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Warning: SPOILERS for Avengers: Endgame are in play. If you haven’t seen the film yet, portal on out of here and come back once you’ve gotten the scoop.
The events of Avengers: Endgame have taken from the world its Iron Man, as Tony Stark died to protect everyone by using the Infinity Stones to defeat Thanos. While some may have predicted this event as the natural conclusion of Joe and Anthony Russo’s mega blockbuster for some time now, there are still those who might think it was just a grand spectacle to send Robert Downey Jr. out of the series.
But when you really look at the pre-existing history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, something becomes readily apparent. There’s a perfectly good path that leads from Tony Stark’s grown as a hero, running straight into the end zone that is Avengers: Endgame. This line of destiny reaches pretty far back, all the way from 2012’s The Avengers until Avengers: Endgame.
So in case you’re one of those doubters who are sitting there thinking that Tony Stark didn’t have to die, here’s the series of events that perfectly set up Tony’s sacrifice.
The Nuke Launch In The Avengers Sets Tony Stark Up As A Sacrificial Hero
While it would still take a little while for Tony Stark to completely reform his ways and become the Iron Man capable of giving Peter Parker fatherly advice, his actions towards the end of The Avengers helped him become a selfless hero. And it all started with an act very similar to the one that he would eventually undertake in Avengers: Endgame.
As the World Security Council launches a nuclear weapon meant to take out the Chitauri forces swarming New York, Tony decides to try and fly the missile out into space to save the city. Not only does his decision to attempt this Hail Mary show he’s capable of such a selfless act, his exposure to space and the creatures that come from the infinite cosmos traumatize him enough to start to formulate a game plan.
Giving Up His Iron Man Mantle Solidifies Tony’s Relationship With Pepper
While this move obviously didn't end up being permanent, Tony Stark resigning his heroic alter ego in Iron Man 3 did give him a firm relationship with his love interest, Pepper Potts. Ultimately, that relationship is important to Tony’s plot for two different reasons.
First, Pepper’s love gives him the motivation to try and live a normal life, dialing down his taste for adventure in several points of his life’s story. But second and most importantly is the fact that their romance will give Tony the ultimate reason for protecting the universe, as he and Pepper will eventually have their daughter, Morgan, to worry about.
Tony’s Big Speech In Avengers: Age Of Ultron Sets Up The Endgame
A huge moment that Avengers: Endgame leans on in is Tony’s big breakdown in Avengers: Age of Ultron. What starts as a reminder that Tony flew the infamous New York nuke into space becomes a somewhat tender pledge as to what he’s trying to do with Ultron. He saw an “endgame” up in space, and a “suit of armor around the world” was all he wanted to provide to save the world.
The entire “suit of armor around the world” remark basically set up Tony’s actions as a metaphorical fulfillment of that remark. In the end, his suit of armor was what protected the world from the threat of Thanos, as Tony paid with his life to save the universe. But Tony’s particular turn of phrase, marking unknown threats from beyond as “the endgame,” is what may have clued him into his ultimate sacrifice when the time came.
Doctor Strange Determines The One Solution For Avengers: Endgame
As the Sorcerer Supreme/guardian of the Time Stone, Doctor Stephen Strange was the key architect in the solution to Avengers: Endgame. And he found out exactly what it was in store for everyone by viewing all 14,000,605 scenarios that were possible after Thanos’ quest truly got underway in Avengers: Infinity War. In that crash course of MCU history, Doctor Strange had to have seen Tony’s big speech in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and saw that not only was Stark right in his assumption, but he was the perfect hero for the job.
With a predisposition to go that extra mile already instilled in him, and the stakes as dire as they were, Strange found that one in 14,000,605 chance he was looking for to make everything work. And he convinced Tony of his worth by his own act of selfless heroism.
Doctor Strange Sacrifices Himself
By surrendering the Time Stone to Thanos in exchange for Tony Stark’s life, Doctor Strange set the perfect example of doing whatever it takes to get the job done. It had been a while since Tony had to even face those sorts of stakes by time Avengers: Infinity War rolled around, but when it did, he learned that lesson hard.
And just to put a little more emphasis on what exact lesson Tony was to take from that moment, Stephen Strange looks him dead in the eye and flat out tells him, “We’re in the endgame now.” From that point forward, Tony would eventually do everything he had to in order to survive, but it would take one more event to truly send him into protector mode.
Tony Gets The Life He Dreamed Of In Avengers: Infinity War
Tony has one more meltdown when he comes back to Earth after the events of Avengers: Infinity War. That meltdown is so severe, it sets him up for the first act of Avengers: Endgame as one of the members who retires from the group to live the life he’d recently started dreaming of. In the five year gap between Infinity War and Endgame, Tony marries Pepper and together they have their daughter, Morgan.
For a while, Tony’s content with being the log cabin recluse that only needs his family to get along. But soon enough, he starts thinking about Peter Parker’s death, a moment that rocked him to his very core. And with his daughter to protect, reversing and defeating Thanos’ big plan become extremely important again.
Doctor Strange Returns With A Reminder For Tony
In Doctor Strange’s research on the way to defeat Thanos, Tony Stark was always going to be key. So when he returns during the grand finale of Avengers: Endgame, it’s a reminder that whatever he sees as necessary action needs to be done. Which makes his remarks to Tony about not being able to spell out his own fate all the more poignant.
Tony knows in that moment that his greatest fears are confirmed. Thinking back in Stephen’s own sacrifice, and the world that he now shares with his wife and daughter, failure is not an option. So as soon as Doctor Strange signals him to take action, Tony fulfills his destiny and seizes the Infinity Gauntlet.
Tony Stark Dies, Becoming A Great Big Hero Of The Marvel Cinematic Universe
With a snap of his fingers, Tony Stark wipes out Thanos and his invasion army, saving the day for one and all. The path clearly laid before him, Tony knew that the only way the world would be safe was if he heeded Doctor Strange’s instructions. It took a lot of time and motivation to get there, but when the moment was perfect, Tony was Iron Man once and for all.
Even in a recently mentioned deleted scene, Tony has a conversation with the teenaged version of Morgan, who absolves him of his actions once he snaps his fingers and enters the limbo that the Infinity Stones send their user to. Dying surrounded by his friends and colleagues, Tony Stark proved once and for all that he had a heart.
Tony Stark's passing will be felt for years to come, and even Spider-Man: Far From Home will deal with that very subject. With Peter Parker grieving the loss of his mentor, he'll be thinking about his departed friend throughout this summer's next Marvel blockbuster. But if Peter is anything like us, he'll eventually come to the same conclusion Avengers: Endgame left its audience with: Tony's death was not in vain, and The Avengers will make sure of it.
Avengers: Endgame is currently in theaters, with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (save Captain Marvel) being available on home video and streaming.