Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, aka Iron Man and Captain America, were two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest names. This was for good reason, too! 2008’s Iron Man began the whole saga, while Captain America: The First Avenger, helped to kickstart the Avenger Era.
Ironically, the two are almost opposites as characters. Steve is the obvious good man expected of a superhero. However, his story becomes interesting because he’s in a world that’s not especially good or kind.
On the other hand, Tony’s more self-centered and arrogant than you’d expect of a superhero. Still, this makes his quests to save the world compelling because he’s fighting himself just as much, if not more than he’s fighting a villain.
Tony Stark and Steve Rogers’ character arcs ran through all three of their individual movies. Each Avengers movie also continued these arcs. Despite their differences, both are widely beloved.
Perfect Sendoffs For Iron Man And Captain AmericaAll great stories must come to an end. So goes the old saying, and there’s definitely truth to it. Most would say the Tony Stark (Robery Downey, Jr.) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) send-offs were both perfect for each character.
Tony Stark, after all, was a character who constantly fought against his own heart. Literally, and also figuratively. He battled selfishness in a quest to become a hero. He struggled with this throughout the Avengers movies. In the first Avengers film, he didn’t exactly play nice with the others to start.
In Age of Ultron, he ignored valid concerns others brought up and built a robot to save people that ended up trying to kill everyone. However, everything eventually came full circle. In Avengers: Endgame, Iron Man sacrificed his life to save the world. It was the perfect way to end his character arc.
Steve Rogers, for his part, was a man out of time. Again, literally.
He could never quite move on from his World War II experiences. He also couldn’t quite move on from his true love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Steve was also constantly caught between his patriotic duty and his loved ones. Hence, it was fitting that his ending was using the Time Stone to go back and live a long, fulfilling life with Peggy.
If the MCU were to bring these two icons back, they’d risk ruining two perfect endings for money. Marvel might be tempted, but audiences might prove more skeptical.
Who Can Replace Tony Stark And Steve Rogers?Let’s look at some of the other Avengers, particularly the ones who were introduced with their own individual movies. Could any of them replace Iron Man and Captain America?
Original Avenger Thor (Chris Hemsworth) also received an origin film as well as other solo films. He’s even the only Avenger to get a fourth movie. However, the Thor: Love and Thunder film was not well received. The Thor movies also have no consistent arc for their main character, Thor himself.
Plus, the first two films, 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, are very different in tone than the latter two.
The other original Avengers didn’t start with their own origin movie. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) finally got her solo outing in 2021. However, Natasha Romanoff’s death was a major plot point of Endgame, and there supposedly were a few ways to rectify it. By few, we mean zero.
Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has always seemed kind of an afterthought. He’s never had a solo film. He did have a short series on Disney+, but that doesn’t exactly indicate blockbuster potential. It also was not even about him, but rather, Kate Bishop.
Lastly for the original crew: Hulk. Alas, we’ve all kinda forgotten Hulk’s solo film, and Marvel itself forgot he existed somewhat. Plus, Hulk’s ended up as a sidekick in other movies.
Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) never quite took off, despite two films. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) received hate and valid criticisms of the writing in the original film. Audiences love Guardians of the Galaxy, but GOTG addresses universal concerns rather than the more grounded superhero worlds of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.
Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) seems plausible but again is less grounded. Plus, the recent movie received mixed reviews.
Blockbuster OptionsThe most thorough arc through three individual movies and through the Avengers films, too, is the Spider-Man (Tom Holland) movies. However, considering the strange state of Sony and Marvel sharing the rights to Spider-Man, is he really a realistic option?
For our money though, the best arc in any single MCU movie belongs to Black Panther’s T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Still, the only MCU movie to be nominated for Best Picture, Black Panther remains one of the greatest superhero movies ever.
The fact that Boseman was secretly battling advanced stages of cancer through all his MCU films makes him seem a hero offscreen as well as on. However, Chadwick’s untimely death makes him unlikely to carry MCU’s mantel. He almost certainly would have been favored to do so.
Black Panther 2 is already in theaters, and it focuses on T’Challa’s fan-favorite sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). Considering the magic Ryan Coogler weaved in the first Black Panther, he could certainly do it again. We’ll have to see how it holds up!
Tony Stark And Steve Rogers: Why Are They So Widely Loved?While Marvel movies continue to rule the box office, superhero fatigue is also setting in, for some at least. An increasing number (18%) of self-identified Marvel fans said that they did not enjoy MCU movies in July of 2022. This compares to 13% in 2021.
Is fatigue really the best way to describe this, though? Maybe they just miss their old favorites. Still, why were Tony Stark and Steve Rogers fan favorites in the first place?
2008’s Iron Man was a massive hit for sure. In fact, what most critics cited as the reason for its success was how unique it was as a story. Roger Ebert said it “separate[ed itself] from most superhero movies.” The New York Times noted how “unexpected” it was:
What is less expected is that Mr. Favreau… wears the genre paradigm as a light cloak rather than a suit of iron. Instead of the… origin story we often get in the first installments of comic-book-franchise movies,“Iron Man” plunges us immediately into a world that crackles with character and incident.
The first out for Steve Rogers wasn’t actually all that successful in box office numbers compared to Iron Man or Thor. That all changed with its sequel, 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Like with Iron Man, critics praised it for being “unique among Marvel fare.”
The Marvel FormulaStories that take risks and expand on superhero lore stand the test of time. Tropes exist because people enjoy the same stories over and over, so long as you tell them in new ways. Rather than be repetitive, telling stories with different formulas and framing and themes helps people discover what they like about the trope or genre in the first place.
However, a major criticism of the MCU is that all the stories start to follow the same formula.
Even the somewhat less successful standalone Thor series eventually lost what made them unique. The first two movies were Shakespearean tragedies, focusing on family drama and the classical duty versus love idea. The following two have been comedies, albeit with the third being more successful than the fourth.
Marvel higher-ups maintain creative control to help with consistency for sure. Still, maybe it’d be good for the MCU to take some risks. Instead of relegating Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) to Disney+ shows, give them some films with compelling arcs.
While there is an upcoming Captain America film in Phase 5, the series seemed to be a throwaway just to have Disney+ content.
Epic Or Episodic?Phases 1-3 of the MCU are all built towards the epic Avengers: Endgame. It was a worthy finale, too, paying off for fans who’d followed the movies for over a decade.
Phase Four, by comparison, feels a little haphazard. The stories seem to have moved from a singular epic to episodic. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it is a change for sure. Shows like Loki can be pretty great, but their events are less likely to have ramifications for the overall story.
Sometimes the shows and films overlap, like with Wandavision and Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness. However, Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) characterization in the movie seemed almost like a retcon from the show.
Other times, the fact that the stories don’t overlap creates a plot hole. For example, why didn’t Spider-Man hear about the trouble Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) faced when they were in the same general area?
Then again, the initial Phase One movies for Marvel didn’t fit together either. Maybe we should be patient and see what Kevin Feige is subtly building.
How To Bring Tony Stark And Steve Rogers BackSome might say that Tony Stark and Steve Rogers coming back would be some sort of retcon at best. At worst, it’d be an outright plot hole!
Well, yeah, maybe. To be fair, however, like we’ve just said, Marvel’s no stranger to either of these. Especially not in Phase Four. There are so many timelines. (Hello Multiverse)
Plus, there are also ways the characters could “appear” without actually being alive again. For example, prerecorded messages to their friends would be one way to do this.
There are also Marvel characters who can resurrect the dead. This includes characters we have seen, like Scarlet Witch, and those we haven’t yet.
Among those we haven’t yet seen, Mephisto is probably the most likely to appear in the MCU. He’s basically the Marvel Devil. In fact, rumors about Mephisto being cast are rampant online as we write this! Mephisto filling the Big Bad void Thanos left could add momentum going into Phase Five.
Reviving HeroesHowever, the MCU staked its place in Hollywood by taking the relatively unknown Iron Man and making him into a household name. This was also aided by perfect casting, allowing Robert Downey, Jr. to revive his career and essentially lead the overall universe.
The MCU shines by selecting overlooked heroes and reviving their stories.
Recently, some long-running sagas overloaded themselves with nostalgia. They then ended with a whimper instead of a bang (The Rise of Skywalker, we’re looking at you). While fans love callbacks, perhaps the MCU should return to form not by focusing too much on famous characters. Though, cameos are always welcome!
Instead, choose a lesser-known guy or gal and craft an original story around them. Give them a compelling flaw that directly challenges their hero status. Focus on the humans who become heroes more than just expanding the world they inhabit.
We’re also pretty sure with Disney now owning all the X-Men & Fantastic Four characters will give us the chance to see amazing characters in the MCU for years to come. Maybe Stark and Rogers were the guys who started it all, but the universe is bigger than just two men. Regardless of how amazing they are as characters.