While there have been a number of live-action Spider-Men, Batmen, and Supermen within my lifetime, there has only been one Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. helped kickstart the MCU with Iron Man’s origin story in 2008, and brought this genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist to life in a way that very few, if any others could have. The character was growing to be more than just a rich guy with time to kill and money to spare, Tony became a true leader of the Avengers and a mentor to the younger generation of heroes, mostly Spider-Man (Tom Holland). With Tony’s death in Avengers: Endgame, the MCU has some pretty large shoes to fill.
While Spider-Man: Far From Home saw Peter Parker deal with the loss of Tony and grapple with potentially becoming the “next Iron Man,” there’s another young hero in the Marvel universe that is even better positioned to take over the mantle – Riri Williams a.k.a Ironheart. Introduced in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the MCU’s Riri Williams is played by Dominique Thorne, a young actor whose previous work includes Judas and the Black Messiah and If Beale Street Could Talk. Thorne will reprise her role as the lead of the Disney+ series, Ironheart, which is currently set to premiere in 2023.
In the comics, Riri Williams’ relationship with Tony Stark is similar to that of Peter Parker in the MCU. He seeks her out while she’s a student at MIT after learning that she built her own version of the Iron Man suit, and encourages her to use her skills to become a hero. She fights on his side during the second Civil War, and continues Stark’s legacy after he falls into a coma.
Even though the MCU’s version of Ironheart likely won’t meet her namesake (unless things get weird in the multiverse), Robert Downey Jr. still had words of encouragement to offer Thorne in the real world. Toward the end of filming Wakanda Forever, a castmate of Thorne’s on Ironheart was able to put her in contact with the actor. Thorne told ScreenRant that RDJ had “beautiful words to say about how much he believes that Riri Williams is and should always be her own person, her own thing. That this legacy is headed in the right direction and all the beautiful encouraging things that you hope to hear from the Iron Man himself.”
As the MCU shifts its focus to the next generation of heroes, it’s nice to see an original Avenger like RDJ taking the time to wish her well. Taking on the mantle of such a prolific character, both within and outside of the MCU, is a daunting task, especially with all of the hate that other female characters in the MCU have received lately. While it’s clear from her performance in Wakanda Forever that Thorne didn’t need RDJ’s encouragement to bring Riri to life and make the character her own, I’m sure it was comforting to have his support before filming her solo series. Although it’s currently unclear how much the idea of Iron Man’s legacy will factor into Riri’s journey in Ironheart, or if it will at all, hopefully you can rest easy knowing that this next-gen genius has RDJ’s support.