Avengers: Endgame is packed full of references to previous Marvel movies, but one of the most telling Easter eggs arrives right at the end. The return of Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins) might just be a touching cameo, or it could be hinting at a big part of Marvel’s plans for what comes next after Avengers: Endgame.
Warning: Massive Avengers: Endgame spoilers ahead.
If you’re still reading this I seriously hope you’ve already seen Avengers: Endgame because I’m about to spoil one of movie’s biggest moments: Tony Stark dies.
It happens during the final battle after Iron Man uses the Infinity Stones to snap Thanos and his army out of existence. The gamma radiation released by the stones kills Tony almost immediately, and one of the final scenes shows a touching funeral that gathers a lot of familiar faces, some of whom don’t show up in Endgame otherwise.
That includes fan favorites like Nick Fury and Aunt May, but Endgame also throws in one unexpected character with Harley Keener. You may remember him from Iron Man 3 as the little boy who crossed paths with Stark. Well, he’s back, at least for one brief moment in the latest Marvel movie.
For anyone who’s been paying close attention this should come as a huge surprise. IMDb tweeted out the casting news back in 2017, though the announcement may have overestimated Keener’s role in Avengers: Endgame.
Now that we’ve established what Harley Keener is doing at Tony Stark’s funeral, let’s dive into what this could mean for Marvel’s future. With Iron Man dead and gone, it’s not unreasonable to assume that someone will take up that mantle. Could it be Harley? It’s a tempting thought, but a quick look to the comics suggests that’s probably not the plan.
In 2015, Marvel introduced Ironheart, a 15-year-old genius named Riri Williams who builds an Iron Man-style suit of her own and eventually earns Tony Stark’s support in her quest to become a superhero. Almost as soon as the character appeared in Marvel’s comics, fans began to speculate that she could eventually replace Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, that seems more likely than ever, which probably means Harley won’t be taking on the role.
The one big question, however, is who in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will become Ironheart. The most obvious answer is that future movies will simply introduce Riri as a brand new character, either in her own standalone origin story or with a cameo/post-credits appearance in some other MCU movie.
Until that happens, it’s possible that Harley (or, more likely, Rhodey) will step into the role temporarily, but it’s probably only a matter of time before Marvel movie fans are introduced to a character that comic book readers have already known for years.
Avengers: Endgame is in theaters now.