The Marvel Cinematic Universe sometimes seems locked in a haphazard game of Final Destination with Tony Stark. Over the years, Tony has narrowly avoided death, or worse, retirement, in Iron Man 1-3, Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War. Each of his major appearances could have served as an exit point, providing enough character growth and closure to give Tony’s story a satisfying end. But just when Iron Man 3 promised an end to Iron Man, if not to Tony Stark, Marvel Studios put him back in the suit and made him the second lead of Captain America: Civil War.
It’s understandable that Marvel Studios would be reluctant to keep Tony around, of course. Iron Man isn’t just the character who launched the MCU; he’s become, and remains, the MCU's anchor. That, and his toys still sell pretty well. But 3 phases and 18 films later, that anchor isn’t keeping the studio steady anymore. These days, it’s holding the MCU back.
It’s time for Tony Stark to die.
Tony Stark was a weirdly brilliant choice to begin the Marvel franchise with. He’s a founding Avenger in Marvel Comics (10 times over if you count Ultimates and other alternate universes), and has helmed a solo title since 1968, but while Tony Stark has always had fans, until his big screen, the character had nothing like the profile of Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, or the X-Men. He was comics popular, not pop culture popular, and the character offered none of the moral clarity that most superhero properties did. He started out the bad guy, and never fully left that behind.
Tony Stark, an arms dealer and playboy, was built to be despicable. He's a man who profited off of war, and lived in the lap of luxury because of it. On top of that, he's a shallow man with no real friendships, and a tendency to treat women as disposable, renewable resources. Although he mostly reformed when he was disabled by one of his own bombs, kidnapped by terrorists and forced to build his first, clunky, jury-rigged suit, that gross core of him didn’t die when Iron Man was born.
Decades of Iron Man comics, and now a decade of Iron Man and Avengers films, have mined that transformation. Tony’s story is, in every universe and iteration, one of perpetual redemption. He's a man whose worst enemy is his own past, and often present, self; a man forever trying to claw his way up from villain to hero and make something good of all the bad he’s done. But because of his deep sense of guilt, and his propensity to make the same mistakes over and over again, it’s a redemption that will never be complete -- as long as he's still living, that is.