Robert Downey Jr. helped usher in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, and he’s going to remain an important part of it in the coming years. The question is how long will it be until he decides to leave? When asked at the BAFTA Awards how many total films he thinks he’ll appear in by the end of his tenure, Downey stated it would probably be just short of double-digits, a.k.a. around nine. Most of these films can be already be accounted for.
There are the three Iron Man films, The Avengers, The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, and we also likely appear in both part of The Avengers: Infinity War. He also cameoed in The Incredible Hulk, but if we take into account that Chris Evans’ cameo in Thor: The Dark World didn’t count towards his total amount of appearances as Captain America, the same may apply for Downey. That leaves us with eight films, meaning there’s one movie left that Downey will appear in.
If Marvel is wise, they’ll include him in another Phase 3 movie -- specifically Black Panther.
Before Black Panther gets his solo film, T’Challa (his alter-ego) will debut in Captain America: Civil War, where he’ll be drawn into the film’s conflict of superhumans being forced register with world governments. As the leader of the isolationist country Wakanda, he is free to choose whether his nation adopts these oversights, and if we take into account his stance during the original 2006 crossover event, he’s likely to end up on Captain America’s side against Tony Stark. Once the Superhuman Registration Act passes and the conflict between Stark and Cap gets out of hand, T’Challa helps out the anti-registration forces however much he can, and then goes back to Wakanda to set the country up as a safe haven for any superhuman that doesn’t want to register. This sets the stage for his 2017 solo film.
While Black Panther will probably feature a villain from his own rogues gallery (like Ulysses Klaw, who many fans suspect is being played by Andy Serkis in Age of Ultron), Tony needs to have an overarching presence in the film. Whether he’s head of S.H.I.E.L.D. like in the comics or just the head of the United States’ registration efforts, Tony will be leading the charge to make sure superhumans across the globe are properly supervised. Like Nick Fury’s cameos in the Phase 1 films, Tony could appear in Black Panther pleading for T’Challa to change his mind about registration, but the ruler refuses to change his mind. Tony serves as reminder to the audience that while Black Panther is dealing with his own problems in Wakanda, the rest of the globe is dealing with the changing status quo among people with abilities. An interesting turn of events would be T’Challa turning to Tony for help against the film’s main antagonist, prompting Tony to agree only under the condition that T’Challa agree to register himself and the rest of Wakanda’s superhumans. It may be blackmail, but that’s how strongly Tony feels about this cause.
Tony Stark may be most famous as Iron Man, but Phase 3 will see him taking on a new role: making sure superhumans are properly accounted for. Captain America: Civil War will see Tony going down this new path, but it’s important that the Marvel creative forces expand on his mission before the cataclysmic events of the Avengers: Infinity War movies. Of all the offerings in Phase 3, Black Panther will be the best place to do this since it’s the movie following Civil War that’s most connected to the political side of the MCU. We’ll still get the sarcastic, quippy Tony, but he’ll have more of that darker edge to him.