The deaths of Tony Stark/Iron Man and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow in Avengers: Endgame weren't set in stone. Capping off the 22-film arc collectively known as The Infinity Saga, the Joe and Anthony Russo-directed film also marked the final chapters for some of the MCU's principal characters. But while Captain America decided to retire from service and live a quiet life with Peggy in the past, Thor went off to a space adventure with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Hawkeye retired for good, there's always a way for them to return. Things are different with Tony and Nat, however, since they're permanently gone.
Both sacrificed their lives for the greater cause, Iron Man's and Black Widow's deaths came at different points in Endgame. Following the events of Avengers: Infinity War, five years passed before Earth's Mightiest Heroes found a way to undo Thanos' deadly snap of half of life in the universe, and it involved collecting the Infinity Stones in the past and use it to bring back all those who were dusted off. After an intense scuffle with Hawkeye in Vormir, Nat sacrificed herself to collect the Soul Stone. Meanwhile, after Hulk's snap resurrected all those affected by The Decimation, Tony had to wield the power of all six gems to ensure a future free of Mad Titan's threat which killed him in the process. Both of these deaths were significant in Avengers 4's narrative, but things could've gone differently for the characters since their demise weren't always the plan.
In Empire's recent Endgame feature where the Russos alongside writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely provide commentary on several of the film's biggest plot points and iconic moments, they revealed that Tony and Nat's deaths weren't decided early on. For Black Widow, they went back-and-forth with her and Hawkeye on who's going to ultimately die for the Soul Stone - at one point, they even had the latter do it. But they received push back from some of their female team members, asking them to honor Natasha's choice to die.
Stephen McFeely: "We had a version where [Hawkeye] went over. I remember specifically our visual effects supervisor Jen Underdahl was reading it going, ‘Don't do that. Honour her choice.’ And we took it very seriously. Many of the women on the crew were passionate about giving her the hero moment – don't take it away from her.”
Joe Russo: “We saw in Avengers that she's the better fighter. So if it's going to come down to fisticuffs about who's going over that cliff, she's going to win. And she did win.”
As for killing Iron Man, the team said there was no mandate from Marvel Studios to do this, although they were tinkering on the possibility that it might be time to retire the franchise's inaugural hero. In the end, the filmmakers concluded that with the way Tony's arc panned out in the last decade until Endgame, it's for the better to end the hero's arc in the movie.
Christopher Markus: “Marvel as a whole said, 'We think it might be a time [for Tony to die], but if you have a good reason not to do it, feel free – we'll do whatever'. But it really did seem like, particularly with what Tony experiences after the five year break – that he has gotten married, had a kid, and is living a very healthy, peaceful life for once, and he's had five full years of no surprises – that there wasn't anywhere left that he needed to go. This was a guy who had made his full journey, all the way to the end, had experienced a full rehabilitation of his character from being the douchebag in the back of the Humvee at the beginning of the first Iron Man. To have him make the sacrifice that Steve Rogers would have made had he had the opportunity at that moment, just felt really right."
Admittedly, not everyone was thrilled with how Endgame handled closing out the journeys on arguably the MCU's most beloved characters. Widow dying before the final battle robbed her to be part of the epic all-female shot that she should've been in since she's first female hero in the franchise. It would've also been nice to see her more on that Avengers leadership role she had during the five-year time jump. And while fans are still going to see her in the long-overdue Black Widow standalone, there's a good chance that the film will take place in the past, hence not changing the fact that Nat is gone. Tony's death, on the other hand, was a better executed narrative since it made sense that The Infinity Saga started and ended with him. Yes, it was depressing to see him go knowing that he's leaving Pepper and Morgan behind, but there's poetic justice to his demise as it brought him full circle.
As difficult as it was saying goodbye to these characters, a changing of the guards is important to ensure the future of the franchise. This way, the MCU doesn't feel like there's no stakes in it - something that naysayers have been accusing of it for the longest time. Avengers: Endgame was the perfect way to bid farewell to these heroes, and for the most part, they were sent off in a respected way.
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