With so many of the actors who’ve inhabited the Marvel Cinematic Universe coming together to share screen time for Avengers: Infinity War, even as a crop of new characters step boldly forward, the MCU is as crowded a place as it’s ever been.
And with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, and other longtime MCU staples at or near the end of their agreements to play Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest, it’s looking increasingly likely that Infinity War will serve as a parting of ways for some actors and their superhero personae — even if the characters themselves manage to live on, with new faces stepping into familiar roles.
Entertainment Weekly caught up with Robert Downey Jr. as part of a blowout Infinity War package for its latest issue, and the actor — whose off-screen identity has become synonymous with Tony Stark for a generation of Marvel fans — hinted that the movie has an air of finality about it that’s often lacking in superhero movies.
“Believe me, I’m tired of every movie, you know, ‘It’s the end! It’s Armageddon! It’s the Be All, End All, Forever!’ And then it’s... not,” he said. “This one actually is. [Laughs] They’re not kidding. This is a heads-will-roll scenario.”
Elsewhere in EW’s Avengers package, Stephen McFeely, one of Infinity War’s screenwriters, appeared to confirm Downey’s sense of finality. “It’s safe to say we will say farewell to people,” he said.
On the real-world side of things, there are plenty of instances in which an on-screen head roll in Infinity War could conveniently dovetail with the end of an actor’s time in the MCU. Downey’s so far past his original multi-year agreement that he’s been negotiating Marvel movies on a lucrative case-by-case basis for a while now. Other MCU veterans like Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson (who’s reportedly not appearing in Infinity War), and Jeremy Renner all have rolled up enough Marvel film experience to make the original Avengers lineup start to look a little long in the tooth.
Add to that the number of bankable fresh character-actor combos that Marvel’s been rolling out to the big screen: Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) — and it’s not as though the MCU needs propping up by the old guard.
Avengers: Infinity War is expected to juggle 70 or more characters in what’s likely Marvel’s lengthiest film to date, so it’s perhaps inevitable that they won’t all be returning for future films — at least, not in their current forms. If Downey knows what the future holds for his Tony Stark, or any of the MCU’s other longest-serving talents, though, he appears to be playing it close.
“Ten years later, we’re hanging out and having lunch, and kind of wondering when the draft is going to come in. Which one of us bites it and when?” he told EW.
When Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters April 27, we’ll finally have our answer.