|Marvel Cinematic Universe character|
|First appearance||Iron Man (2008)|
|Voiced by||Don Cheadle (What If...?)|
|Full name||James Rhodes|
|Title||Colonel (U.S. Air Force)|
|Weapon||War Machine armor|
James Rhodes is a fictional character originally portrayed by Terrence Howard and subsequently by Don Cheadle in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) media franchise, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. He is initially depicted as a U.S. Air Force officer who is the best friend of Tony Stark. A skilled pilot and tactician, he becomes involved in Stark's heroic efforts, later gaining his own suit of Iron Man armor and taking on the alias War Machine.
Rhodes is recruited into the Avengers, joining them during the battle against Ultron. When the Avengers face internal conflict over the Sokovia Accords, Rhodes sides with Stark. In the ensuing struggle, he is accidentally injured by Vision and temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. When Thanos invades, Rhodes joins his former team to defend Earth and ultimately survives the Blip. Rhodes continues to serve as an Avenger, participating in the time travel mission to undo Thanos's actions. With trillions of lives successfully restored, Rhodes participates in the final and victorious battle against Thanos; a conflict that costs Stark his life. At some point, a shape-shifting Skrull called Raava hijacks Rhodes' likeness and holds him prisoner. Raava uses Rhodes to gain influence with the president of the United States until Nick Fury kills her and Rhodes is then freed.
Rhodes is a central MCU character, having appeared in eight films as of 2023. He also appears in the miniseries The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021), and is expected to be the primary protagonist in Armor Wars, currently in production.
An alternate version of Rhodes appears in the animated series What If...? (2021), with Cheadle reprising the role. Cheadle also portrays the Skrull Raava impersonating Rhodes in the miniseries Secret Invasion (2023).
Character creation, characterization, and appearances
The character of James "Rhodey" Rhodes first appeared in Iron Man #118, in January 1979. In Iron Man #170, in May 1983, Rhodes became Iron Man for a time. Other variations of the character debuted later, with an up-armored Rhodes becoming known as War Machine in Iron Man #282, in July 1992, and as Iron Patriot in Gambit #13, in May 2013. In the mid-2000s, with a number of movies having been made from other Marvel properties licensed to other studios, Kevin Feige realized that Marvel still owned the rights to the core members of the Avengers, which included those from Iron Man's supporting characters. Feige, a self-professed "fanboy", envisioned creating a shared universe just as creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had done with their comic books in the early 1960s.
Terrence Howard was contracted to play Rhodes in the 2008 film Iron Man. Howard was signed on before any of the other major actors and was the highest paid actor in the film. Favreau cast Howard because he felt he could play War Machine in a sequel. Howard prepared for the role by visiting Nellis Air Force Base on March 16, 2007, where he ate with the pilots and observed HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and F-22 Raptors.
Howard and his father are Iron Man fans, partly because Rhodes was one of the few black superheroes when he was a child. He was a Downey fan since he saw him in Weird Science, and the two competed physically on set.
Entertainment Weekly reported that Howard was offered a 50 to 80 percent pay cut for Iron Man 2, though it said that it was unclear whether Howard turned down the role or whether Marvel withdrew their offer. Following the contract dispute between Howard and Marvel Studios, Don Cheadle was cast to portray War Machine, and Cheadle has portrayed the character for the rest of his MCU appearances. Isaac Perlmutter, who had previously overseen the development of Marvel Studios, was alleged to have been removed from that position in part due to replacing Howard with Cheadle on the grounds that black people "look the same". A person with knowledge of his creative approach said, however, that Perlmutter "neither discriminates nor cares about diversity, he just cares about what he thinks will make money".
Cheadle only had a few hours to accept the role and did not even know what storyline Rhodes would undergo. He commented that he is a comic book fan, but had not previously participated in comics-themed films due to the scarcity of black superheroes. Cheadle said he thought Iron Man was a robot before the first film came out.
A friend of Stark's and the liaison between Stark Industries and the United States Air Force in the department of acquisitions, specifically weapons development. He holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force and acts as the military's chief liaison to Stark Industries' weapons division, and is initially oblivious to Obadiah Stane's actions. While Rhodes is roguish in the comics after he met Stark, his earlier disciplinarian character forms a dynamic with Stark, and he is unsure whether or not Stark's actions are acceptable. "Rhodey is completely disgusted with the way Tony has lived his life, but at a certain point he realizes that perhaps there is a different way", Howard said. "Whose life is the right way; is it the strict military life, or the life of an independent?"
On how he approached his character in Iron Man 2, Cheadle stated "I go, what's the common denominator here? And the common denominator was really his friendship with Tony, and that's what we really tried to track in this one. How is their friendship impacted once Tony comes out and owns 'I am Iron Man'?". Cheadle said his suit was 23 kilograms (50 lb) of metal, and that he could not touch his face while wearing it.
In Iron Man 3, Rhodes operates the redesigned/upgraded War Machine armor, taking on an American flag-inspired color scheme similar to the Iron Patriot armor from the comics. Feige said of Rhodes and the armor, "The notion in the movie is that a red, white and blue suit is a bold statement, and it's meant to be. With Rhodey, he's very much the foil to Tony's eccentricities, and in this one you get to see this and be reminded of the trust and friendship between them in that great Shane Black buddy-cop fashion." In the film, the president asks Rhodey to take up the moniker "Iron Patriot," and don the red, white, and blue suit, in order to be the government's "American hero" in response to the events in The Avengers.
Cheadle called Rhodes' appearance in Captain America: Civil War a "bit more intense and pivotal" compared to his previous appearances. Following his paralysis during the events of Civil War, Rhodes is given an apparatus by Stark to walk again, although according to Cheadle, in Avengers: Infinity War, Rhodes is reluctant to don his War Machine armor and rejoin the Avengers due to his injury. Cheadle believed that Rhodes is "negotiating this reunion and his rejoining this team". He also explained that Rhodes's relationship with Stark "deepened" from his accident, saying, "I think Tony feels somewhat responsible and culpable in a way. But again, he's always had my back in a way that only he could really have".
In Avengers: Endgame, Cheadle described Rhodes's newfound belonging as an Avenger as "not so much straddling one foot in the military. He's much more on the side of The Avengers than he was prior." This is reflected on Rhodes's more instinctive and realist worldview in the midst of encountering the fantastic, with Cheadle explaining, "He's definitely got some 'what-the-eff-is-happening' [attitude,] more than maybe the rest of them do, given his background. But it's a trial by fire, and he's quickly adapted to what [the threat] is, rather than what he wishes it were."
Early screenplay drafts written by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and David Hayter for New Line Cinema, pitted Iron Man against his father Howard Stark, who becomes War Machine instead of Rhodes.[better source needed] Artist Phil Saunders had created concept art for an unused "hall of armor" scene in the film which included the War Machine armor.
- James Rhodes is introduced in Iron Man, and is portrayed by Terrence Howard.
- In Iron Man 2, Rhodes is under pressure from the United States government to convince Tony Stark to relinquish ownership of the Iron Man armor. When Stark drunkenly endangers civilian lives, Rhodes is forced to don an Iron Man suit to intervene during the confrontation to which Stark says: "You wanna be the War Machine, take your shot."[better source needed] Rhodes's borrowed armor is subsequently retrofitted by Justin Hammer with various weapon enhancements at an Air Force base, but the 'ex-wife' missile proves to be woefully below standards, and the War Machine armor itself is briefly taken over by remote control and used to attack Stark before Pepper Potts and Natasha Romanoff break the connection controlling him. Once freed, Rhodes fights alongside Stark to defeat Ivan Vanko.
- In Iron Man 3, Rhodes is promoted to full colonel and his armor is painted red, white, and blue.[better source needed] According to director Shane Black, the patriotic color scheme and name was chosen by the U.S. government in response to the events of The Avengers. Rhodes states that the U.S. government deemed "War Machine" to be too militaristic and that "Iron Patriot" tested well with focus groups. The armor is briefly stolen and used by Eric Savin to abduct President Ellis, but Rhodes is able to recover the armor at the film's conclusion and save the President.
- In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Rhodes operates the black and silver War Machine armor, aiding the Avengers in the final battle against Ultron, and joins the team with Vision, Sam Wilson, and Wanda Maximoff.
- In Captain America: Civil War, Rhodes sides with Stark when the Avengers are presented with the Sokovia Accords for the government to regulate their actions. This puts him at odds with Steve Rogers's team of Scott Lang, Clint Barton, Bucky Barnes, Maximoff, and Wilson. Stark's team of Rhodes, Romanoff, Peter Parker, Vision, and T'Challa confront Rogers' team in Germany. However, Rhodes gets injured by Vision by accident and is paralyzed in his legs.
- In Avengers: Infinity War, Rhodes stands against Ross and the Sokovia Accords and goes with Rogers and the others to defend Vision in Wakanda. After Thanos completes the Infinity Gauntlet, Rhodes is one of the few survivors.
- Rhodes appears in the mid-credits scene in Captain Marvel, along with Rogers, Romanoff, and Bruce Banner where they meet Carol Danvers.
- In Avengers: Endgame, Rhodes reunites with Stark and travels to space with the team to Thanos' garden planet to find out that he destroyed the Stones. In 2023, he travels via quantum realm with Nebula to Morag in an alternate timeline to get the Power Stone. After the Blip is reversed, an alternate version of Thanos arrives and attacks the Avengers Headquarters, causing Rhodes, Rocket, and Banner to be trapped, but they are rescued by Lang and then he joins the final fight against Thanos. Afterwards, Rhodes attends Stark's funeral.
- In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Rhodes attends a ceremony in Washington D.C., in which Wilson gives Rogers' shield to the U.S. government and talks with Wilson afterwards.
- An alternate timeline version of Rhodes appears in the Disney+ animated series What If...?.
- Rhodes will return and headline Armor Wars.
Fictional character biography
James Rhodes served as a pilot and officer in the United States Air Force, flying 138 combat missions before becoming a liaison between the military's Department of Acquisitions and Stark Industries, where he became close friends with Tony Stark.
Iron Man and War Machine
In 2009, when Stark is kidnapped by the Ten Rings, Rhodes personally leads the mission to rescue him. When the then-unidentified Iron Man armor encounters U.S. military aircraft, Rhodes deduces that it is Stark, and described the resulting damage to the media as the result of a training exercise. After Stark reveals his identity as Iron Man, Rhodes faces pressure from the United States Congress and the military to take possession of the armor. In 2010, as Stark descends into reckless behavior, Rhodes feels he had no choice but to take the armor. After a physical confrontation with Stark, Rhodes takes possession of an Iron Man suit and relinquishes it to the military. Justin Hammer modifies it with new weapons to rebrand Rhodes as War Machine. Rhodes then helps Stark fend off an attack from Ivan Vanko and an army of drones.
In 2012, Rhodes is rebranded as the Iron Patriot. He works directly for the President of the United States and is tasked with tracking down a terrorist called the Mandarin. Rhodes discovers that the Mandarin is a ruse created by Aldrich Killian by hiring actor Trevor Slattery to portray the role. Killian captures Rhodes and steals the Iron Patriot Armor, using it to kidnap the president. Rhodes escapes, aiding Stark in fighting Killian's army of Extremis soldiers, and rescues the president.
Joining the Avengers
In 2015, Rhodes attends the Avengers' party at Avengers Tower, and later is brought by Nick Fury and Maria Hill to assist in their fight against Ultron in Sokovia. Afterwards, he is recruited to become a new member of the Avengers, alongside Wanda Maximoff, Vision, and Sam Wilson at the new Avengers Compound led by Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff.
In 2016, Rhodes is present at the Avengers Compound when U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross arrives and talks to the team about the Sokovia Accords. Rhodes agrees with Stark regarding the United Nations overseeing the team and signs the Accords. In Bucharest, he assists in the apprehension of Rogers, Wilson, Bucky Barnes, and T'Challa. Later, he joins Stark, Romanoff, Peter Parker, T'Challa, and Vision to intercept Rogers, Barnes, Wilson, Clint Barton, Scott Lang, and Maximoff at Leipzig/Halle airport in Germany, where a fight ensues. After Rogers and Barnes escape on a Quinjet, Rhodes is accidentally hit by Vision whose blast incapacitates his suit, causing him to fall. Stark and Wilson are unable to catch him and he lands on the ground, fracturing his spinal column and leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He is taken to the medical facility at the Avengers Compound and is able to move slowly after Stark designed bionic supports for his legs as he underwent physical therapy.
By 2018, Rhodes has become disillusioned with the Accords, and disobeys orders from Ross to arrest Rogers, Romanoff, Wilson, and Maximoff after they return with Vision to the Avengers Compound. He then joins Rogers and the others to Wakanda, where he helps fight against the Outriders. When Thanos arrives, Rhodes is incapacitated by Thanos. After Thanos completes the Infinity Gauntlet, Rhodes survives the Blip. Shortly after returning to the Avengers Compound, Rhodes reports to Rogers and Romanoff that Fury's pager stopped transmitting a signal.
Time Heist and aftermath
Twenty-three days later, Rhodes is reunited with Stark and then joins Rogers, Romanoff, Bruce Banner, Thor, Rocket, Carol Danvers, and Nebula on a mission to the Garden, where they confront Thanos. They learn that he destroyed the Infinity Stones, and Rhodes is present when Thor kills Thanos.
In 2023, Rhodes continues missions as an Avenger while keeping track of Barton's whereabouts and reporting back to Romanoff. After Stark and Lang devise a plan to time travel via the Quantum Realm, Rhodes returns to the Avengers Compound and goes with Nebula to an alternate 2014 timeline the planet Morag. There they watch an alternate version of Peter Quill arrive. After Rhodes knocks him out, they retrieve the Power Stone. After Banner restores the trillions of lives Thanos erased, an alternate version of Thanos from 2014 attacks the Avengers Compound and causes Rhodes, Rocket, and Banner to get trapped under rubble. Lang rescues them and Rhodes is able to participate in the battle against an alternate Thanos and his army. After Stark sacrifices himself to win the battle, Rhodes is at Stark's side during his final moments, and later attends Stark's funeral.
Replaced by a Skrull
Sometime between 2024 and 2026, Rhodes is kidnapped by the Skrull general Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir), who has him replaced with one of his agents, Raava. Raava uses Rhodes' position as an advisor to President Ritson to get up close to him and monitor Fury and Maria Hill's movements upon Fury's return to Earth from S.A.B.E.R. After Gravik carries out an attack in Moscow, Russia, Raava is sent to speak on the U.S.' behalf at a NATO meeting in London. She is then contacted by Fury who asks to meet with her. She meets with Fury and is told about the Skrull invasion, claiming to have known about their presence for 15 years. She then gives Fury a military discharge, ostensibly due to him being present at the attack and that U.S. being implicated but in reality to hinder his efforts to investigate Gravik. Raava then contacts Fury's Skrull wife Varra and orders her to kill him under the threat of death to herself, an order which she ultimately refuses. Raava helps Gravik and his men attack Ritson's motorcade, posing as Russians in an attempt to set off World War III. Fury and Talos thwart the attack, although Talos is killed in the process. Undeterred, Gravik orders Raava to tell Ritson about the Skrulls' existence and show him footage of Gravik's Russian base, New Skrullos, to implicate Russia as Skrull sympathizers and advise an attack on the compound. Raava successfully convinces Ritson to authorize a nuclear strike on New Skrullos, until being tricked by Sonya Falsworth into organizing an evacuation for Ritson. Falsworth and Fury confront Raava and reveal the truth to Ritson. The resulting standoff is broken when Raava tries to grab for Falsworth's gun, at which point Fury shoots her in the head, revealing her Skrull form. Meanwhile, Talos' daughter G'iah (Emilia Clarke) kills Gravik, and later rescues Everett Ross and the real Rhodes (among others) from fracking pods within New Skrullos, telling him that he was locked up for "a long time".
An alternate version of Rhodes appears in the animated series What If...?, with Cheadle reprising his role.
In an alternate 2009, Rhodes is sent to purchase vibranium from Stark's contact, Ulysses Klaue, for an army of combat drones that Stark and Erik "Killmonger" Stevens are designing. T'Challa ambushes the transaction, having been tipped off by Klaue at Killmonger's behest, but is killed by the latter. Killmonger then kills Rhodes as well, and frames both him and T'Challa for killing each other in order to spark conflict between the United States and Wakanda.
Jacob Stalworthy of The Independent was negative of the character, opining that the character was "Iron Man without backstory or humour". However, Jeremy Schneider of NJ.com was more positive of the character and Cheadle's portrayal while highlighting the character being paralyzed in Captain America: Civil War as "one of the most poignant moments in the entire MCU".
For his 2008 performance, Howard was nominated for the Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actor. For his 2021 appearance in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Cheadle was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series.
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