.Y., Tony himself could have an animated version of himself uploaded to the cloud, ready to rock and roll as soon as someone wakes him up from Rest Mode.
Some fans believe Marvel has already shown the A.I. Tony Stark at the end of Avengers: Endgame when an Iron Man helmet projects a hologram of the hero as he says his final goodbyes. He winks at his daughter Morgan after he tells her he loves her, leading many to believe that the blue-hued Tony shown was more than just a pre-recorded message.
This theory becomes even more plausible when considering how many characters will appear in the film only because of their relationship with Tony Stark. After all, the main character in Armor Wars is Don Cheadle's Rhodey and he was Tony's best friend.
Additionally, the movie will also likely feature Iron Man's buddy/bodyguard Happy Hogan after No Way Home teased his importance to the story, and Avengers: Endgame reminded fans that Ty Simpkins' Harley Keener is still around, too. Endgame also closed things out by showing how committed Tony's friends would be to the family that he left behind, making Pepper and Morgan possible players for Armor Wars as well.
It's hard to imagine a movie that could include essentially every supporting character from the Iron Man movies and not show The Mechanic that brought them all together--the movie would almost feel empty without him. Perhaps Tony hid an A.I. version of himself for Rhodey to find somewhere in his work files; finding a file folder named "Tony Stank" would surely be a moment fans would want to share in theaters.
Armor Wars is currently in the early stages of development, with reports claiming Marvel is looking to start production sometime in 2023.