WARNING! Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame are ahead. Read at your own peril!
Much like its predecessor did when it left more than half of everyone's favorite heroes dusted to the great beyond, Avengers: Endgame is leaving Marvel fans emotionally gutted. While the film is a great deal more restrained than Avengers: Infinity War when it came to killing off Avengers, the few deaths that do occur are devastating enough on their own. And, the death that has sparked perhaps the most passionate response from fans, is unsurprisingly, the death of the man who started it all — Iron Man's Tony Stark.
"I think in a way Tony Stark was meant to die, and he always knew he was going to die because he could never reconcile that notion in himself of not protecting the universe," co-director Joe Russo told Entertainment Weekly. "I think that was always a spark in him, always seeing that there was danger coming on the horizon and that someday, he and that danger would meet."
When you look back on Tony's journey throughout all the Marvel films, his being unable to resist helping "avenge" the Earth in times of need is a constant theme. It's also a big strain on his relationship with Pepper Potts, who is always frightened that she'll lose him to the various dangers that present themselves to him. In a character-defining scene from Iron Man, the two have an argument where Pepper tells him that she doesn't want to be part of what could possibly kill him, but he convinces her to stay. "I shouldn't be alive unless it's for a reason," he tells her. "I finally know what I have to do and I know in my heart that it's right."
That line of thinking is present in all of Tony's actions throughout the years, and it's why he's eager to be part of the Avengers, so much so that he provides the funds for all their operations and builds Avengers Tower. While we all know that Steve Rogers has the pep talks down to a science, Tony's unwavering dedication to fighting the good fight is what makes him a central motivating member of the team. It's also what keeps him putting on the suit, no matter how much of a "normal life" he attempts to have.
"Stark is the most formidable of all of them," Joe said. "Because of his heart."
In Infinity War, right before Thanos's children touch down in New York City, Tony and Pepper talk about the possibility of having children. Pepper tells her husband that if he wanted kids, he wouldn't have made another arc reactor because he doesn't need it. Tony responds that he's just "trying to protect us." Of course, moments later, the safety measure proves useful when Thanos and company invade Earth. But the argument itself is an example of how hard it has always been for Tony to let go of his hero ways, which is why it's no shock that he goes back to them in Endgame.
Even the fact that he's finally achieved the ideal family life with Pepper and their daughter Morgan, can't keep Tony from figuring out how to successfully time travel using Pym Particles when Scott Lang presents the challenge to the Avengers. And so he suits up once again, this time determined not to lose what he's gained in the five-year time jump and save the world for his family.
In the end, Tony does manage to save the world, but it's at the cost of his own life. He dies on the battlefield with his wife, Pepper, best friend, Rhodey, and protégé, Peter Parker, at his side. His use of the Infinity Stones to reverse Thanos's snap burns his body with gamma radiation and leaves him unable to speak, but the Russo brothers revealed that it was actually Robert Downey Jr.'s choice to have Tony go out without any last words. (Aside from declaring, "I am Iron Man." right before he snapped his fingers, of course.)
"That was his instinct saying, 'I'm going to be truthful to what this situation is,'" Joe explained. "He just got destroyed by this glove. We saw what it did to the Hulk. We saw what it did to Thanos. It would incapacitate [Tony]. Not always in life do you get the moment at your death where you're lucid and can have a really cohesive speech about what your life meant to you."
"That's why he recorded a post-death message, so he didn't have to talk at his death!" Anthony Russo joked.
It's also a fitting end for the usually verbose hero. He doesn't have to say anything to his loved ones, his actions show them just how much he cared about them. He exchanged his life for their peace and he would do it again with no hesitation. That perseverance is what drew fans to the "genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" in the first place, as well as his obvious modesty. And it's why we can accept this ending to his story, no matter how heartbreaking it may be. Tony Stark finally met the danger that was always on the horizon and he took the one in 14 million chance to bring it down. That's why he is, and will always be, our Iron Man.
Read more of the Russos brothers' interview with Entertainment Weekly here.