Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, and 11 years later, it’s impossible to uncouple the success of the Marvel films from Iron Man. Regardless of who your favorite MCU superhero became in the past decade, it all goes back to Iron Man, the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.
At his core, though, Tony Stark was much more than just this oft-quoted line of his. He was a mechanic, a son, a best friend, a mentor and half of the MCU’s first ship “Pepperony.” The relationships he built, along with his technology, are a part of his lasting legacy. Because of how foundational Iron Man is to the MCU, Avengers: Endgame had enormous pressure on it to find an ending for Tony Stark that’s worthy of his significance. By bringing back certain characters and introducing his daughter, Endgame guaranteed that Tony’s legacy will live on.
Five years after the snap, Tony had no incentive to get involved with the Avengers again. He and Pepper were living happily in a rustic home with their daughter, Morgan. It seemed like Tony was really suited for this family man lifestyle. Yet, the guilt over Peter Parker’s disappearance weighed on him.
Peter was a surrogate son for Tony before Tony was ever ready to have kids. Tony recruited Peter for the events of Civil War, which we got more details of in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Tony’s father was hard on him, and Tony was equally as hard on Peter when he messed up an FBI operation. Tony’s hope is that Peter would be a better hero than him and inadvertently teaches him an important lesson: “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it, okay? God, I sound like my dad.”
Peter’s ebullience is a much different energy from Tony’s snark, but their drives were the same. They felt the responsibility to use their intelligence (and powers in Peter’s case) to help people. Because of this, Tony and Peter formed a bond. When Peter arrives in Endgame’s final battle, Tony does something very uncharacteristic of him and embraces him. Later on, Peter is there for Tony when he dies, which is an incredibly intimate life event.
Peter learned how to be a hero from Tony, and he can pass those same lessons onto Tony’s daughter and become a mentor himself down the line for new heroes.
The lanky teen standing alone at Tony’s funeral, that the camera lingers on for a second, is grown-up Harley from Iron Man 3. Though the film has its flaws, particularly with the villain, it explored Tony Stark’s PTSD following the Chitauri invasion quite well.
After the attack on his house, JARVIS auto-pilots Tony away from the danger but accidentally goes a bit too far. Tony crashlands in Rose Hill, Tenessee and seeks shelter in a barn that’s also a makeshift lab for a kid named Harley. Harley recognizes Tony — Tony is one of the most famous people in the world, after all — and asks him pointed questions about how he felt during the Battle of New York. This forces Tony to face his fears. He’s stuck in Tennessee with a kid as his only ally so far, so he can’t avoid talking to him about it. Though he’s a child, Harley helps Tony work through his trauma, and he helps repair the Iron Man suit.
At the end of Iron Man 3, Tony upgrades Harley’s farm lab with state of the art technology. Tony has given out several grants thanks to his foundation, but this gift was personal. We can infer that this had an impact on Harley based on his presence at his funeral. Because of his gift, Tony put Harley ahead of other kids in his socioeconomic class in his town. Whatever Harley does next, he can speak to how generous and genius Tony Stark was, but also how human he was.
Morgan H. Stark is Tony and Pepper’s daughter and the reason why the snapped people were brought to 2023 instead back to 2018. Morgan is the most significant person in the world since her existence informed the Avengers’ plan for how to get the snapped people back. Undoing the snap was never on the table because of Morgan.
Morgan is at most 5 years old, but you can tell that she’s Tony’s child. Our introduction to her is her hiding from her dad outside wearing an Iron Man mask. Tony mentions how she likes playing in the garage, just like her dad. Morgan already has a fun sense of humor that’s reminiscent of her dad’s when she catches him working on time travel technology. At her dad’s funeral, she wants cheeseburgers, which Happy says is just like her dad as well.
Even if Morgan doesn’t become a hero like Tony, she is a genetic guarantee that Tony’s legacy will continue. Whatever she does with her life, she will always be known as Tony Stark’s kid. Though living in someone’s shadow could have an adverse effect on her, especially when coupled with losing a parent at such a young age, we have high hopes for Morgan. We know she is in capable hands with Pepper as her mother, and Happy and the rest of the heroes as her surrogate uncles and aunties.
The person who knew Tony the best is Pepper Potts. She was there with him for the whole Iron Man experience up until his death. It’s her words that brought him comfort in those final moments where she says, “You can rest now.”
Tony was defined by his restlessness. He was always tinkering, upgrading, and worrying about the safety of his loved ones. Because of the unexpected deaths of his parents, Tony was very protective over Pepper, which is probably why he started to make her suit as we found out in Endgame. Their daughter will, of course, carry on Tony’s legacy, but it’s a legacy that will be informed by Pepper’s stories of Tony since she was there for all of it.
Tony had protocols on top of protocols for every scenario. He had the foresight to record a goodbye message just in case for his family, so it’s possible that he, over the years, created protocols for his death. Just because Tony is no longer with us doesn’t mean his technology can’t continue to help his family and others.
What we know for sure is Tony Stark touched the lives of millions of fans in addition to all of these characters. We will see his legacy continued on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Phase 4 and beyond.
Avengers: Endgame is now in theaters. Spider-Man: Far From Home is set to release July 5, 2019.