Will RDJ & Co. Return For 'Avengers 3'?

We were warned that the latest franchise-colliding blockbuster from Marvel Studios, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, would shake up the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. And boy, did it deliver on that promise. Way back in October of last year, director Joss Whedon revealed to BuzzFeed that "the [Avengers] roster is altered by the finale of this film." Now that Ultron has finally debuted in theaters, we know he wasn't joking: Iron Man and Hawkeye both retired; the Hulk vanished without a trace; and Thor left Earth to seek answers about the Infinity Stones. That leaves only two of the original six still on the team: Captain American and Black Widow. So we have to ask: will Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, or Robert Downey, Jr., return for Avengers 3 — or, as it's known to be titled, Infinity War — Part 1?

The rest of the Avengers roster is now filled by newbies Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Vision, and War Machine. Ultron ends with these four newcomers being trained by Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff, so it stands to reason that this is the Avengers lineup that will be the focus of Infinity War — Part 1. This isn't all that surprising when you consider the source material: the Avengers roster has never been static, but rather a constantly-shifting entity. But is it really possible that Iron Man & Co. wouldn't even put in an appearance in Avengers 3? The four retirees — Robert Downey, Jr. especially — are some of the MCU's most famous faces, and the idea of an Avengers movie without them is just strange.

While the cast list for Part 1 (or Part 2, for that matter) has yet to be confirmed, we can look for answers in the most mundane of places: the actors' contracts.

Robert Downey, Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man)

Contract: Movie-to-movie

Fulfilled: 5 (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age Of Ultron)

Still to come: Captain America: Civil War

It's tough to predict what's next for Tony Stark when Downey, Jr. has one of the loosest contracts in the MCU. Unlike most of his cast members, he was never contracted for a set number of films, but rather signs up on a case-by-case basis. We already know we shouldn't hold our breath for an Iron Man 4 — Downey, Jr.'s appearance in Civil War is basically in lieu of that, and the actor himself has confirmed that another sequel isn't in the cards for his beloved character. "No, there's no plan for a fourth Iron Man ," he told Variety last September. At 50, Downey, Jr. is by far the oldest actor in the Avengers roster, so it's understandable if he would want to start winding down his involvement in the MCU. It's unfathomable to think of the climactic Infinity War — Part 2 without Iron Man, but I think we probably shouldn't hold our collective breath for a Tony Stark cameo in Part 1.

Chris Hemsworth (Thor)

Contract: 6 films

Fulfilled: 4 (Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age Of Ultron)

Still to come: Thor: Ragnarok

When Marvel Studios first contracted the then-unknown Hemsworth to portray their god of thunder, he agreed to a standard total of six films. His 2017 three-quel Ragnarok will bring the actor's total to five, which means he technically only has one film left in his contract, likely to be the Phase Three-ending Infinity War — Part 2. However, of the MCU actors nearing the end of their contracts, Hemsworth seems like the most likely candidate to re-up. Unlike Downey, Jr. or the fatigued Chris Evans (more on that in a bit), Hemsworth has really only had positive things to say about his role in the Marvel machine. And since Thor's quest for the Infinity Stones in Ragnarok will likely lead directly up to the events of Infinity War — Part 1, it's not unfathomable that the demigod might at least have a cameo in that film.

Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk)

Contract: 6 films

Fulfilled: 2 (The Avengers, Avengers: Age Of Ultron)

Still to come: ?

When Ruffalo stepped into Bruce Banner's shoes after The Incredible Hulk's Edward Norton declined to return to the role, his version of the Hulk nearly stole 2012's The Avengers from the bevy of superheroes around him. Fans have been clamoring for a solo Hulk movie ever since... a request that Marvel execs have frustratingly ignored. As a result, Ruffalo has the most films left in his contract out of any of the Avengers — which means an appearance in Part 1 is certainly not out of the question. If only we had a clearer picture of what Marvel's plans were with the character, it would be easier to predict his future.

Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye)

Contract: Movie-to-movie

Fulfilled: 3 (Thor, The Avengers, Avengers: Age Of Ultron)

Still to come: Captain America: Civil War

Both of the S.H.I.E.L.D. super-spy members of the Team (Renner and Scarlett Johansson) have case-by-case contracts like Downey, Jr. Frankly, Marvel was lucky to get Renner back at all after the terrible way his character was treated in the first Avengers film — and Whedon more than made up for it with the huge focus Hawkeye got in Ultron. But out of all the departing members of the team, Barton has perhaps the best reason for leaving: a beautiful wife, two young children, and another one on the way. While his role in Civil War tells us that he'll be drawn back into the conflict sooner than he thought, I wouldn't expect many more appearances from him other than an assumed role in Infinity War — Part 2.

Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow)

Contract: Movie-to-movie

Fulfilled: 4 (Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age Of Ultron)

Still to come: Captain America: Civil War

As one of the two holdovers from the old Avengers lineup, it's pretty much a given that we'll be seeing Black Widow in both Infinity War — Part 1 and Part 2. The only question that remains is: When is Marvel going to give Johansson her own solo movie, dammit? Lucy proved that the world will line up to see Johansson kick butt in her own action movie, so why isn't the MCU capitalizing on her appeal?

Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America)

Contract: 6 films

Fulfilled: 4 (Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age Of Ultron)

Still to come: Captain America: Civil War

Now this one is interesting. As one of the two mainstays on the Avengers (along with Black Widow) you would assume that Captain America would be pretty much a guarantee for both Infinity War movies. But you'll notice that, after Civil War, Evans will only have one Marvel film left on his contract. And the actor has made it more than clear that he doesn't plan on extending that deal. Rather, he's going to take a break when his contract his up and focus on directing: "I can’t see myself pursuing acting strictly outside of what I’m contractually obligated to do," he told Variety in March of last year.

So will Captain America sit out on Infinity War — Part 1 for some reason before rejoining the fight in Part 2? Actually, it seems likely that the reality will be much more tragic. MCU supporting player Sebastian Stan, who plays Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier, has a nine-movie contract — which doesn't even include his first appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger, since he didn't sign the contract until after that film. So he still has a staggering eight films left, including the upcoming Civil War. Why is this important? In the comics, Bucky takes up the mantle of Captain America after his good friend Steve Rogers is assassinated by the villain Crossbones. And which villain was introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier? You guessed it: Crossbones, played by Frank Grillo, who will be reprising his role in Civil War.

"Cap" fans better brace themselves, because it's seeming more and more likely that Steve Rogers will be the first major casualty of the MCU (no, Quicksilver doesn't count as "major"), after which the Winter Soldier will assume the costume and title of his fallen friend.

Images: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (6)