The Marvel Cinematic Universe is headed into some interesting territory in the next few years, with movies and television series surrounding a number of characters coming to life. Among these is Armor Wars, which was originally announced as a Disney+ series before being retooled into a movie centered around Don Cheadle’s James “Rhodey” Rhodes / War Machine. While the Armor Wars film does not currently have a release date or a definite place in the MCU’s next few phases, that hasn’t stopped fans from speculating about what the project could possibly entail.
One prevailing rumor has been that Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark / Iron Man could factor into Armor Wars somehow — something that makes sense on paper, since he was at the center of the comic storyline of the same name. But when you look at Armor Wars‘ place in the past, present, and future of the MCU, an argument can be made that a Tony Stark cameo could be unnecessary.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Yes, the original 1980s arc of Armor Wars revolves around Tony Stark pretty heavily, as he grapples with the fact that his advanced technology has fallen into the hands of various supervillains. The idea of trying to tell that story onscreen without Downey’s Tony Stark, after the character died saving the universe in Avengers: Endgameseemed peculiar when an Armor Wars adaptation was first greenlit. This has led some fans to suggest an array of hypothetical ways he could appear — a flashback, an alternate-universe version of himself, or even a wisecracking hologram like in some chapters of the comics.
But let’s face it — Armor Wars certainly won’t be the first or last project to deal with Tony’s legacy without physically including him. Hiss Endgame death clouded over basically the entirety of Spider-Man: Far From Home, his Stark tech has been repurposed by Damage Control on multiple occasions, and Riri Williams / Ironheart’s (Dominique Thorne) MCU journey is beginning to compare and contrast to Tony’s in some compelling ways. As Phase 4 of the MCU already proved in spades, sometimes a character’s absence can be even more powerful than their presence, especially if that character already died a hero’s death. Depending on the context, shoving a version of Tony into Armor Wars could easily cheapen the magnitude of his sacrifice. And let’s be honest — it would feel even cheaper to have an alternate version of Tony appear before 2026’s Avengers: Secret Warswhere the entire Internet has already imagined Downey returning alongside every established and beloved Marvel actor.
Sure, an Armor Wars adaptation without Tony Stark could be a challenge, but its a challenge that those involved with the project seem to have already embraced. In that time Armor Wars has been developed, it’s been clear that the adaptation will still deal with the absence and legacy of Tony himself, through the lens of Rhodey.
Even with the years-long tenure Cheadle has had in the MCU, Rhodey has rarely had an opportunity to step out of Tony’s shadow, much less significantly explore his own history as an armor-plated superhero. The most significant turning point in his character thus far, his injury in Captain America: Civil War, was more of a driving force for Tony’s vendetta in the immediate, than an opportunity to dwell on Rhodey himself. While Phase 4 and 5 are gradually beginning to explore Rhodey’s solo journey, through cameos in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the upcoming Secret Invasion, Armor Wars could be the chance to explore that wholeheartedly. While it remains to be seen if the endgame of Armor Wars could be Rhodey following the comics and suiting up as Iron Man, that certainly is a fascinating possibility in and of itself — one that would be overshadowed drastically if he had a holographic or alternate version of Tony in his orbit as he did so. As the landscape of the MCU only gets wider and weirder, Rhodey’s story in Armor Wars has the potential to be one of the most unique, and he should get a chance to walk that path alone.
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