Could Iron Man Get Scrapped in ‘Avengers’ Sequel?

'Age of Ultron' writer/director Joss Whedon reveals that real danger could lead to real death for one of Marvel's big names.

The “Avengers” sequel is by far the film comic fans are most anticipating, although writer/director Joss Whedon has just given them a reason to pause in a new interview with Entertainment Weekly. According to Whedon, 2015′s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” could be the swan song for one — or more — of Earth’s mightiest heroes.

“I’m always joking about that,” Whedon responded when asked if an Avenger would bite the dust in the upcoming film, before adding an evasive, “Um … maybe?” Of course, Whedon can’t reveal a major plot point for a movie that hasn’t even begun production — and a character death is the most major of all potential plot points — but even if the cameras have yet to roll, Whedon has finished writing the film. If one actor’s about to find him or herself out of a job, then Whedon knows it — although killing a character isn’t a decision the writer makes alone.

“I’d have to have a really good reason, a really great sequence for [Marvel executives] to go, ‘We’ll cut off a potential franchise, that’s fine!’ They know as any good studio does, that without some stakes, some real danger, how involved can we get? We don’t just rule it out across the board, but neither is the mission statement ‘Who can we kill?’ We try to build the story organically and go, ‘How hard can we make it on these people?’ You go to the movies to see people you love suffer — that’s why you go to the movies.”

Marvel’s built its universe on a handful of tent-pole characters whose franchises have formed the majority of the studio’s filmography. Captain America and Thor will both see sequels in the next year, and Mark Ruffalo’s turn as the Hulk feels franchise-worthy. Black Widow and Hawkeye don’t have similar buzz, but that could change if Scarlett Johansson turns in another scene-stealing performance in 2014′s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Hawkeye’s also rumored to have a bigger part to play in the team’s follow-up film, so it’s possible he could be primed for a solo film in the vein of his current award-winning comic book series.

That leaves just one Avenger unaccounted for, and with the decisive end of “Iron Man 3″ and Robert Downey Jr.’s increasing profile and pay, it sure seems like Tony Stark could be on the chopping block in a future “Avengers” installment. The actor signed up for two “Avengers” sequels back in June, ensuring that the armored Avenger will at least be around in some form until “Avengers 3,” but all bets appear to be off after that. Judging by the billion-dollar box office of “Iron Man 3,” fans have a lot invested in Tony Stark. If Whedon wants audiences to sweat during whatever epic brawl is coming our way, putting Stark in danger — and actually following through — would surely get a visceral reaction from fans.

Even if Stark bites the dust in the incredibly distant “Avengers 3,” that won’t necessarily mean the end for the character. The big kill in “Avengers” last year was Agent Coulson, who gave up his life fighting Loki on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. Now actor Clark Gregg is back as Coulson and starring in ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” television show. If future Marvel deaths are followed with a Band-Aid and a steady starring role like that, then more actors might start lining up to get the ax.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” hits theaters in 2015.