Last year, Shane Black kicked the hornet’s nest with his contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Iron Man 3 might be the studio’s second highest grossing release to date (right behind The Avengers), but to this day it’s easily the most controversial. If you’ve seen the film, you already know why. If you haven’t, well, you’ve probably tangentially gained knowledge on the fracas through the magic of pop culture osmosis. The truth of Iron Man 3‘s midpoint twist is old hat by now.
But like all good geek disputes, tussles over the nature of The Mandarin just won’t die. (On that note, for anybody who has yet to watch the film, be warned of spoilers ahead.) Even as early as six months back, screenwriter Drew Pearce had a few things to say about the matter of washed up British actor Trevor Slattery’s actual identity; his comments were timed with the release of Thor: The Dark World on VOD and home video, and the Slattery focused one-shot All Hail the King along with it.
And now Sir Ben Kingsley himself has added some fuel to the fire with remarks made in a recent interview with IGN; he’s currently doing the press rounds for The Boxtrolls, so of course the discussion eventually wove itself round to the subject of The Mandarin, Trevor Slattery, and character integrity. Seems that the topic has stuck with Kingsley, too, and not just his creative cohorts and disgruntled fans.
This isn’t the first time he’s opened up about Iron Man 3 and mused over the many and sundry misgivings over the direction Black chose to take The Mandarin in the film; it is, however, one of the more compelling suggestions put forth regarding the character’s motivations. Read on for the full quote from Sir Kingsley:
“Has the Mandarin invented Trevor, or has Trevor invented the Mandarin? Which is which?…The Mandarin could be so supremely intelligent that he could have said, ‘You know what? I’ll invent this actor, and he will be my mask.’ You know, which is which? Who’s pulling the strings. Now, this is me just free-thinking here, but I would love to revisit that world. But Trev, bless him, may have made an indelible mark on that world. So everyone might say, ‘Is it Trev under there?’ So they’d have to approach it quite carefully, and so would I, but I would love to go back to that world, yeah.”
Let’s recap for posterity’s sake: in Iron Man 3, the stylishly bedecked terrorist known as The Mandarin takes responsibility for a series of lethal attacks in the US, and Tony Stark takes it on himself to issue an ill conceived challenge to the man via television. Halfway through the film, thereabouts, we discover that The Mandarin isn’t The Mandarin at all, but rather a has-been thespian named Trevor Slattery, posing as The Mandarin at the behest of Guy Pearce’s villainous megalomaniac, Aldrich Killian, who (sort of) claims that he’s The Mandarin.
Cut to winter 2014, and All Hail the King asserts that there is a real Mandarin out there in the world, and he’s pretty cheesed at poor Trevor, who has spent the intervening period between Iron Man 3 and the one-shot luxuriating in the slammer. Except now we’re being treated to the notion that perhaps Trevor really is The Mandarin after all, which makes his would-be rescuer in All Hail the King look like kind of a dunce.
Keeping in mind that Kingsley is speaking solely for himself and not as a mouthpiece for Marvel, this isn’t exactly the worst solution for mollifying comic diehards without completely disrespecting Black’s work on Iron Man 3. If there’s a real Mandarin biding his time in the MCU, why not have him be Trevor? What if Trevor has been trolling everyone – not just Tony Stark, but the US government, the public, and even Killian – this entire time? What if he’s the ultimate criminal mastermind, disguising himself as the most pitiable person possible to deflect suspicion? Everybody straight up buys Trevor’s story without much fuss; it would be the perfect cover.
It would also enrich the MCU by giving Kingsley another opportunity to do what he did so well in Iron Man 3: play two sides of the coin, the bumbling, hapless Trevor and the sonorous, menacing Mandarin. If the adaptive elements of the film didn’t work for some, perhaps everyone can still agree that Kingsley turned out a great performance. More of that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Again, Kingsley is just spitballing here – don’t expect to see him return to Marvel films until otherwise noted – but as far as spitballs go, this is a pretty good one.