When the Mandarin makes his big screen launch in Iron Man 3, he’ll be missing one—make that ten—important weapons: his rings. While early shots of Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of the Mandarin have shown his hands cluttered with jewelry, director Shane Black stressed during an early press day for the film that the rings are no longer imbued with individual superpowers like flames, ice, mental control, disintegration, and matter-rearranging.

In fact, the rings no longer have special powers at all—and Black knows that fans might not be happy.

Explained Black:

“I hate to break it to you, but he’s not from space in this. The rings are rings. They’re showmanship, they’re accoutrements. They’re paraphernalia of warfare that he sort of drapes himself with. He studies Sun Tzu, he studies insurgency tactics. He surrounds himself with dragons and symbols of warlords and Chinese iconography because he wants to represent this sort of prototypical terrorist who—we use as the example Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now—may have been an American, may have been a British National, someone who is out there doing field work, supervising atrocities for the intelligence community who went nuts in the field and became this sort of devotee of war tactics, and now has surrounded himself with a group of people over which he presides, and the only thing that unifies them is this hatred of America.”

The decision erases one of the Mandarin’s key defenses, but it does make a certain amount of sense given Black’s goals for the film. Black wants Iron Man 3‘s tone to be as natural as possible, which means taking liberties with a character who has, in the past, been dismissed by some as an Asian caricature. Like in The Dark Knight—a film he name-checked as a reference point—Black wanted to ground the Mandarin in real world tactics.

“One of the joys for me has always been seeing how you take a villain from the comic book and realize him in a slightly more realistic way for the movie—render him for movies in a way that’s recognizable, but different. That’s fun. Like the Joker in The Dark Knight is not the Joker from the comic book, but there’s just enough of him that you recognize him and go, ‘Wow, what a creative way of interpreting the Joker for motion pictures.’ So that was our task here, too. The fans love this character of the Mandarin and we just said, ‘Well, what we don’t want is this potentially racist, stereotype of a Fu Manchu villain just waving his fist.’”

Even hardcore fans can agree that certain comic book versions of the Mandarin could use an update. But even if people are glad Mandarin won’t be waving his fist, will they still wish the rings on his fist could, say, blast electricity?

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Iron Man 3 will be in theaters on May 3, 2013.