War Machine's Appearance In Secret Invasion Will Kick Off The MCU's Armor Wars

Don Cheadle has been part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for 13 years now and finally, all of that time spent talking to floating tennis balls and acting in the presumably sweaty War Machine suit is about to pay off ... in about another year or so. Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes is on the verge of emerging from Tony Stark's shadow as the lead of his own movie. "Armor Wars" will finally give us the chance to dig into the life of the U.S. Air Force officer, as he navigates being a hero in the wake of his friend's heartbreaking sacrifice.

While the details of the story remain pretty vague, Cheadle did reveal what excites him about the project during an interview for the January 2023 issue of Total Film:

"I don't think we've ever really dug into him, and now it's an opportunity to really explore his emotional life, his interior life, his relationships, his trajectory, where he wants to go, what his challenges are."

As Tony Stark's best friend and most trusted ally, Rhodey occasionally got some time near the spotlight, trying his best to keep the billionaire with a god complex on the right track. But as the MCU expanded, there was only so much room to explore Rhodey's arc in movies like "Captain America: Civil War" and "Avengers: Endgame" — which is a shame, because many of those titles included seismic changes being made in his life. "Armor Wars" is where we finally get to see some of that impact in action. But as usual, don't expect that to mean a pared-down story. 

While the film will focus in on the life of James Rhodes, there's still a bigger picture that needs unpacking: what will become of Tony Stark's tech?

Rhodey's next chapter

Few details have been revealed about the plot of "Armor Wars," or even the trajectory of Rhodey's arc, but knowing that the film takes inspiration from the comic storyline of the same name does provide a few helpful hints. Should it follow directly in the footsteps of the comic, Rhodey will be kept very busy by his friend's legacy, trying to prevent Tony's tech from falling into the wrong hands. Even so, he will still be the heartbeat of the story, even as it grapples with Tony's mistakes. In Cheadle's words, "Obviously, you have to pay off the Marvel stuff and be in the lore of the mythology of the character and the MCU in general. But trying to really build out this character and make him a three-dimensional dude ... is what the goal [is]. So I'm excited about that."

Before we get to "Armor Wars," there's another Cheadle-starring MCU project on the way: "Secret Invasion." The upcoming series sees Samuel L. Jackson taking center stage as hardened secret agent Nick Fury, the former S.H.I.E.L.D. director who once again has his hands full with alien activity. In the series, Fury learns that a radical group of Skrulls has been secretly infiltrating Earth and, given their shape-shifting powers, could be literally anybody in the world — he should know, he once had a Skrull assume his identity!

So where does Rhodey fit into this narrative? According to Cheadle, the events of "Secret Invasion" will be the spark that sets "Armor Wars" into motion. "I'm in 'Secret Invasion,'" Cheadle explained. "So I'm in Sam Jackson's show. There's a part of that, that kicks off what happens in 'Armor Wars.'"

Where Armor Wars and Secret Invasion collide

It has previously been reported that the series will see Nick Fury at odds with his old Avenging ally. Might this have anything to do with the dangerous Stark tech that's briefly glimpsed in the "Secret Invasion" trailer? It certainly wouldn't be the first time that Nick Fury was pro-hoarding dangerous weapons, much to his ally's dismay. And with shapeshifting aliens invading Earth, you can see why being in control of Tony's very advanced technology might be a big concern for War Machine.

If that's the path things are taking, then it's not hard to see where "Secret Invasion" might bleed into the events of "Armor Wars." One story leading directly into another has long been the MCU's approach — though that felt less true for Phase Four. Now that Phase Five is kicking off, it makes sense that all of the connective tissue is falling back into place. Reflecting on the ever-expanding nature of the MCU, Cheadle said, "It can go on and on and on ... Hopefully it doesn't get spread too thin."

He's not alone in that concern — last year's ceaseless batch of MCU films and TV didn't always inspire confidence in the future of the storytelling approach — but the actor seemed confident that it would all work out, so long as everyone's focused on the same goal. He added, "There's still some quality control and not just trying to expand for expansion's sake. There's a clear idea about the storytelling and what you're trying to accomplish with every iteration."

"Secret Invasion" is set to arrive in the spring of 2023, while "Armor Wars" has yet to set a release date.