After the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War, fans of the MCU are left wondering how the next movie and the fate of their favorite characters will develop. Most people suspect that the deaths caused by Thanos will be reversed, but this begs the question of whether some of the original Avengers, who have mostly survived the snap of death, will have to sacrifice themselves to revive those who have been lost.
After examining Tony's character arc, it is unlikely that he will find afterlife in the next Avengers movie. His story has always been about survival, but, more importantly, throughout the entirety of the Marvel films Tony follows a traditional Hero's Journey arc, and that is not an arc that typically ends in death.
The nature of the MCU causes the development of Tony's hero's journey to differ slightly than the traditional order. This is to be expected when each development of the story is also its own complete feature-length story, but nevertheless, all the elements of the Hero's Journey are present, and the chronology of the events has very little impact on the whole.
There are typically 12 steps to the Hero's Journey: the ordinary world; call to adventure; meeting the mentor; refusal of the call; crossing the threshold; tests, allies, and enemies; approach to the inmost cave; ordeal; reward; the road back; resurrection; and the return with elixir. As of the end of Infinity War, Tony has completed all but three of them.
Frodo celebrating in the Shire; Harry playing in the cupboard; Jon Snow traveling with his family in Winterfell; all of these are examples of the first part of the traditional hero's journey. They set the scene for what the hero's life has been up to this point in order to mark a contrast later in the story that will show how far they have come.
Tony Stark is no different; a life of luxury, selfishness and ignorance with little to no consequence is his shire. Not once prior to the events of Iron Man had Tony ever stopped to reflect or consider the weight of his actions. He was good at building weapons, so he sold them and made a fortune doing so to fund the lavish lifestyle he had become accustomed to.
Meeting the Mentor
While his world is deeply changed when he is captured and forced to build the first iterations of the Iron Man suit, the events of his origin story were not his Call to Adventure. At the end of Iron Man, he is still deeply engrossed in his old lifestyle. If anything, the Iron Man suit calls him deeper into his ordinary world of engineering and selfishness, which leads to some of the self-destruction in Iron Man 2. This is important to note because, unlike the traditional Hero's Journey, Tony meets his mentor before his official Call to Adventure begins.
In Iron Man 2, Tony is faced with a question that he alone is unable to solve. When he escaped terrorist captivity, he built a miniaturized arc reactor powered by a palladium core. The core begins to poison his body, causing numerous health problems that begin to take over his life.
After a series of events, Tony has a meeting with Nick Fury, who gives Tony tapes of his father. Prior to this film, Tony had dismissed the possibility that his father actually cared about him, expressing disbelief and skepticism whenever anyone mentions that his father cared about him.
As he would find out, Howard Stark, believed in no one as much as he believed in Tony. Howard left the puzzle to the arc reactor to his son, knowing that he would be the only person capable of solving it in the years to come.
In Tony's darkest hour, Howard taught him to continue to do what he did best: invent. So Tony did; he created an entirely new element in order to synthesize it into the arc reactor to bypass the poisoning of Tony's body. Since then, Tony has continued to develop contingency plans for almost every possible scenario in order to defend earth.
Call to Adventure
This is the part of the story where the hero must decide whether or not they are a hero. Iron Man's official Call to Adventure is not becoming Iron Man - that is part of Tony's ordinary world - in fact, his official call takes place during The Avengers, where he would be asked to team up with a group of exceptional individuals to deal with beings from another galaxy.
When Loki sets his sights on a vulnerable earth and makes it possible for the Chitauri to attack, it is the first time that the group of heroes bands together to confront a threat that none of them could handle alone. Defeating that threat - an army controlled by Thanos - and fighting alongside his team became Tony's call.
Refusal of the Call
Just like other heroes of old, Tony refuses the call to greatness, choosing instead fall to back on what he has always done in the past: moving forward alone. He attempts to capture Loki at the beginning of The Avengers and refuses to get along with the other heroes that Nick Fury has gathered. He makes repeated jabs at the other people and puts everyone's life at risk by tempting Bruce Banner into becoming the Hulk.
Traditionally, emotions and reservations like fear and doubt prompt the hero to second guess themselves. In Tony, fear and doubt are two emotions that he has never struggled with. What does hold him back, however, is his arrogance. He doesn't yet believe that he needs a team around him to confront the enemies that lie ahead, which leads to a disastrous outcome for one of his friends.
Crossing the Threshold
Despite his negative attitude towards S.H.I.E.L.D, the other would-be Avengers and Nick Fury, Tony finally gives into the idea of the Avengers and swallows his pride to team up with the rest of the Avengers, but only after the death of his friend, Agent Coulson.
Loki killing Coulson set Tony down a path that would dictate the rest of his journey. He had decided to become an Avenger, a hero, and everything he does from this moment on illustrates that attitude.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Throughout the events of Iron Man 3, The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, Tony is faced with a myriad of tests to his strength as a hero and as a human being.
A common theme in this section of the story is dealing with the consequences of choosing the route of a hero. Tony's relationship with Pepper Potts declines rapidly as he continues to choose between his old ordinary life and the life of a hero. We see in many of the films that the "billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" Tony Stark has a singular weakness for Pepper Potts. He cares about her deeply, enough to sacrifice himself in order to save her, but still makes the altruistic decision of prioritizing the well being of the earth - and the world - before her.
Additionally, as a direct result of Tony answering the call, he becomes afflicted with severe anxiety, as depicted throughout the story in Iron Man 3. Thanos is Iron Man's nightmare and the evil that he feels directly responsible for stopping.
The events of Age of Ultron are directly correlated to Tony's compulsion toward protecting earth. He has terrors of the return of Thanos and his Chitauri army and decides that Ultron is needed in case any further threat should ever develop. During this time, Ultron becomes his biggest mistake to date, which causes him to become more vulnerable to the other Avengers than he ever has previously.
It is during these battles that he develops his relationship with his allies. Of course, in time, those friendships would be put to the test during the plot of Captain America: Civil War. Facing a sea of guilt and pressure from the United Nations, the Sokovia Accords are endorsed early on by Tony as a way to keep the Avengers - and himself - accountable for their actions. The regulation of the Avengers splits the team in half, and Tony spends the entirety of this movie fighting those he once fought alongside. At the conclusion, Tony and Steve Rogers part ways, but not until Steve tells Tony that he will be there should they ever need him. Despite the differences, Tony knows he has a lifelong ally in Captain America and the rest of disembarked Avengers roster.
Approach to the Inmost Cave
There are many different approaches to this part of the Hero's Journey. Some are literal and drawn out - Frodo and Sam's journey to Mordor - while some can be short and metaphorical - Harry Potter diving into the Chamber of Secrets.
During the opening scenes of Infinity War, Tony makes the leap into his Approach by choosing to stay on board the ship that has landed on earth. Despite the pleas of Pepper Potts asking him to return, Tony knows accepts the fact that he needs to confront Thanos, who has been the source of his inner turmoil since the Chitauri attacked earth. He wanted to do so on Thanos' ground, where other people on earth would not be put in danger.
After 18 movies of plot development, the final battle awaits Tony as they land on Titan, Thanos' homeworld. With the help of Doctor Strange, Spiderman, Nebula, Mantis and Star Lord, Iron Man faces off against Thanos in an attempt to separate himself from the Infinity Gauntlet.
The team nearly slips the gauntlet off his hand, until Star Lord, saddened by the loss of Gamora, attacks Thanos, pulling him out of the trance that Mantis had put him in. Thanos regains consciousness and stabs Tony in the abdomen.
It appears as though the final ordeal has been settled, leaving Iron Man in defeat. The moment that Thanos goes to finish Tony, Doctor Strange calls out and offers a trade of Tony's life for the Time Stone.
It is at this point that we move into the area of assumption, but that does mean that these predictions cannot carry weight. In fact, if we examine the previous steps of the hero's journey that were mentioned, we can find a likely path that the story will follow.
Tony has walked the line between tragic hero and willing hero, nearly succumbing to his own weaknesses more than once, but considering the way that the story has been set for Infinity War 2, it is likely that he will complete the entire cycle of the hero's journey successfully and avoid the pitfalls of tragic heroes like Darth Vader, Severus Snape and Hamlet.
Of course, he needs his "sword in the stone" if he is going to defeat someone as threatening as Thanos, who at this point, has already killed half of the universe. The decision by Doctor Strange, his willingness to sacrifice the stone despite saying earlier in the film that he would not hesitate to let everyone die to protect it, is Tony's reward; Strange mentioned prior to the big ordeal that out of the exhaustive number of possibilities, there was only one that allowed for the defeat of Thanos.
Strange is a meticulous, cunning man, who likely knew exactly how Tony would react to being defeated. If Strange saw that Tony was an integral part of defeating Thanos, then the stone would have been a small price to pay for the end game victory.
For his decision to face Thanos, Iron Man was gifted the ability to meet up with the original Avengers in order to make right what Thanos had ruined.
The Road Back
This is a pretty straight-forward development in the story. After being unsuccessful in stopping Thanos from achieving his goal, the only thing left to do is to try to reverse the effects of what has transpired. Typically, this happens after the hero has been successful in the previous battle, but one of the delineations that Iron Man's story takes is allowing him to lose the "big fight."
In doing this, it is likely that we will see Tony return to earth in some capacity to develop a game plan with the last of the remaining Avengers. The second Infinity War film will likely be centered on The Road Back, as well as the Resurrection part of the hero's journey.
In this point of the story, the hero is faced with the final trial of his arc. Tony's resurrection will be his return to earth and his comrades - most notably Captain America - and the final battle that will ensue as the Avengers attempt to reverse time in order to bring back the non-surviving half of the universe. (Perhaps with a Time Stone?)
This part of the journey will likely serve as the meat of what happens during the second Infinity War film. Theoretically, if the writers adhere to the hero's journey formula, we will likely see the end of Thanos' conquest by hand of Iron Man and friends.
This does not mean we will not have sacrifice, however; not all Marvel heroes have had the same type of arc as Iron Man. In fact, if we look at the arc development of a character like Captain America, the future is not looking as bright.
Return with the Elixir
When all is said and done, as the Avengers stand victorious over Thanos' body and the dead are returned back to life, Iron Man will have defeated the single most dangerous threat to their world. The hero always returns with the solution to the problems. The Avengers have, and always will be, the solution. It now falls on Tony to develop that solution after he is no longer able to protect earth.
Since Iron Man has always been a part of Tony's Ordinary World, it is unlikely that he will disembark from the Avengers altogether. Instead, it is more likely that he will take on a director role, similar to that of Nick Fury. With all of his experience - possibly with a few Infinity Stones - Iron Man will be able to retire from his hero work alongside Pepper Potts and instead train a new team of Avengers that he hopes will be better than himself.
There are a few reasons that the audience and storyline have been eased into this, beginning with the introduction of the Iron Spider suit. For many fans, the interaction between a hero and suit are a fundamental part of the MCU and a source of comedic relief. The new Spiderman hits all the same comedic beats without mimicking Iron Man's voice, making Peter Parker a worthy successor to fill the void once Iron Man hangs up the suit.
There is also the extremely advanced technology of Wakanda, which as we were told in Infinity War, dwarfs a large portion of the technology that even Tony Stark has been able to develop. The Avengers are in more than capable hands if they are relying on Nakia for tech development. It is even likely that we will some collaboration between the two Stark and Wakanda technology moving forward (possibly even in Infinity War 2).