'Iron Man 3' doesn't even hit theaters for a few more months, but here we are, already discussing 'Iron Man 4,' 'The Avengers 2' and other Marvel films that don't even have a script yet. More specifically, here we are discussing Robert Downey Jr.'s involvement in the future of the Marvel movie universe, as the beloved actor's contract with the studio is about to expire. So that brings us to the big question: will Original Recipe Tony Stark be featured in future Marvel movies or will the character be recast as Downey Jr. goes to on to other things?

Speaking with Empire (via Comic Book Movie), the 'Iron Man' star did an excellent job of answering the question without actually answering it (one of those special skills that movie stars are so good at). Here's what he had to say:

Let's just say that the only thing I ever let go of had claw marks in it. There's a little bit of soul reclamation going on. I feel that the first time I played Tony, I did it best. Sorry! The affinity with Tony now is: how do you sustain something? I'm not stupid, I like to play ball, I love the company, I love the character, and the business side of things, I'm not too picky about that either.

In other words, he's worried about diminishing returns but wouldn't be opposed to returning if the stars align (or if Marvel writes the proper number on a check). It's a very cleverly worded non-answer, worthy of the quick witted Tony Stark. However, he was also quick to acknowledge that getting out of the role before audiences get tired of him would be a good thing for both himself and the fans:

It would probably be the best thing in the world for me. You know, ego...but sometimes ego just has to be smashed. Let's see what happens. I take the audience very seriously - I feel bad when I see folks doing movies and the audience is like, 'Don't do that anymore.' I don't have to overstay my welcome...

What will happen if he leaves the role? Recasting of course! Although Downey Jr. will be forever linked to Iron Man, it's a character who is bigger than any single actor and it will carry on with someone else inside the armor. Look at James Bond: Sean Connery may be the 007, but many actors have played the part and played it well. As Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige says:

Tony's going to carry on. Avengers 2 already has a release date!

[Ed. note: You'll notice he says "Tony" will carry on and not "Robert"...]

'Iron Man 3' opens on May 3rd.

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