‘Avengers: Endgame’ director explains why Iron Man died and not Captain America

Avengers Endgame
Image via Marvel Studios

In the run-up to Avengers: Endgame‘s 2019 release, many MCU fans assumed that either or both of Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America wouldn’t be there to see the credits. Both Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans had previously indicated that this was their MCU swansong, and what better high to go out on than this jaw-dropping finale?

Those predictions were fairly accurate, with the apocalyptic final battle concluding with Tony Stark choosing to make the ultimate sacrifice. This left Cap with a touching coda, traveling back in time to grow old alongside the love of his life Peggy Carter. But why did it go down this way?

Director Joe Russo has gone into depth on the choice in an interview with Deadline, explaining exactly why Stark died and Rogers got his happily-ever-after:

If you think of Captain America as a character, you go ‘Okay, Captain America dying is fairly obvious,’ right? That is, you know, something he would do based on the character. You know, this is a guy who, you know, offered to be a guinea pig in a science experiment. He’s intrinsically a hero. Like there’s not a lot of complexity there. It might be emotionally impactful because you like him. You know he’s a very likable character, but that’s not necessarily the most compelling arc. Tony Stark is a character who was supposed to die. If you watch Iron Man, the first five minutes of that film, he should have died, but he didn’t, he got captured and he has an ego, right?

Russo continued:

That first movie’s about the subjugation of his ego in order for him to be a hero. But that ego then fuels him, and at times it competes with this idea of him being a hero. That seems like a more interesting arc to us to take a character who had an ego because to die for others, you have to defeat the rights of that. It seemed like the more compelling arc to us that it would be Stark who died. So that it would be a richer more complex arc, and that’s why we chose him.

The storytelling logic is difficult to argue with. Since Endgame, there have been periodic rumors that either Stark or Rogers will return to the MCU. With the new focus on multiversal possibilities, this could indeed happen (and sort of did in What If…?). After that awesome Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Super Bowl trailer, we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see variants of Captain America and Iron Man pop up there.

But even if that happens, I doubt Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans will ever return. Both seem all too aware that they went out on an incredible high in Avengers: Endgame and they don’t want to spoil that success.