Empire (Australasia) - - CONTENTS - CHRIS HE­WITT

The full story of how the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse said good­bye to its pre-em­i­nent bil­lion­aire, ge­nius, play­boy and phi­lan­thropist.

TONY STARK SAID it him­self: “Part of the jour­ney is the end.” And that’s es­pe­cially true of the Hero’s Jour­ney. All he­roes, with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of High­lander’s Connor Macleod

(and even he’s carked it once or twice), must dis­em­bark at their fi­nal des­ti­na­tion even­tu­ally. And so Avengers: Endgame, the cul­mi­na­tion of what was then Marvel Stu­dios’ 22-film saga of sto­ry­telling, makes lit­eral its ti­tle for the char­ac­ter who started off the whole she­bang back in 2008. Af­ter tem­po­rar­ily ac­quir­ing all six In­fin­ity Stones, Tony Stark snaps his fin­gers, and sends Thanos and his min­ions off to the sweet by and by, but, in the process, crispy-fries his in­sides. Sur­rounded by his loved ones, Tony — the mo­tormouth of the MCU — can’t even man­age a good­bye.

It’s one heck of a way for the lynch­pin of the fran­chise to bow out. Tony’s death was di­rected by Joe and An­thony Russo, of course. And pro­duced by Kevin Feige. And per­formed, rather beau­ti­fully, by Robert Downey Jr. But it was writ­ten by Stephen Mcfeely and Christo­pher

Markus, who were fully aware of the im­por­tance of stick­ing the land­ing. “When we got the job of writ­ing th­ese two movies,” says Markus — the pair wrote In­fin­ity War, too — “he’d been the soul of the MCU up to that point. So, if any­body’s go­ing to come to clo­sure, it’s prob­a­bly him.”

The idea of Tony mim­ick­ing the Snap Thanos does at the end of In­fin­ity War came fairly early on. But there were other ob­sta­cles to sur­mount. Not least the idea that one Avengers movie

— Joss Whe­don’s orig­i­nal, back in 2012 — had al­ready ended with Tony Stark at­tempt­ing to do what Steve Rogers had told him he was in­ca­pable of do­ing: the ‘sac­ri­fice play’, lay­ing his life down for oth­ers. “In [Avengers As­sem­ble], he’s go­ing to blow up a nu­clear bomb and never come back,” ad­mits Mcfeely. “But the big pic­ture point we were mak­ing was that he fi­nally be­comes a com­pletely self­less per­son. We were re­quired to rein­tro­duce the is­sue in In­fin­ity War — what will it mean to make the self­less act? How can we re­con­tex­tu­alise it? How is it the end of the line for him?”

That meant giv­ing Tony some­thing to live for. When we pick up with him in

Endgame, af­ter that movie’s five-year jump, he’s liv­ing a life of do­mes­tic bliss with his wife, Pep­per Potts (Gwyneth

Pal­trow) and young daugh­ter Mor­gan

(Lexi Rabe). When a chance to re­verse

Thanos’ Snap presents it­self, he knows the risks. He knows what he stands to lose. “It’s when you

give him so much to live for and he still makes that choice,” adds Mcfeely. “I feel that’s not tread­ing the same ground as pre­vi­ous movies.”

Their ini­tial ver­sion wasn’t quite as quiet as the fin­ished prod­uct. “There were drafts with a lot more words in them,” says Markus. “Tony was dy­ing for an aw­fully long time, and there was a line of su­per­heroes who were like,

‘I’d like to say bye to Tony.’” That got pared down to those who were clos­est to him — Pep­per, his best friend Rhodey, Peter Parker. Even Steve Rogers, his old spar­ring part­ner, was side­lined. “I think Steve still feels on the out­side,” says Markus.

Tony was also meant to say more than the barely audi­ble, ‘Hey, Pep,’ he man­ages to gasp. A lot more. “But when it got to se­ri­ous dis­cus­sions with Robert, he was like, ‘I want to with­hold from the au­di­ence,’” says Mcfeely. “‘I want to play it as real as I can, and as stoic as I can.’ And when Tony Stark shuts up, you know some­thing’s wrong.”

Given the way th­ese movies were shot, Tony Stark’s death took a while to come to­gether, start­ing in At­lanta, fin­ish­ing in Los An­ge­les. But the writ­ers have strong mem­o­ries of one day in par­tic­u­lar. “The At­lanta por­tion was a bit more crowded,” says Mcfeely. “And when­ever Tom Hol­land re­ally leaned into it, you al­ways got choked up. I know Tony’s gonna die. I’m cry­ing be­cause Peter Parker is sad that he’s dy­ing.”

Adds Markus, “There was also a long se­ries of takes of Gwyneth re­act­ing. And you sat there feel­ing, ‘This is in­ap­pro­pri­ate. We shouldn’t be watch­ing this.’ She’s usu­ally play­ing such a dry char­ac­ter, and then to rip it open there at the end was hard.”

The last words Robert Downey Jr says in the MCU are, “Love you, 3000,” the fi­nal line of the farewell speech — his self-eu­logy — that he records for Pep­per, Mor­gan and his friends in the event of his un­timely death. That was

a late ad­di­tion — it’s no­tably said when Tony’s off-screen, and was added in post af­ter a strong re­ac­tion to the mo­ment when Downey Jr ad-libs it ear­lier in the film. But then so, too, was, “I am Iron Man,” Tony’s fi­nal killer line, ut­tered as he dis­patches Thanos. “I think that was the last thing shot, pe­riod, for the movie,” says Markus. “It was shot in LA at Raleigh Stu­dios, about one stage over from where Robert did his orig­i­nal au­di­tion to be Tony Stark.” That line was not a Markus/mcfeely joint. Nor was it a Russo Broth­ers sug­ges­tion. It wasn’t even a Robert Downey Jr im­prov, as so many of Tony’s lines over the years had been. In­stead, it was sug­gested by Jeff Ford, one of the movie’s edi­tors. “We wrote a bunch, and Robert im­provved a bunch,” says Markus. “Some of which were, like, ‘Kiss my ass.’” Mcfeely laughs. “I don’t know that that re­ally summed up 22 films. But then Jeff said, ‘Why don’t we just do this?’ And every­body went, ‘That’s a good idea!’” It is, when all’s said and done, a fit­ting way to end the jour­ney of the MCU’S great­est hero. He was Iron Man.

Clock­wise from bot­tom left: Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) nears his end; More bleak times in Avengers: Endgame (2019); Tony makes the Snap and seals his own fate; Shar­ing fi­nal mo­ments with Pep­per Potts (Gwyneth Pal­trow);

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