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. I was very surprised to see the mandarin playing the some what not to important villian and very happy with the story line! What an awesome twist!

  2. I was very surprised to see the mandarin playing the some what not to important villian and very happy with the story line! What an awesome twist! Great movie! !

  3. Or they could have just left it the hell alone and made the Mandarin from some non descript fictitious Asian nation and otherwise kept him as he was. It’s not like The Avengers didn’t set up aliens or Thor didn’t set up magic in the MCU! I understand certain things don’t translate we’ll from one medium to the next but to completely change the characters personality, characterization, and motivation is to make it a completely different character. Which should necessitate a name change.

    • I agree. I almost walked out of the theater when Tony ended up finding “the actor”. It was kind of sad to see the film make such a political stab. I understand Shane Black’s defense, but we don’t go to the movies to see a theatrical version of FOX NEWS. It’s about stepping away from the real world for a few hours to watch our childhood heroes come to life.

      Iron Man 1 is still my favorite.

      • How is a political stab not interesting or realistic? We all want realism in these movies, and addressing the point that putting a “face” on terr, like Osama Bin Laden, inspires the much needed fear from the masses top approve such global wars as we have seen.

        The manhunt and killing of osama Bin Laden could have come straight out of the Iron Man comics. Who knows if it wasn’t Iron Man that flew in and killed OBL instead of Seal Team Six? What is the difference, really?

        • Ok now that’s just just absurd. Iron Man killing Osama Bin Laden? The re-imaging was a fail, and most will agree with that.

        • Maybe YOU want realism in these movies, but I much prefer a faithful adaptation over a realistic adaptation that drastically changes the characters and story.

  4. If you think the Mandarin is racist, then why even use him at all? Just leave him out of the movie completely. Does making him a powerless patsy make the character any less racist?

  5. In what way is ripping off Henri Duccard/Ra’s al Ghul from Batman Begins “unique”?

    • It appears someone is in need of a lesson in cinema history . That type of plot devise goes way back before batman begins. Wizard of oz is 1 good example. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” Queen Amadala in SW ep1. The man in the iron mask. I’m sure there are many others, and will be more to come.
      By the way, i found the ras reveal a bit underwhelming. He was doing all the talking anyway, the fact that he was ras really wasnt that surprising to me. Neither was the talia reveal in TDKR, since it was all over the net who she was playing. The mandarin being fake was a total shocker. Well played Mr Black.

      • jeffro…

        The reason this reveal was such a shocker, versus the ones in “Batman Begins” and (in a different way) “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Phantom Menace”, and others, is because THIS one changed the deeper perception of the particular character in the view of the audience…corrupted the essence of the character’s true nature. All of the others maintained some basic element of the character from false to real. IM3 merely manipulated the audience’s understanding of the movie world for pure shock value.

        It was a neat idea, successfully accomplished many times before, gone stupidly wrong in IM3.

        • if you’re using the phantom menace as a good example then you’re clearly stupid and wrong

          • Yo, jay…

            Speaking of “stupid and wrong”, learn to read. I did not use the prequel as an example…jeffro did (and HE was simply using it as an example of something that had been done many times before). I simply agreed with him about its inclusion, though not for the same specific reason.

            If you feel the need to insult someone, at least make sure you have SOME clue what you’re talking about, so you don’t come across an even bigger ninny.

            Just a suggestion…

        • And what, pray tell, is the “essence of the character’s true nature” that Iron Man 3 disregarded? Even if you still insist on saying that Ben Kingsley is The Mandarin and not Guy Pearce (even when he declares himself to be so), what “basic element” of the character, even in the most minute detail, did Shane Black miss?

          • Kyle…

            Actually, I did not see EITHER of them as the Mandarin. One was a joke, and the other was a pathetic little boy. NEITHER showed the sinister, devious, commanding, often terrifying, powerful character that I have come to associate with the Mandarin. Killian, AT HIS BEST in this movie, came across as a vengeful middle school student with access to very powerful toys.

            That not minute. That was significant.

          • Kyle…

            Actually, I did not see EITHER of them as the Mandarin. One was a joke, and the other was a pathetic little boy. NEITHER showed the sinister, devious, commanding, often terrifying, powerful character that I have come to associate with the Mandarin. Killian, AT HIS BEST in this movie, came across as a vengeful middle school student with access to very powerful toys.

            That was not minute. That was significant.

            • …oops. Excuse the double post (with one minor correction).

        • Finally a voice of reason>>>@Archaeon

          (lets dumb this down Archeon, so they could understand this simple concept)

          For the people that defends the portrayal of the Mandarin in IM3

          Imagine!, that Tony stark in Iron Man 1, is portrayed as a drunk-low-self-esteem-gay diva with mommie issues… and you’re an Iron Man comic reader (you know?.. the source material!?) now!, how would you feel about that?… it’s the complete opposite of Tony Stark…. and all that becuz “Black” wanted to portray a modern and realistic character?… really?.. does he knows that Iron Man is unrealistic to the point of people going: “OMG! that suit is impossible to take serious, but it looks so cool we will let it slide)

          Those adaptations and drastic changes belong in another movie, not in Iron Man. Iron Man is incredibly far fetch, too much realism does NOT FIT HERE!… let alone changing a character completely.

          That’s Blasphemy!!, for the author of the character and the fans alike.

          People that is ignorant of basic 101 movie making and people who doesn’t know s*** about the comics and source material, should be violated in the woods somewhere by a hillbilly gang-bang using sand as lube and prohibited from ever again being able to comment on a DC/Marvel movie adaptation all across the internet.

          • Wow! I was completely with you until the last paragraph. You know that words have actual, real meaning, right? Maybe next time before you type something like that you should imagine if you would feel okay about it happening to you in real life, then maybe don’t put something so disgusting out in the world.

          • You’re silly

    • I actually like the movie. People have to understand that they are treating the films like a separate universe. Just as comics tend to change characters depending on the universe, the movies are to have their own in addition to the comics. So this manderin won’t be like the manderin in an older issue or different series. Some universes wolverine is still an xman others he’s might not even have adimantium bones. That was the point in the twists. It’s its own universe so it won’t follow EVERYTHING in which we all know but take elements from each universe and add some of its own.

      Last, the Ra’s Al ghul thing was yes, very ripped off! Lol. I thought I was the only one that ,add the connection. I still loved the movie though!

      • This is nothing like the examples you gave. There is literally NOTHING to do with the Mandarin besides his name. There are zero details that are used. Wolverine looks like Wolverine, has most of the defining featured. The Mandarin was just a joke used to tell the fans “F%#% YOU GUYS!!” Shane Black hates Marvel fans so much that he dedicated an entire movie to insulting them.

  6. In my opinion the moment the toilet flushed and he walked out british the movie lost everything it had built. The movie still ended with the action and all that a summer block buster needs but the story they had built the plot and drive they had going was all flushed away with that single sound effect leading into a horrible twist. I have to say I still enjoyed the movie but it was good when it could have been amazing!

  7. The Mandarin was used as nothing more than a very underhanded trick to get us all into the movie theaters. The writer & director played us for fools by implying that Iron man’s powerful nemesis would be the other star of the film. It was a dirty money motivated con.
    Combine that with all the other illogical scenes and this added up to be the second worst movie I’ve ever seen. Second only to “Battlefield Earth”.
    After this scam I will never trust the Marvel franchise again. What’s next… a fake Thanos in the next Avengers?

    • Finally someone that’s able to see what this movie really is behind the scenes! Totally agree with you m8!

    • Exactly. Shane Black has no talent and he had to use a con in order to sell movie tickets.

    • … That makes no sense. Why would they have to trick us by pretending to have the Mandarin, when they could just have the Mandarin?

      What they were doing was making a more complete movie. A movie that resonates as more than just a battle between a terrorist and an American. A movie with a little depth. In that, they succeeded.


      … but really that’s not a bad thing.

      • Jeff…

        Your question near the start of your comment is correct–Why COULDN’T they simply use the Mandarin, albeit updated for more modern sensibilities? That, however, is not even the biggest issue of the movie. NEITHER villain is well-conceived nor effective as the antagonist of the movie. One is an outright joke…and an only temporarily funny one, at that. The other is simply a bratty, immature middle-schooler who comes across as SO weak and SO cliche’ that he might as well have been twirling his pencil-thin mustache while running the fingers of his other hand through slicked back, greasy hair and revealing his plot to trap the damsel on the train track ties.

        Cue the ominous thunder of the fast-approaching train.

        This movie had no depth. It desperately WANTED to be deep. Alas, it failed miserably.

        As for a “complete movie”, it WAS COMPLETE…a complete mess.

  8. My problem with it is that they just wasted a great villain for Iron man to go up against. He’s already dangerously close to being stuck constantly fighting other armored suits all the time. Mandarin could have been a nice change of pace where he would be dealing with something beyond technology (and maybe even a way to tie in Dr. Strange, although I’m not a big fan).
    But now they’ve wasted a perfectly good character when they could have accomplished the same thing with a lesser Marvel bad guy or a new invented character. I was equally disappointed with how the first Hulk film wasted the Absorbing Man but at least he had his powers.

    • You people seem to imply that Black had any real control over what was going on in this movie. If you think for one second that Marvel didn’t have their thumb planted firmly on him the entire time the movie was in production you are sorely mistaken.

      Marvel would never let anything happen in any of these movies that they wouldn’t want to have happen in their “movie version of the universe”.

      You fans are crying over something you have no control over and never will have control over. The utterly amazing sense of entitlement most fans seem to have is ridiculous.

      This kind of change in a character is no different than rebooting a series in the comic books and making fundamental changes to characters in that media. Just shut up already and ease up. Marvel is the one who is in charge and if they feel that this kind of treatment is okay, who are we to judge them based on that decision.

      But just because you are fans, doesn’t mean you have the right to feel so entitled.

  9. Im sorry but they went all Christopher Nolan about this movie, and it just failed. The way it all played out and then at the very end they had to make sure to let you know that Iron Man/Tony Stark will return? I mean really? The movie shouldnt have to set us aside and reassure us that the hero will return, even after in essence killing off Iron Man. The story should do that itself. I dont get what this fascination for having to make comics more “realistic” or “feasible with reality”. Not to mention, what the hell was with changing Tony’s character at the very end of the movie. But I suppose this is the way of movies. Gotta make a buck somehow.

    And I’m sure someone will try to contradict my point, but i could care less.

    • Thank you. Nolan Batman sucks ass. IM3 was the worst movie Ive seen since TDKR

  10. Iron Man 3 was bad in so many ways. They screwed up The Mandarin to make a political/social point, they poorly implemented the Extremis storyline by making it some serum that makes fire-breathing lava people instead of the thing that makes Tony Stark one with his armor. Speaking of Tony…they replaced alcoholism with panic attacks?!?!? Sure the acting and action sequences were decent, but the plot was just bad, bad, bad.

    • There is fire breathing in the extremis comics

    • You know I just thought of something when you mentioned the lava people thing. I’m not a huge nerd about the Extremis stuff, but Tony isn’t much different than those juiced up military villains or that sexy Potts. Why didn’t Tony “explode” or turn into a lava freak when he had a panic attack? Someone feel free to be a keyboard gangster and school me on this issue. I get the point they made about it “tailoring” to an individual’s needs, but now that you think about it there are many holes with IM3. No wonder RDJ is bored and may not continue to play Iron Man or Tony.

      AND… Have you noticed when there are new suits they are never 100%? They need upgrades, or haven’t been tested for whatever reason, etc.?

      • I don’t know if this helps, but this “keyboard gangster” recommends a motion comic called Iron Man: Extremis which might still be on Netflix.

  11. I’m all in with the redirecting and re-imagination of reboots and adaptations, they give a refreshing twist to a story all too well known. But the problem I have with these new age directors is their way of rethinking franchises sooooo far from the actual concept. I mean, I’m afraid that one day we’ll be seeing Batman in a pink outfit, and Superman with corn-rows!! I understand and appreciate the importance of creative license but there are just some elements of a story, especially a well known story, that you DO NOT mess with. The elements that bring wonder to fans’ eyes. I’m sure when guys heard Mandarin was in this movie, they couldn’t wait to see what the special effects team was going to do with the power rings. There are so many ways to integrate your input and creativity as a director, that for me, I think it’s just lazy to take apart the core elements of a story and simply re-tell the story differently. As with the Chris Nolan’s ending of Dark Knight rises, this twist in the plot felt like a last minute addition rather than a genuine thought out plot twist. And please note that apart from the Mandarin jig, I actually liked the movie and have nothing against Jack Black. Just think directors should take more care when revamping well known and very much loved franchises. Take the people your making the movie for into consideration, will you?

  12. After the IM3 debacle I wouldn’t bother with anything else Shane Black did that involved comic book films. The movie was took a serious nosedive after the first 30 minutes or so.

  13. I always said they shouldn’t try to make CBM like Nolan’s TDK trilogy. Sorry for a excuse version of The Mandarin is what fans got as a result for it. I stated i was for the villain to have his Ten Rings to be atleast Nanotech. Reasonable imo. Guy Pearce was good as a baddie & id like to think he was the Mandarin with tattoo that resemble Fin Fang Foom on his chest,lol. Most of the film was great imo. Better than IM2 & didn’t leave it open for a sequel for we expect RDJ to return if he decided not to. Hope he returns for The Avengers 2 atleast.

  14. Hope they will make Mandarin in future better, now we have him and Hammer in jail together this begs for more Ironmans, and the Avengers opened a magical twist.

  15. No,.. Fans of the comic are upset, because a hero is defined by the caliber of his villains, or nemesis.
    Turning Iron Mans nemesis into a cheap trick, turns Iron Man into,.. well, there it is, isn’t it..?

  16. The rings of the Mandarin were never “magic rings” in the comics, they were alien tech. If you’re going to be dismissive, at least get your facts straight.

    • Agreed. I don’t get the problem with the Mandarin being an actual villain with alien tech. They have already gone that direction in Thor and Avengers.

      Also, everyone crying about the fire breathing and the guy complaining that Extremis was a serum must not have read the Extremis story. In the comic Mallen was injected with the Extremis serum and gained super powers like strength, speed, and the ability to breath fire.

      Tony’s experience with Extremis was different because the serum can be tailored for desired effects.

  17. was aldridge supossed to be fin fang foom he breathed fire, owned the manderin and nothing else was true to the comics

  18. Wow! How deep and meaningful! So glad they sacrificed what could have been a great human, heartfelt film for a few cheap poop jokes and the most obvious cliche moral ever. Thanks Shane. You’re almost as much of a d**k as Stark was throughout this entire movie.

  19. Unfortunately the portrayal of the Mandarin was the least of this film’s woes. The worst was one-dimensional Killian’s no lack of motivation whatsoever. (So he strings up the most powerful man on earth and is involved in the biggest terror plot conspiracy ever known to man because…he’s butt hurt that he got stood up? Or was it “World Domination! Mwuhaha!”) Huge Marvel fan but this story was laughable and worse yet, made no sense within the continuity of the other movies. This was Lethal Weapon with Iron Man characters substituted in. Thanks a lot Shane. Next time leave the charmingly comedic dialogue to Joss and stay the hell away.

    • Thank you…Exactly.

    • *APPLAUDS* You sir, need to write him a letter. And in this letter, take a big heaping pile of crap, and smear it all inside. Because Shane Black deserves feces, for creating a crap movie.

  20. This movie was a huge turd sandwich and everyone who bought a ticket had to take a big bite.

  21. Does anybody think the last action sequence was was better than the one in Avengers? I read an article here on SR and it mentioned that Joss Whedon saw the last action sequence, was shocked, and didn’t know how he was going to bet that for Avengers 2.

    • Mr. Whedon was being nice.

  22. I think fans are more upset that they made Mandarin a blubbering idiot rather than not using his version from the comicbooks. The Dark Knights Joker was different than his comicbook counterpart and fans enjoyed him in the film.

    • What Batman The Dark Knight you saw?…..

      The Dark Knight I saw, had the same Joker as all past jokers.. same drive, same ideologies, same swagger, same personality same crazy old joker… the “Approach to modernize the Joker as the producer (Nolan) and the actor took, was to make the Joker less “jokie” and more serious, also scary in a psychological way)

      The character is still the same/intact, nothing was taken out, could you say the same about the Mandarin?…. do you know how powerful the Mandarin is?…. lol

      • Exactly, 3Digital.

  23. I was offended how Shane Black destroyed such an amazing villain, and brought him to a comical level. Not only that, I am absolutely pissed off that Shane Black would say ” 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” (which for the record, it was The Dark Knight fool, not The Dark Knight rises, which in turn was also a terrible, character ruining film.). How can he compare his screw up of origins, to that of Heath Ledgers AMAZING performance as the Joker?? Also, there have been several Batman issues that give different interpretations of the Jokers origin. And the Joker even ADMITS to constantly changing his story to how he got his scars. The fact that he would compare his garbage iron man movie to that of pure excellence, obviously states that he did not read the source material, cared nothing about the source material, and instead decided to create a different fabrication based on his garbage ideas, because he thinks he has remotely any intelligence at creating characters. he’s a fool. and he should never be allowed in the MCU ever again.

  24. ok listen u all a**hole* u mother fu**ing bit*hes i guess u all are retarded shane black is obviously the most worst director of all time

  25. So his excuse is “Its too show people lie too you, like I lied too get you in the theater”?

  26. I wasn’t pissed because they ruined the Mandarin, I was pissed because Ben Kingsley’s take on the Mandarin up until the revelation was FANTASTIC. I wanted that to be the Mandarin because it was so good.

  27. RDJ saved this movie because the plot was weak and villian was laughable. Kingsely’s approach to the Mandarin a typically hollywood racist pile of dung. The only shred of credibility was the twist of AIM.

  28. I was not surprised and gleeful. I AM NOT an Iron Man Comic fan, however I felt that turning the Mandarin -a serious foe- into an actor was insulting. I head Arune Sing of Marvel say -on a G.I. Joe Podcast- that hopefully the purists will not be upset with the Mandarin twist in IM3. Again, I am not an Iron Man purist but I think if you want a Mandarin twist go buy a soft drink. In my humble opinion IM3 is a terrible movie. Not only for the Mandarin, also for “Clean Slate”, in Avenger’s 2 if there is an Iron Man, Tony and Pepper will have to reconcile Tony’s Christmas gift to Pepper? That would make the gift irrelevant right? I mean “Iron Man has to save the world, we need Iron Man, and I support Tony’s decision to take up the armor once again…blah, blah, blah” Movies have become such soap operas. And I am fair…The Dark Knight Rises had it’s drama also…a Batman that was only active for maybe 2 years, becomes a fugitive for multiple murders and people still talk about him being a good guy 8 years later? How many people said about OJ Simpson, ‘innocent people don’t run’? But a murdering Batman is okay because he once got Falcone and The Joker arrested? I really seems that these film producers really get lost in their stories (their artful expressions) and lose common sense.

  29. Wow so because this retarded director is overly racially sensitive and has a conspiracy theory about 9-11 (I’m paraphrasing lol) we had to see one of Ironmans arch Nemesis turned into an drug addicted fairy? Yeah because the rich successful white bad guy isn’t overdone or racist either lol.