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

Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is officially underway, and so far it’s been a success, thanks to Iron Man 3. Co-writer and director Shane Black was given the unenviable task of following up filmmaker Joss Whedon’s Avengers home run; however, with help from cast members Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle, the Lethal Weapon screenwriter has delivered a superhero movie that’s pleased most critics (read our review) and passed the half-billion mark at the worldwide box office after just a few weeks.

That said, if there’s one aspect of Iron Man 3 that’s prompted more grumbling than praise in general, it’s Black and co-writer Drew Pearce’s take on The Mandarin, as played by Oscar-winner Sir Ben Kingsley. The film’s version of Tony Stark’s famous nemesis – whose appearance in the MCU has been teased since the first Iron Man – is controversial, for reasons that will require us to divulge some pivotal Iron Man 3 plot points, in order to properly discuss and analyze.

We’re now entering SPOILER territory for Iron Man 3. You’ve been warned…

Iron Man 3 introduces The Mandarin as an Osama bin Laden-type figurehead in the Ten Rings. The same terrorist organization was also responsible for ambushing and kidnapping Tony in Afghanistan – when it made a secret pact with Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) that helped the latter in his (failed) power grab at Stark Industries – back during the first Iron Man cinematic installment.

However, in the third Iron Man movie, it’s Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) head Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who turns out to be the secret puppet master – having recruited a loopy British actor to play the Mandarin in a series of broadcasts, where the (fake) terrorist takes credit for “bombings” around the U.S. In reality, though, these explosions are due to malfunctioning patients in A.I.M. and scientist Maya Hansen’s (Rebecca Hall) Extremis program.

Kingsley, in an interview with The Huffington Post last week, answered the sticky question about whether or not he would’ve still accepted the Mandarin role had the Iron Man 3 script not featured the aforementioned twist, as follows:

“Totally. Because the way that [screenplay writer] Drew [Pearce] and Shane constructed those political broadcasts, they’re very well thought through. The attack on Western iconography, cultural values, historical context of imperialism — all that weaponry at his command to manipulate and terrify his viewers with these broadcasts with which he interrupts the airwaves were very compelling indeed. I forgot all about the twist until I got to it in the script. I just read it page by page. And I totally would have accepted The Mandarin as The Mandarin, actually.”

As far as controversy or back lash against the film’s version of The Mandarin goes, Kingsley isn’t too worried:

“… It doesn’t enter my thinking at all. It may be a lot to do with the fact that I was a Shakespeare actor for 15 years and played roles that everybody in the audience knew. Some members of the audience even knew the lines of the character. My training is to inhabit a very famous character like Hamlet and make him surprising. So I’m kind of used to that approach to work: Make it fresh, you know? Make it surprising.”

The negative response to Iron Man 3‘s version of The Mandarin can be attributed to the following problems (in my humble opinion, naturally):

  • Black’s film, as Kingsley mentioned, sets up the antagonist as a foil to Tony Stark; that is, his flamboyant costume mocks racial and cultural stereotypes – see: the Mandarin character in his most infamous comic book form – and feels as much like “armor” as one of Tony’s Iron Man suits. However, rather than give a nuanced motivation and backstory to the person behind the Mandarin facade, the movie takes the “safe” route and makes him a foolish proxy for an evil U.S. businessman/scientist.
  • Iron Man 3 aims to, but falls short of bringing things full circle back to the first Iron Man. By comparison, the source material – the “Extremis” comic book mini-series – better deals with the unresolved issues setup by previous Iron Man movies and The Avengers – by having Tony seek redemption for his past as a weapons manufacturer, reach a deeper understanding of his Iron Man identity, and deal with life in a post-Avengers initiative world.
  • If both the Mandarin and the Ten Rings were real threats that Tony helped to create in the past, it might’ve allowed Black’s movie to be more satisfying as both an Iron Man standalone film and a trilogy conclusion. However, Killian’s personal conflict with Tony not only prevents that from happening, it’s also less compelling; not to mention, his storyline is more than a bit too similar to Jim Carrey as The Riddler in Batman Forever (for its own good, that is).

So, how about it – what did YOU think of The Mandarin in Iron Man 3? Let us know in the comments section!


Iron Man 3 is now playing in theaters around the world.

Source: The Huffington Post