The announcement that Iron Man 3 would finally introduce classic villain The Mandarin (and that he’d be played by Sir Ben Kingsley) was for many, a mixed omen. The knighted thespian has delivered some iconic and profound performances (HugoGandhi), but in recent years his choice in roles has been far spottier.

According to Marvel studio head Kevin Feige, there’s no need to worry. Sir Ben has delivered the goods like few others who appeared in Marvel’s ‘Phase One,’ apparently crafting a version of the Mandarin so terrifying, anyone on set felt the chill.

If there’s one thing Kingsley is famous for, it’s his ability to both silence a crowd, and produce films as if his life depended on it (come 2013, he’ll have appeared in over a dozen since 2010). It would seem that he saved something extra for his role as Tony Stark’s antagonist, despite a heavy workload. Either that, or the exhaustion is being channeled into a villainous role.

In speaking with USA Today, Feige explained that despite the remarkable actors and actresses who have portrayed Marvel’s heroes and villains so far, Kingsley left a mark like few others:

“On his last take of his first full day as the Mandarin, when they yelled ‘Cut!’ the entire crew burst into applause, spearheaded by Mr. Downey himself…It was pretty amazing to see that.

“That’s what you get when you hire Sir Ben Kingsley. He’s so excited about his part and so into this character, and frankly just scaring the heck out of everybody…They’re like, ‘You’ve broken us out of our skeptical malaise!’

‘Phase One’ saw performances from Jeff Bridges, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, and Samuel L. Jackson, so the fact that Kingsley’s reception by the cast and crew was one witnessed few times by Feige gives an idea of what fans can look forward to.

The very first image of Kingsley in costume as The Mandarin proved that even comic book fans didn’t know quite what to expect, while the first official trailer for Iron Man 3 only provided a hint at his motives and strategy. We’re still scratching our heads as to what his mysterious tattoo has to do with anything, but his character receiving such a strong response from those behind the cameras means good things for the film’s darker tone (if Feige’s words are taken at face value).

As the leader of The Ten Rings – the terrorist group that abducted Tony in the first Iron Man – there’s no real reason for The Mandarin to physically square off with a suit of flying armor. That’s what henchmen are for. Yet rumors about Stark’s new suit and powers suggest a finale that will be the biggest and boldest in the franchise, and a Marvel insider has confirmed such a showdown will indeed take place. An explosion-filled climax doesn’t exactly mesh with the somber, unsettling narration Kingsley provides in the newest trailer, so something along the lines of Iron Man or Iron Man 2 doesn’t seem to be director Shane Black’s plan.

A warlord who fails to see the difference between terrorism and murder, hurting and teaching, or hero and villain is a fairly distressing concept in itself. We’ve hoped that such an opportunity for a dark, determined character study wouldn’t be overshadowed by pyrotechnics and CGI; if Feige’s comments are true, then fans could expect to see both.

How do you feel about Kingsley’s casting now that the first trailer has arrived? Is an intelligent and disturbing villain more terrifying than a physically dangerous one, or are you most looking forward to the fight scenes and action sequences of Iron Man 3? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Iron Man 3 hits theaters on May 3, 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: USA Today