Iron Man’s death in Avengers: Endgame was a big shake-up for the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and fans as well, but the truth is that Marvel had been dropping clues about Tony Stark’s demise for years. The MCU’s Infinity Saga began in 2008 with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man and reached its peak a decade later with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, with Spider-Man: Far From Home closing this chapter in the MCU’s history.
Avengers: Endgame dealt with the consequences of Thanos’ snap, which wiped out half of all life in the universe. The surviving heroes came up with a plan to reverse the snap through what they called a “time heist”, but messing with time and space has consequences, and Thanos (from the past) caught up with them in the present. After the biggest battle the MCU has seen so far, Iron Man made the ultimate sacrifice by wielding the Infinity Gauntlet with all the Infinity Stones and putting an end to Thanos’ invasion.
The power of the stones was too much for Tony Stark to handle, even if he was wearing the Iron Man armor, and he passed away. Fans had been preparing for Iron Man’s death since it was revealed that Robert Downey Jr’s contract was among those set to end after Avengers: Endgame, but they probably weren’t expecting the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist to die in order to save the world. But looking back (and closely) to previous MCU films, the studio had been dropping (subtle) clues about Iron Man’s death for years.
The Arc Reactor’s Power
Iron Man showed the beginning of Tony Stark’s superhero arc, including the origin of his armor. When Tony was captured by the Ten Rings, Yinsen (a fellow captive doctor) implanted an electromagnet into Stark’s chest to keep the shrapnel shards that wounded him from reaching his heart. Stark and Yinsen later developed the very first Iron Man armor as well as a small, powerful electric generator to power Stark’s electromagnet and the armor, called “arc reactor”. This generator became a symbol for Tony and Iron Man, and went through a couple of changes during his time in the MCU.
The scene where Tony and Yinsen build the arc reactor caught the attention of some fans as Yinsen pointed out that the generator could run Tony’s heart “for 50 lifetimes”, to which Tony replied that “or something big for 15 minutes”. Tony was constantly working on his armors and arc reactor, making them more functional and powerful, so fans have come to believe that he was able to hold the Infinity Stones because the arc reactor took the energy, spreading it along the armor. This process would have allowed him to hold the gauntlet, say his last words, and snap his fingers without being incapacitated, like the Hulk when he reversed the snap – and Doctor Strange knew that Tony’s technology made him the only one capable of handling the power of the gauntlet.
Iron Man’s Previous Sacrifice
Tony Stark went through some real character development, going from self-centered, spoiled billionaire with no purpose to a true hero, leader, and (who would have known!) team player. Sure, all that didn’t happen overnight, and he had to fall and get back on his feet multiple times. Iron Man was close to dying in almost every film he was in, but one of his most notable moments – and one that was a subtle clue to his fate in Avengers: Endgame – was at the end of The Avengers.
Iron Man intercepted the nuclear missile launched by the World Security Council (against Fury’s orders) and took it through the wormhole toward the Chitauri fleet. This was the very first time audiences saw Iron Man putting his life on the line to save the world. Iron Man’s armor lost power and he fell back through the wormhole as it was closing, and was saved by the Hulk from crashing into the ground. It took him a few seconds to wake up after the fall, but he came back – and this event had some serious after effects on him as seen in Iron Man 3. Taking into account that this was still Iron Man in the early stages of his superhero journey, Marvel was clearly preparing the audience for a much bigger sacrifice Iron Man was going to make later on.
“Endgame” Quote And Vision In Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron got some harsh criticism from fans when it came out, but it ended up connecting to Avengers: Endgame quite nicely. As it turns out, “endgame” wasn’t first said in Avengers: Infinity War (sorry, Doctor Strange), but in Age Of Ultron and by Tony Stark himself. When discussing Ultron’s attack on Avengers Tower, Tony told his fellow Avengers “we’re the Avengers. We can bust arms dealers all the livelong day, but that up there, that’s the endgame”, referring to alien invasions like the one from the Chitauri. He was right, and their biggest threat didn’t come from Earth but from outer space, in the shape of Thanos and his armies.
There’s also the vision given to him by Scarlet Witch early on in the film, in which he saw the rest of the Avengers dead after an alien invasion. This dream included a line from Steve Rogers that haunted Tony Stark for (at least) the rest of the film, which was “you could have saved us!”. Ultimately, Tony did save them and the rest of the world, and was the only Avenger to die in battle.
Iron Man’s Frequent Left Arm Injury
Naturally, Iron Man suffered multiple injuries during his time in the MCU, but his left arm was hurt repeatedly. Tony’s injury was more noticeable in Spider-Man: Homecoming, where he was seen constantly holding his wrist as if to soothe it and even trembling sometimes. This subtle detail made some fans believe that Tony was going to wield the Infinity Gauntlet – and they were correct, except that it wasn’t with his left hand but with the right one. Either this detail was mere coincidence or the Russos forgot and instead made the gauntlet for right-handed beings.
Some fans have also noticed parallelism between shots from Iron Man where the main focus was his right arm piece, just like the nanotech gauntlet in Avengers: Endgame. Whether another coincidence or the Russo brothers paying special attention to the film that started it all, it’s a fun detail that brings Tony’s arc full circle in terms of visual narrative.
The MCU’s Father Figures
Moving on to a detail that doesn’t have to do with frames or dialogue but more with the dynamic between Tony Stark and another hero: Spider-Man. And if there’s something the Infinity Saga dealt with multiple times is father issues – even Thanos himself got his dose through his daughters, Nebula and Gamora. Tony Stark didn’t have the best relationship with his father, but everything he was and everything he had was thanks to Howard Stark. Tony got to thank his father personally when he traveled back to 1970 and ended up coming across with him, giving closure to a chapter in his life that bothered him for decades. Avengers: Endgame also saw Tony become a father, but before that, fans saw him play father figure to Peter Parker.
Tony took Peter under his wing in Captain America: Civil War, and continued to serve as his mentor through Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War (and, in a way, Spider-Man: Far From Home too thanks to E.D.I.T.H). It wasn’t until Infinity War that the extent of the bond between these two was shown, as Tony was haunted by Peter’s “death” after the snap, to the point where it prompted him to give the “time heist” plan a try, eventually figuring out how to make it possible.
But if the MCU established something through its father figures is that they have to die for their kids to evolve and (hopefully) reach the best versions of themselves. Peter already went through uncle Ben’s death (off-screen and ignored, but it happened), but it was Tony Stark who turned him into the superhero he is now, and his death was not only part of his own superhero arc but Peter’s as well. Iron Man becoming Spider-Man’s father figure was a clue with a much bigger impact in the MCU than others, as it will surely keep influencing Peter’s development in future adventures.
- Black Widow (2020) release date: May 01, 2020
- Eternals (2020) release date: Nov 06, 2020
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) release date: Feb 12, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021) release date: May 07, 2021
- Spider-Man: Homecoming 3 (2021) release date: Jul 16, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2021) release date: Nov 05, 2021
- Black Panther 2 (2022) release date: May 06, 2022