Shane Black Defends Iron Man 3’s Controversial Mandarin

Published 2 years ago by , Updated May 21st, 2013 at 3:38 pm,

Iron Man 3 Interviews The Mandarin Movie Comic Book Differences Shane Black Defends Iron Man 3s Controversial Mandarin

In March, Iron Man 3 writer-director Shane Black raised alarm among Marvel Comics fans when he said that his interpretation of the Mandarin wouldn’t have magic rings, and would instead be closer in spirit to the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises and Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

With Iron Man 3 expected to cross the $1 billion mark by the weekend, most fans have taken to the silver screen to see for themselves how Tony Stark’s greatest foe was represented in live-action. The results were perhaps, not what Marvel fans were expecting.

Warning: The following contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Iron Man 3!








But who was expecting that his Mandarin wouldn’t be a villain at all? Reworking Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin to be a goofy, toothless figurehead subservient to Guy Pearce’s scientist has polarized audiences, with some arguing that the choice is a brave, modern move, while others decry it as sacrilege, not only to the comics but to the previous two movies. We asked Black to defend his version of the Mandarin to fans who found his weakness shocking. Here’s Black’s argument for Iron Man 3‘s bold re-imagining, from what we told us during the Iron Man 3 press day:

“I would say that we struggled to find a way to present a mythic terrorist that had something about him that registered after the movie’s over as having been a unique take, or a clever idea, or a way to say something of use. And what was of use about the Mandarin’s portrayal in this movie, to me, is that it offers up a way that you can sort of show how people are complicit in being frightened. They buy into things in the way that the audience for this movie buys into it. And hopefully, by the end you’re like, ‘Yeah, we were really frightened of the Mandarin, but in the end he really wasn’t that bad after all.’ In fact, the whole thing was just a product of this anonymous, behind-the-scenes guy. I think that’s a message that’s more interesting for the modern world because I think there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes, a lot of fear, that’s generated toward very available and obvious targets, which could perhaps be directed more intelligently at what’s behind them.”

Maybe we should have seen the change coming. After all, back when Black was denying that The Mandarin was even in the movie he was saying the character was a racist relic. But could Tony Stark’s archenemy have been rehabilitated for the modern age? Sure, there are racially suspect elements to the traditional Mandarin, but surely Black and co-writer Drew Pearce could have trimmed those out.

Robert Downey Jr Shane Black Iron Man 3 Official Set Photo from Marvel Shane Black Defends Iron Man 3s Controversial Mandarin

Robert Downey Jr. and Shane Black

Perhaps Marvel fanboys are most upset at the loss of The Mandarin’s ten rings of power. These extraterrestrial weapons defined The Mandarin for decades, and in the Iron Man movies they’ve been transformed into only the name of the villain’s terrorist network. Perhaps Black could have tried to bring those rings into the film. The Iron Man trilogy has tried to rely on science-based foes, but Pearce’s Aldrich Killian could have come up with some sort of nanotechnological spin on the rings.

While it might have been nice to keep the rings, Black’s spin on The Mandarin was unexpected and fun. It certainly gave Sir Ben Kingsley the opportunity to open up and have a blast in the role (read about Kingsley’s thoughts on The Mandarin here). It also managed to actually surprise fans, who thought they knew every detail of the story going in. It’s nice, in this age of endless reboots and sequels and adaptations from well-known source material, to be surprised in the theater once in a while.


What do you think? Is Iron Man 3‘s media-managed Mandarin an interesting, modern twist? Or were you dismayed that he wasn’t a more formidable adversary? Let us know in the comments below.

Iron Man 3 is currently in theaters worldwide.

TAGS: Iron man 3
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  1. Ah well, the Mandarin change is the least of Ironman’s problems. Inconcistency Man 3 would be a more appropriate name as it’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen a film with so much plot holes and time/distance inconsistencies… That the movie is such a commercial success shows more that the viewers have/had high hopes for it, rather than it actually being a good film.

    • Could not agree more! This film was garbage it made its money based solely on the success of the other two films. Shane Black tells stories like my 5 year old nephew. Lets get to the real problem, it made money. Does this mean we will see more Shane Black tragedies befall beloved comic book characters. Mandarin twist aside, what a terrible movie. Why was there a kid in it, why does Tony give the head security job for his tech firm to a guy that cant even figure out how to use a tablet, if a car battery can charge the iron man suit that previously was powered by Tony’s breakthrough arc reactor tech then I want a car battery to run my house on for the next 100 years, why did he make multiple suits of armor that simply got smashed to crap during the incredibly stupid and boring ending, how does the iron man suit hold up to tank fire in the first move but fall apart when struck by a semi. Hey, I have an incredible idea. Lets use ironmans side kick that we introduced in the second movie as comic relief instead of giving him some real credit for being Tony’s right hand man. I forget the actors name that played War Machine but he should have grown a pair and said no, im not going to be made a fool of on the big screen in your horrible movie. My son was so excited to see ironman 3 and his favorite guy at the time was war machine. Guess what, he no longer likes war machine. Maybe because Warmachine, just like ironman, didn’t do a god damn thing throughout the whole movie. Shane Black should not be allowed to make movies. In fact he should be shipped off to some third world country and forgotten. believe me I know there are more important things in life than ironman 3 but when I waste $60 and 2 hours of my life spending my hard earned cash and it is hard earned, I work demolition construction, taking my family out to see a movie, they and I deserve better from Marvel than Shane Blacks failed comeback movie. What a dueche bag. Marvel should be ashamed of this turd.

      • Screw it, I ain’t done. I am so tired of people on the internet praising this god damn movie. It wasn’t bad it was disgusting. Stop pretending. I realize people get excited when marvel adapts a story I am right there with you. But don’t lie afterwards. If its bad, its ok to be disappointed and when its Shane Black bad its ok to be fracking pissed! What a retard. How insulting is it to have this guy bait us in the trailers with the Mandarin and then switch things up half way through the movie and go with AIM and not, NOT NOT NOT at least have MODOK in the friggin movie. Look out Tony Stark its that rich businessman you’ve confronted in your last two movies only now he’s wearing Guy Pierces fugly face. I went out after watching this turd show and bought the Ironman Extremis trade paperback. F***ing phenomenal. ?HOW? do you screw up a story that good? HOW? it boggles the mind. What kind of drugs was Shane Black on when he did this movie. OH MY GOD! Rubble has fallen on the doors to the hall of armor. I guess that my super strong suits of armor won’t be able to simply move it out of the damn way or blast there way out with there friggin repulsor ray blasters that I used in Avengers to destroy giant armored alien flying whales or whatever the hell they were. I guess I’ll be slumming it with some orphan tech wiz kid for a while. Or maybe I could call my buddy Nick Fury and see if he could help me out for ten seconds since he’s showed up in all my other movies when I don’t need him. If only I knew a group of super heroes that could help me dig out my basement and then I could put an end to Guy Pierces romantic advances towards my girl Pepper. Darn the luck, who has friends like that. I’m surprised “Black Shane” didn’t have a scene where Tony tried to call in help from the avengers or shield but kept getting there voice mail. You have reached the son of Odin, I’m not in right now but if you leave a message, I’ll be sure to come and share some of my writers with “Black Shane” so your movie wont be a colossal waste of time and energy for all the world to behold. Suck a fart out of my dead ass “Black Shane” I hope your life sucks as bad as your movie. Thanks for giving the film industry cancer you twerpy has been. Next time your offered work just stay at home and watch Lethal Weapon and remember a day when you were relevant. Put the camera down.

        • Yo, you mad bro?

          • Na. Cap 2 was good, days of future past was pretty good and I saw Guardians of the Galaxy last Sunday it was really good. Marvels had a good year to recover from “Black Shane’s” not so Iron-man. I guess you can’t hit the ball out of the park every time. Still would like to punch “Black Shane” in the mouth though.

      • @rgmadd7

        I agree with most of your post.

        Honestly, I never had a problem with Tony giving the one “not so bright” guy a head security job. I saw it as Tony rewarding him for the long time bodyguard position. He wasn’t the brightest, but came off as loyal. Realistically, outside of the comics or films, Tony has always been known to have everything covered. So him giving a high tier position to the other guy isn’t abnormal. You don’t always need to be surrounded by geniuses.

        As for the armor breaking apart, if i’m not mistaken, it was a prototype that was made out of various parts that combined rather than one whole suit. In the comics, all his suits have minor flaws and that particular one one was a multipart suit. The only thing the Iron man armor had to deal with on the airplane scene was gunfire from bullets. You seem to forget the Arc reactor powers the suit, but it can work for a bit off any energy source including the sun or nearby energy. It seems you’re not familiar with the comics to forget that.

        As for your kid, one day they like something, the next minute they don’t. You seem to think the Iron Man film needs to be about War Machine. It wasn’t the best film but it was okay. However not staying true to the original Mandarin was a mistake which they can easily tie back up in the future. (Especially now with Dr Strange being introduced who is magic based)

        • Armor, ARMOR, THAT FALLS APART, that’s a pretty big prototype flaw. Its supposed to protect you but instead it falls the f**k apart. Excellent writing.

          • Ironman 3’s brilliant take on the ironman suit; powered by car battery, falls the f**k apart. Awesome.

  2. The way I see it, Killian (and the Ten Rings terrorists) could have been simply using the name of an existing persona who has chosen to remain hidden despite his name being used without his consent. The real Mandarin could yet surface.

    The article asked if I was disappointed. I was. But not as much as some. I was hoping to see tech wizard Tony Stark go up against true Magic, in the way that Asgardian tech seems like magic to humans who don’t understand yet. IM: the Armored Adventures seems to be handling this unexplainable phenomena concept pretty well.

    I was also a little disappointed that Extremis and AIM didn’t resemble their comic counterparts nearly enough. The whole movie comes close to crossing the line between adaptation with dramatic license and original work disguised as adaptation. If you don’t know what that means, consider that the changes made to Doom’s already meager backstory resulted in transforming the movie version from an original tale of teleportation and dimension-hopping into a bad biologically-manipulated-virus-fueled Resident Evil rip-off. (I blame genetic manipulation paranoia.)

    • @ Overseer76: what are you on about? Doom’s origin in the movies had nothing to do with biologically manipulated viruses. He got his powers from the same cosmic rays as the F4, thanks to his arrogant presumption that his station’s shields would hold (nice tip of the hat to his comic origin btw).

      • Um Greg I think you’ve got the wrong Doom
        I believe Overseer76 was referring to the Doom film (that was supposed to be based on the video game) not Dr Doom from the Fantastic 4

        But Overseer I think you are reaching a bit to far if you think that there is another Mandarin in the MCU, I think that they have set their stall out with this one, and they weren’t expecting such a backlash from comic fans (or if they did see it coming then they didnt care cos they knew that people will pay to see Tony Stark in the first post-avengers film)

        Kingsley was brilliant though but woefully underused, could have pulled a double bluff and had a better villain, the guy acts circles around Guy Pearce (who was nothing more than the same type of villain that we have had in both the previous Iron man films)

        Personally I’m still cheesed off by the movie, felt there was much more wrong with it besides just the Mandarin factor
        the film felt more like those cheap awful parody films (disaster movie, superhero movie, etc)
        the mark 42 armour was a slapstick gag rather than a genuine suit (seriously what has happened to Starks creative genius from the first film, now he makes Igor the doorstop armour, a space suit that never goes to space, Jarvis controls all of the suits so tony isn’t actually needed anymore, so he blows them up)
        Those aren’t even all of my issues with this film

        But until I see Thor 2 I will blame Shane Black rather than Marvel for this travesty, if that film is the same cheap comedy with no care for the characters then unfortunately I’ll be skipping Cap 2 in the cinemas, which would be a shame cos the Winter Soldier story has great potential
        (GotG has until they announce the voice of the Raccoon before I get too excited, but thus far is intriguing enough to make me want to see it)

        oh and war machine was totally wasted yet somehow there is spin-off or avengers talk, ha, seriously what would that entail, more of don cheadle in suit walking into sweat shops or interrupting people’s dinners then going ‘sorry wrong house, you guys don’t happen to be terrorists do you? No ok then, bye’

        • Oops! My bad!

  3. It was PC garbage. ‘Nuff said!

  4. The Mandarin twist was the single most insulting thing I have seen happen in any of the Marvel movies. It took Iron Man’s arch-nemesis and made him a caricature and a joke. The ten rings could have easily played right into the cosmic undertaking of Phase II-III and would have even made sense to help to push the eventual infinity gauntlet and power gems story lines into place as well had they done this right. They failed and this movie upset me not just because of the miscues which were abundant in the movie but because they insulted the fans and laughed in our faces with such bad writing and such a stupid story.

    • The Mandarin twist was the only interesting point in the whole movie! The rest just felt horribly forced and predictable… :-/

      • The twist was the best part of the movie, yes. But being better than garbage isn’t enough to qualify something as a steak dinner. It was just garbage that didn’t smell as bad as the rest of the dumpster it was in.

        • Considering that the Mandarin was already introduced in Iron Man as a terrorist who ends up having a clear grudge against not only Tony Stark but even has reason to hate technology and the weapons it wrought against him is clearly what was handed to Black.

          Clearly the current story COULD have been saved before… The story took the known terrorist and misused him. The Ten rings could still be used as well, as he could simply have named his organization after the relics he was after. I looked at the Iron Man 1 movie as not only an origin story for Iron Man but Also for the Mandarin. While the story of the Mandarin is salvageable the story for Tony Stark is not… this movie effectively ends Iron Man as a super hero and that, I think, disappoints fans more than anything.

          Also the fact that somehow the suits are now no longer built out of a super strong alloy but now made out of some sort of tin-foil is bothersome as well… Previous movies had the suits blasted with shock-waves and even getting smashed by bullets and such… but a Mac Truck hitting the suit will shatter it into bits… which was ridiculous. There was literally nothing in the movie that was even accurate to it’s previous movies let alone the known universe of physics.

          The only interesting thing to come out of this movie was the Empirix serum but what didn’t make any sense was WHY WOULD YOU GIVE THIS SERUM TO THE ENEMY’S LOVE INTEREST?? seeing that happen made absolutely no sense what-so-ever.

          The Mandarin was the least of the issues that this movie had… and I mean that.

  5. I think they should get Ben Kingsley back as renewed Mandarin for Iron Man 4 and make sure his character uses real power rings and a black armor for protection to conceal the character’s stereo type

    • I think that if they ever do the Mandarin again, they should actually DO the Mandarin, and let the whiny PC idiots go throw themselves off a cliff!

    • I think Don Cheadle and Ben Kingsley need to read scripts before taking a job. Then maybe Kingsley wouldn’t look like an idiot right now and Cheadle could have said, “Wait a minute Black Shane, I thought I was playing a superhero? Granted, a sidekick, but a hero none the less. I don’t want to be really bad comic relief.”

  6. I’m sorry but Shane Black had not business being the director of Iron Man 3. TOTAL Disappointment.

  7. was so po’ed at the way the mandarin turn out at the end. The lead up of him was awesome and then fissled.

  8. Iron Man 3 was a pile of crap. No one should put up with garbage like this even if you love marvel comics AND RDowney…

  9. Not sure if I’ve posted this already (I posted something similar in another Iron Man 3 thread) but it’s always possible that Trevor was lying. The idea behind Iron Man 3 was people who the power behind symbols and icons so what if The Mandarin was using Aldrich’s hate of Tony Stark to fuel AIM into creative the Extremis weapons,

    As he explained in his videos, he considers himself a teacher so what if the way The Mandarin gains his followers is by manipulating them into giving them what they want while tricking them into thinking that it was what they wanted in the first place. Trevor could have been a disguise to continue with his empire. I mean it makes no sense that The Ten Rings would be run by Killian

    so maybe Killian needed a fake bad guy, someone comes up to him and suggests a washed up actor named Trevor who can play the role of the bad guy. The Mandarin playing the role of Trevor plays up this role of a washed up, drug addicted actor and helps create the role of The Mandarin creating fake links (which are in fact real links) to the Ten Rings.

    The Mandarin could easily trick Killian under the guise of Trevor since throughout Iron Man 3 you see that Killian loves to think of himself as the smartest guy in the room so if you played down how smart you were, he’d easily let his guard down for you. What about Trevor? He can do whatever he wants, after all “The Mandarin” is dead so who would ever suspect innocent Trevor?

  10. OK this movie sucked!! Though I love Guy Pierce his character was total fodder. This movie had the potential to blow away the other two based on how they built the persona of Mandarin. First you have Ben Kingsly (Mega-Pimp) if you LOOKED at how is character was portrayed in the cardboard advertisements with the sunglasses, ponytail, embroidered camo pants and combat boots one word BADA$$-MF squared. I envisioned this mixture of Sun Tzu and Chingas Khan (yes that is the proper spelling and pronunciation not Genghis)remember he IS a “Teacher of Men” and how I wanted him to get into Tony Starks face and TEACH him a lesson in the Art of War. But no we got a completely stupid plot, unrealistic action and a mishmash of Iron Man suits that were used to fill up 1/3 of the movie because the plot sucked from the beginning. The only part I enjoyed was the kid aside from that I want my money back.

    Instead we got a neutered version of a drunk out of work actor portraying a (please see the above mentioned) and it was a slap in the face!!!!

  11. Black’s iteration of the Mandarin was utter garbage and nothing more. This came off more like Black was pressured to put the character in the film by popular demand and turned the character into sh*t as a result. My first gripe was that they could have hired an Asian actor to play the role like Ken Watanabe or Russell Wong but my other gripe was that the Kingsley Mandarin did nothing and was just a prop figure for a forgettable z-list villain. Black could have easily made the Kingsley Mandarin into a truly dangerous villain but instead chose to make him a joke-and an unfunny one at that.


    • EXACTLY!!

  13. Go Home, Black. YOU’RE DRUNK.
    Having seen Aliens on Avengers, there was no need to kill Iron Man’s NEMESIS with “only-terrestrial-technology” for the rings. Much less with an drunk-soccer-watching stupid actor.
    Also, the “Save the President” b*******… Super Heroes protect the planet and the People, not the president. Oh, and Pepper is not a Super Hero just because is made of fire for a few minutes.

  14. Iron Man 3 glad I didn’t watch Disney’s The Incredibles and Dark Knight Rises or I would have been upset! hahahaha Samuel L. Jackson was the only thing missing. I would have settled with them showing the jobs of the different suits and them messing up the Mandarin oooor vice versa… Shane Black wasn’t Darin’ with the Mandarin…bOOM!

  15. wacala de pelicula porqueria

  16. You stuffed it Shane Black. You filled the story with so much Christmas and tiny tim-ery that you forgot to put Stark in his suit or do the Mandarin justice. You had BEN KINGSLEY, and you still managed to ruin it, just to send some halfcocked message that most in the western world received with “loose change” and is by now, sick and tired of it being crammed down our throats. All we wanted was Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin. Not some convoluted metaphor relating to our situation, just Ben Kingsley portraying a villain with ten rings of power, no more, no less.

    • hahahahaha YES! haha Halleujah amen peanutbutter!

    • I genuinely believe that Shane Black has never read a Mandarin story a day in his life and just made up his mind that he didn’t care enough about the character to do him justice. And the whole claim that the Mandarin is nothing but a racial stereotype is just laziness on his part as if he had actually done any real research, he would realize the Mandarin may have started out like that but was moved beyond being a racial stereotype many years ago. If the cartoons and videogames didn’t have a problem with portraying the Mandarin correctly then I don’t see why this movie couldn’t have done the same.

    • Well said

    • : )

  17. Thanks a Lot……Shannnnnne

  18. I hope the Mandarin is real in the Iron Man universe and was secretly behind the events in Iron Man 3. I hope the footage hinted the real Mandarin hiding out somewhere in the world and that Trevor was just a double and a decoy to throw off the government and Shield. If another Iron Man movie is made, they could redeem themselves by playing off that the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 was just a double and that the real Mandarin is still out there waiting for the perfect chance to strike out Tony Stark.

  19. C’mon dude you and I both know that that’s not gong to happening. Shane Black screwed the 3rd movie up

  20. I could have lived with the plot twist if the rest of the movie hadn’t sucked. But, oh wait, it did.

  21. This is why book and comic book writers and game developers or publishers need to be more careful on who directs their films because fans want to and expect to see originality when it comes to everything including script to image. It sucks to get excited only too see what you grew up reading, playing, or even watching only to be ruined by bad or especially unoriginal scripts or the characters image being changed to something a fan does not recognize or like which has happened a lot as of late and it must be because of course the director thinks he knows always what fans want or whats best for them lol.

    Commercial success btw doesn’t mean people liked it and the truth still is they they went to watch what they thought was gonna be true to the books or games not a new directors twist on it. They need to stick to the original scripts and images more often because it’s very important to the fans and only people who won’t care are people who aren’t original fans. Now I will say some of these movies were still good for what they were but still a disappointment to those who thought they were gonna see what they read and played brought to life on screen not some new take on it. Also with Disney owning marvel this is bound to get worst with Disney probably allowing scripts and images of these beloved characters to the point that its pretty whole new character and very disappointing to original fans. There’s nothing wrong with creating new characters and stories but it’s not cool changing characters and stories especially when there’s no need to or it was better the way it was originally.

  22. So to summarize they couldn’t use the Mandarin coz China owns America now so they had to rehash a stale terrorist puppet master plot.

    • The whole blog is outdated & does not takes the events of “All hail the King” (which afaik was not released at that point) into consideration or bothers to refer to it postscript.