As the Marvel Cinematic Universe stares down the next phase of its master plan, fans have been forced to think about what comes next. Longtime MCU actors' contracts are running out and, to keep things going, the series is expected to pull a comic book switcheroo and hand superhero names off to younger, less bogged-down heroes.
Steve Rogers' Captain America mantle is probably the most contended amongst MCU fans. In Marvel's comics, both Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes have taken up Captain America's shield at different times, donning the stars and stripes to fight in Steve's stead. Sam, portrayed by Anthony Mackie, and Bucky, portrayed by Sebastian Stan, are both technically in the running for the Cap cowl, although context clues might have some leaning more in Bucky's direction.
All of that is to say: Fans love to talk about who's going to take over the Captain America role from Steve. But what about Iron Man? I — and a good number of people on the internet — have an idea.
Since the MCU's inception with 2008's Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. has served as the franchise's godfather — or maybe "cool, weird uncle" might be a better moniker. From that 2008 The Hulk disaster everyone's still trying to forget to going full-on mentor mode for Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tony Stark has been there every step of the way. On top of his father Howard Stark being directly involved with the "creation" of Steve Rogers' Cap, Tony has also helmed three standalone films, will have participated in five team-up films by the end of 2019, and has been mentioned in Thor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, and Thor: Ragnarok.
After 10 years at the helm of a major franchise, some fans have wondered exactly when Downey Jr. will take his leave. No matter what shape his departure takes, there's no question that someone will have to take up the Iron Man mantle.
Shuri (Letitia Wright) is the perfect lady for the job.
Ryan Coogler's Black Panther was the first Marvel movie in recent memory that didn't jam-pack as many references to other heroes and films into its storyline as possible. Any mentions of Captain America: Civil War — the film in which we first met T'Challa's (Chadwick Boseman) vibranium catsuit-clad hero — were kept to a necessary minimum; Black Panther's physical and emotional separation from the rest of the franchise was a much-needed breath of fresh air. And a large part of its refreshing take came in the form of teen genius Princess Shuri.
Now commonly dubbed "the smartest person in the Marvel Universe," Shuri seemed to steal every Black Panther viewer's heart from the second she turned a smirk on her older brother and flipped him the bird upon his return to Wakanda.
If Shuri's attitude, quick quips, genius-level intellect, love of tech and programming, new form of artificial intelligence, and endless resources weren't enough to convince you that she's the perfect person to replace Tony Stark in that tin can of his, then just think about how well-suited she is to dual, handheld energy-blasting weapons.
And if that doesn't do it for you, then let's think about why that is. Shuri is, after all, now the head of the Wakandan outreach center's technology and information-sharing sector. She's perfectly poised to be both a technological leader and a fearless hero. Maybe you think Shuri wouldn't work as the next Iron Man because you think a black teenage girl could never replace Tony Stark?
In 2016, Marvel Comics introduced Riri Williams, a 15-year-old engineering student, technological wunderkind, and the virtual heir to Tony Stark's Iron Man name.
Just like Shuri, Riri is smarter than Tony Stark and more than willing to run headfirst into a fight. She's fiercely loyal — as she's lost friends and family members — and always looking to improve her work.
Invincible Iron Man Vol. 12, #2 sees Tony drop in on Riri after hearing that she'd built her own version of the Iron Man suit. He gives her his blessing and, when Tony falls into a coma post-Civil War II, an A.I. containing his knowledge and, of course, his personality. This A.I. version of Tony helps guide Riri through building a more advanced version of the Iron Man suit and Riri picks up the Iron Man mantle to become Ironheart.
It seems likely that the MCU would pull something similar by handing the Iron Man mantle over to Shuri. Post-Black Panther, the internet abounded with comments about how blown away Tony Stark will be by Shuri when they inevitably meet. He might be so impressed with her, in fact, that he offers her a chance to join in on the fight alongside her brother and the rest of the Avengers. The MCU already has a habit of mixing and matching similar or overlapping storylines to fit its needs and this would give Marvel fans all the Shuri their hearts desire.
None of this is to say that Shuri couldn't develop her own armor or that she needs Tony Stark's help. It's just that Tony has been on a bit of a pseudo-father-figure kick lately. And while it would be incredible to see the MCU make a Riri Williams standalone film and bring her into the fold, it feels unlikely considering how long it took to get a Captain Marvel film off the ground.
Plus, the people love Shuri. And she'd have one hell of a time flying around as Ironheart.