The impact that the MCU has had on global pop culture has been unlike anything seen before. In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, Robert Downey Jr. reflected on his time spent in the franchise playing Tony Stark aka Iron Man. According to the actor, the MCU was following in the footsteps of Star Wars but exerted its influence over a longer time period, where the greatest joy for him was being able to experience the phenomenon from the inside.
"The greatest joy was being able to experience it by playing it... It was all there in the universe to begin with, and that's why I think the Marvel comics have been so numinous to kids and grownups and people. There's this love for it because it speaks to the world but it also speaks to the democratic American projected dream, which is far more complicated than that (laughs), but there's an ideal there that's always been trying to express itself, and strangely, in some ways the best of it has been expressed in these little two-hour segments of entertainment."
More than any other actor, the MCU has come to be identified with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. So much so that his exit from the franchise in Avengers: Endgame was seen by many as the end of an era for the MCU. While the actor has stayed firm in his stance that his time spent playing Iron Man is now at an end, he has always spoken fondly of his memories from that time period.
Going forward, Downey also appears prepared to use his lessons learned watching the MCU unfold in other endeavors. Previously, the actor had expressed his desire to create a franchise out of the Sherlock Holmes movies that he stars in and produces, and how the blueprint for that franchise is going to be the one created by the MCU.
"I do think that the decade of tutelage and observation, what we were both able to have with Marvel, watching them build out and see all the opportunities, was invaluable. It was like a master class. And they really did know what they were doing and they had this tight-knit group of people from [the] jump locked into a vision that enables them to broaden" the comics into 23 hit movies (so far)."
While Downey appears prepared to move on from the MCU, fans are having a harder time letting go. That was why there was a flurry of excitement earlier when it was rumored that the upcoming Black Widow standalone movie might feature a cameo by Tony Stark. Even if that rumor turns out to be true, the cameo will most likely comprise unused footage from previous films rather than anything new.
Iron Man's journey in the MCU ended with Downey's exit, but his franchise will continue in some manner, with the Armor Wars series on Disney+ being planned with Don Cheadle reprising his role as James Rhodes aka War Machine.