Iron Man 3 begins hitting theaters across the world this week and opens in North America next Friday. It marks the beginning of the next chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, dubbed Phase Two, but it's also the last film some of its stars are contractually obligated for.
Despite his occasional hints of retiring, it's a safe bet that Robert Downey Jr. is going to return after Iron Man 3. As much as Marvel Studios would hate to recast an essential face of the franchise - the most important face of the franchise - Robert Downey Jr. would hate someone else taking over the iconic role of Tony Stark, his career-defining role. Stark is part of The Avengers script even though Downey hasn't signed on yet, but what about Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts and Don Cheadle's War Machine?
Since suiting up in an armored suit of his own in Iron Man 2, Don Cheadle has shown nothing but excitement and love for his part in the franchise. At Comic-Con last year, he even rallied to get fans spreading the word if they wanted to see him join the team come time for The Avengers 2. He's not contractually obligated to, but he clearly will.
Paltrow on the other hand, has been vocal about expressing fatigue with the series. She was quoted saying she's "too old for this s***," and we know in Iron Man 3, she has her more important part to play yet, even joining in on the action. From our own interviews with Robert Downey Jr., and seeing similar discussions with media across the world, RDJ and his agent are in a position of incredible bargaining power. He already had the best contract of anyone in front of the cameras, earning at least $50 million for his part in The Avengers and he doesn't want to disappoint fans.
Shane Black expressed confidence that Downey would return for Iron Man 4 & 5 and while everyone's waiting to see just how big Iron Man 3 is at the box office before making any decisions, Paltrow may have already made hers. In chatting with GeekNation during the Iron Man 3 press day earlier this week she went on record saying:
"I don't think there's going to be [an Iron Man 4]. I think we're done with Iron Man."
It's obviously not what fans want to hear. But it's also not consistent to what she said to other outlets. In chatting with DigitalSpy, she said she'd be game for a (never going to happen) spinoff about Potts in the RESCUE armor. When asked about whether or not Marvel Studios had approached her about returning for The Avengers 2 or Iron Man 4 however, she said:
"They haven't yet... They're trying to make a deal with Robert [Downey Jr.] right now, but Robert likes me around so, you know, I'm sure I'll pop up here or there or somewhere [smiling]."
It was Robert Downey Jr. who championed the idea of Pepper having a bigger role in Iron Man 3. She's crucial to the Tony Stark mythos and if Downey's going to return (he will), then Paltrow's Pepper must as well, even if their screentime or roles are slightly reduced. Paltrow's schedule must be built around her family first, as she told ABC in explaining that she's aiming for one film project per year, so if her obligations for shooting and press aren't as big as they were with Iron Man 3, expect all of the heroes to return. She also told Yahoo's OMG that Iron Man 4 is definitely a possibility:
"Anything that's really good that speaks to me I'll do. It could be Iron Man 4."
We don't yet know what films are a part of Phase Three outside of Ant-Man and Doctor Strange but in addition to likely threequels for Captain America and Thor there will be room for Tony Stark somewhere, even in a supporting capacity doing something different. Send him into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy or put him in a executive positions with S.H.I.E.L.D. while someone else suits up for battle. Everything we hear now about uncertainty about returning is just for bargaining. For now, enjoy what's coming in the next two years, beginning this week with Iron Man 3.
Iron Man 3 is directed by Shane Black based off of his and Drew Pearce’s screenplay, and stars Robert Downey Jr., Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Stephanie Szostak, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall, William Sadler, James Badge Dale and the voice of Paul Bettany.
Iron Man 3 releases May 3, 2013, Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014, The Avengers 2 on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on November 6, 2015, and Doctor Strange sometime after that.
Let me know on Twitter @rob_keyes if you want Iron Man 4 to happen!