Just weeks before Comic-Con 2013, and just weeks after Iron Man 3 solidified its position among the top five grossing films of all-time, Disney and Marvel Studios are planning even further ahead than ever before. Last week Disney claimed two more release date slots for unannounced Marvel films coming in 2016 and 2017 and today they’ve officially announced that Robert Downey Jr. will continue to have a key role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel is happy to announce that – after reports of tough negotiations – Robert Downey Jr. has officially signed to return as Tony Stark aka Iron Man in both (still untitled) The Avengers 2 and The Avengers 3.

Iron Man 4 – at least at this point in time – is not part of the plan for RDJ as he aims to clear up his schedule to pursue other projects. Although Shane Black teased the idea of Iron Man 4 & 5 with Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow’s mixed responses about more installments held true and Marvel aims to focus on expanding the MCU and introducing more characters from the Marvel Comics library, beginning next year with Guardians of the Galaxy.

Despite Marvel holding the (for negotiation purposes) position that they’d be willing to recast Tony Stark, the “I Am Iron Man” quote from the film series couldn’t be truer. Robert Downey Jr. is the poster boy for Marvel Studios’ success and replacing him would be as challenging as it would be disappointing so it was inevitable he’d return in some capacity. Joss Whedon’s praise of the actor and his admittance of having every intention of working with him again for The Avengers 2 – which begins shooting early next year – played out just as we expected and the world can breathe a sigh of relief that he’ll suit up once again when Earth’s Mightiest are forced to join forces in summer 2015.

As for the idea of cameos or guest appearances in other Phase Two and Phase Three films, don’t count on it. From the get-go, Marvel President of Production Kevin Feige made it clear that the next set of films are more standalone, and unlike in Phase One where it was important to emphasize the shared continuity and build towards the main event in The Avengers, it’s no longer necessary with the brand earning its place in pop culture.

Iron Man 3 stood entirely as its own, and while Thor: The Dark World takes place partly on Earth it may follow a similar isolated story pattern while rumor has it Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the story that will bridge The Avengers 1 & 2. After that, Marvel ventures into unexplored territory with its “twisted” space-faring adventure in Guardians of the Galaxy which is not only a standalone story as well, but features an entirely new roster of heroes and villains, leading up to The Avengers 2 and then another new character’s origin story in Ant-Man.

With the Iron Man solo series on break for the forseeable future, the timing makes sense that with Phase Three of the MCU, Ant-Man steps into take over the first chapter duties.

Now to get Don Cheadle back as Rhodey. Should he (War Machine) get a part in The Avengers sequels?

More on this story (and Ant-Man) as it develops.

Iron Man 3 is currently in theaters, Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014The Avengers 2 on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on November 6, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6 2016 and May 5 2017.

Let me know on Twitter @rob_keyes if you’re happy to see RDJ back!

Source: Marvel