Avengers: Endgame closed out many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's arcs and stories, giving the film a sense of finality. One of the biggest moments from Endgame was the battle against Thanos, which saw Tony Stark sacrificing himself for the sake of the universe. But is Tony's death really as permanent as the movie makes it seem?
A fan theory gaining traction on Reddit focuses on the scene from Endgame following Tony's death in which what appears to be a recording addresses his wife, Pepper Potts, and his daughter, Morgan. The conclusion of the scene sees Tony walk up to Morgan, make eye contact and say, "I love you 3000." The scene is emotional, so it's easy to ignore some of the holes in logic that make it possible. Namely, how does a pre-recorded program know where Morgan is located so as to make eye contact?
According to the theory, the hologram is not a pre-recorded message at all, but actually an A.I. created by Tony to continue his legacy. The hologram being an A.I. would certainly explain its ability to locate and identify those in the room with such startling specificity, and the theory leans heavily on Stark creating A.I. versions of himself in the comics.
After he enters a comatose state following the events of Civil War II, an A.I. Stark serves as a mentor to Ironheart. That A.I. helps Riri Williams continue his legacy, guiding her through the creation of her new and improved armor. He even gives her the idea for the name she eventually adopts. A similar route taken in the MCU could mean the introduction of a cinematic Ironheart and the return of Robert Downey Jr. as a mentor to her, one that conveniently takes the place of his relationship with Spider-Man, depending on what happens between Sony and Marvel going forward.
This isn't the only time Tony continues on after his death as an A.I. In The Mighty Avengers series that followed Marvel's Civil War, one of the first big threats the team dealt with was Ultron hacking into Stark's machine-laden body and converting it into a new form to fulfill his villainous schemes. The transformation triggered an armor programmed by Stark to visit the Avengers in the event of his death. That A.I. guided the Avengers in their efforts to combat Ultron, despite Tony not previously expecting the threat the newly formed robot posed.
That death was short lived (Tony returned at the end of the arc), but shows how this theory could be one that at least gets tapped into for a one-off adventure rather than being some grand plan for the character to return indefinitely. The theory becomes a bit easier to swallow when thinking of it in smaller terms like a single film appearance. Tony could even, potentially, make cameos in other films, like he may in Black Widow. Especially as Phase 4 of the MCU kicks off and Marvel looks for a way to pass the torch on to the new guard, a Tony Stark A.I. would be a great way to symbolize that passage.
That being said, Robert Downey Jr. doesn't seem likely to reprise his role as Tony Stark anytime soon, and he'd definitely be key to making something like this work. Marvel may also be unwilling to undo the perfect ending it gave the character. Still, this scene could leave the door open for Iron Man to one day make his triumphant return to the MCU.