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The Mandarin Twist Controversy Fixed Marvel's Villain Problem

Thanos in Avengers Infinity War and Marvel Villains

Almost Every Marvel Movie Since Has A Villain Twist

Obadiah Stane’s (Jeff Bridges) secret treachery in Iron Man may predate Iron Man 3’s Mandarin twist by several years, but it's interesting to note how, prior to Iron Man’s last solo outing, the fledgling MCU featured very few rug-pulls compared with its more recent output. Thor: The Dark World ended with the last-minute shot of Loki masquerading as Odin (Anthony Hopkins), even though he had apparently died on the Dark Elves’ home world of Svartlfheim. Similarly, it transpired that Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) had survived his icy fall and become a ruthless assassin in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Phase 2 continued with Guardians of the Galaxy’s (admittedly less earth-shattering) surprise that Thanos (Josh Brolin) was backing Ronan the Accuser’s (Lee Pace) campaign against Xandar.

Captain America: Civil War also had a thought-provoking villain twist, at first leading audiences to assume that Zemo (Daniel Brühl) wanted to revive and use Bucky’s fellow Winter Soldiers to seize power. Instead, he hoped to to destroy the Avengers from within using data from that facility’s archive – namely, the footage of Howard and Maria Stark’s murder – and once his plan was complete his only remaining goal was to commit suicide (a plan thwarted by Black Panther).

Related: Every Major MCU Villain, Ranked From Weakest To Strongest

Phase 3 also contained several cases of secret identities and deeds being revealed to devastating effect. Ego (Kurt Russel) is unveiled as the perverse, genocidal manipulator that killed Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, and Spider-Man: Homecoming had a dumbfounded Peter Parker (Tom Holland) confronted with the revelation that the Vulture is the father of his prom date. Furthermore, Thor: Ragnarok saw the God of Thunder being confronted with his family’s dark past in the form of his secret sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) discovered that his newfound cousin had an understandable grievance with Wakanda’s establishment in Black Panther.

This is not to mention the harrowing, unexpected end of Avengers: Infinity War whereby Thanos (Josh Brolin) wins the conflict by decimating half of all life in the universe, or Captain Marvels Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) who is exposed as Carol Danvers’ (Brie Larson) true enemy. As such, one cannot help but wonder if Trevor Slattery and Aldrich Killian created a template for every Marvel villain to follow.

Did The Mandarin Inspire Marvel's New Villains?

On first glance, the Mandarin does seem to have had a huge impact on the quality of Marvel’s movie villains, but the issue is not cut that cleanly. Moreover, a year after Iron Man 3, Marvel released a One Shot entitled All Hail The King, which saw an imprisoned Trevor Slattery learning that his performance had angered the “true” Mandarin who existed elsewhere in the MCU. The Ten Rings assassin that accosted Slattery made it very clear the failed thespian was soon to experience his wrath. This retcon was largely seen as an apology from Marvel – an admission that their bold narrative experiment had seemingly failed.

Similarly, villain twists have not become an overriding part of the MCU, since Marvel have released Avengers: Age of Ultron, Doctor Strange and Ant-Man and the Wasp in Iron Man 3’s wake, and none of these movies contain any revelations pertaining to their respective bad guys. This is further emphasized by the fact that a great number of Marvel’s films were deep in production during this time, meaning that its generally difficult to gauge just how influential the Mandarin twist has been upon all these individual films.

Related: The Marvel Cinematic Universe's Biggest Course Corrections

However, it does seem to have had an impact upon Thor: The Dark World, where Loki’s death was originally permanent. It was reportedly changed due to the fact that test screen audiences believed that the God of Mischief was faking his demise so that he could escape. Thor’s second solo movie was also re-shot to bolster many of Loki’s scenes earlier in the film as well. Based on this evidence alone, it does seem plausible that Marvel hastily edited Thor: The Dark World, not just to counter audience confusion, but because they recognized the benefits of Iron Man 3’s twist and wanted to capitalize on the popularity of their most successful villain so far.

Marvel Studios predominately fixed their antagonists by giving them an increased amount of screen time and fleshing out their backstories and motivations. Even so, it’s clear that the bad guy’s twist has become as much a part of the “Marvel formula” as the studios preference for humor. Though each revelation varies in size, context, and its degree of success, these sequences don’t just add shocking and memorable elements to the movie’s plot. Moreover, the twists imbue villains with a new, previously unseen aspect to be developed and explored in the film’s remaining run-time. For example, the twist that Hela is Thor’s secret sister directly feeds into Ragnarok’s subtext about the crimes of colonial rule.

Most of Marvel’s upcoming films are shrouded in secrecy, so we can only speculate about the next generation of cinematic super villains. But thanks to Iron Man 3’s Mandarin twist, it’s unlikely that the MCU’s new villains will ever be as predictable as they were before.

More: Marvel Villains Who Are Still Alive (And Could Return in MCU Phase 4)

Key Release Dates
  • The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
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