2008's Iron Man kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe and as Marvel Studios' most bankable individual character, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) already has a trilogy of solo films, the latest of which sits as the fifth highest grossing film of all-time. For fans of the Iron Man comics, it was hoped that by the end of the trilogy (and previous end to RDJ's contract with the studio) moviegoers would meet the hero's archenemy from the comics known as The Mandarin.
The marketing campaign for Iron Man 3 seemingly promised as much, using imagery and voiceovers of Ben Kingsley suited up as The Mandarin, to tease the epic confrontation that had roots dating back to the first time Tony Stark was captured by the Ten Rings organization and built his first mechanized armored suit. But nothing was as it seemed and the twists and turns in the plot of Iron Man 3 made it Marvel's most divisive film yet.
Warning: We're assuming if you read ahead that you've seen Iron Man 3. Spoilers abound.
As it turns out, Ben Kingsley isn't really playing the Mandarin. He's playing a drug-addicted British actor named Trevor Slattery who was pretending to play the terrorist figure on behalf of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Killian reveals that he's the Mandarin, but what he actually reveals is that he's behind the Mandarin - not actually the Mandarin himself.
So, when chatting with Iron Man 3 co-writer Drew Pearce - who brings Ben Kingsley's Trevor Slattery back for the All Hail The King Marvel One-Shot short film coming with Thor: The Dark World on Blu-ray - on the phone last week, I had to ask him about how that whole idea came about - since there was quite a bit of outcry from diehard fans about how The Mandarin (who wasn't really The Mandarin) was portrayed in Iron Man 3.
So my question is, when you came aboard Iron Man 3 with [writer and director Shane Black] did you know how the Mandarin story was going to play out and what input did you have on that?
Shane and I basically came up with it in his gigantic mansion in LA where we sat for ten hours a day for three months hammering out what we actually wanted the movie to be thematically, and we quickly latched on to the idea for Tony of false faces and the idea of the dual personality of Tony as an out superhero who is basically using his self-definition through the false face of Iron Man. We wanted something that would reflect that, not as an exact mirror but thematically in the bad guy characters. And at one time I came back from the bathroom and said, "Shane, what if the Mandarin is an actor?" and it escalated from there. Now, I did not come back from the bathroom and pitch an alcoholic, British lovie with a pair of hookers in his bed and an incredibly detailed history in local British theater but that is weirdly what it turned out to be. (laughs)
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On whether or not reaction to Iron Man 3 dictated the return of Slattery or another change in the character or the "Mandarin" identity:
I actually just felt like it was in the lineage of the information we already dolled out in the movies. In the first movie there was the Ten Rings and in the second movie there was a deleted scene where the rings appear again, and in the third movie we were quite clear in the movie and in the press that there was a mantel that had been co-opted by Killian - partly because if we hadn't said that it would have completely invalidated a huge part of the first movie which is Raza works for The Ten Rings. So for me I was just joining dots to be honest and using that to give the short some drama and some form of momentum. I didn't want the short to feel like just a skit. I felt like it had to earn its place in the MCU so that was really the driving force behind it.
The Aldrich Killian/Trevor Slattery act was never the real Mandarin nor was it meant to seem that way. Instead of Iron Man 3 being about the actual Ten Rings organization and their mysterious leader, it was about the Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) think tank and their calculated plan to use that Mandarin identity as a distraction. There really still was (and still is) a Ten Rings organization out there. So, why the Marvel One-Shot about Slattery now?
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The idea for a short based around Kingsley's Trevor Slattery character wasn't conceived as a result of the mixed reaction to the film - although according to Pearce it did have an impact on some of the dialogue - but rather, upon first seeing Kingsley play the character. During meetings about future One-Shots, Joss Whedon (current overseer of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) said that if they can get Kingsley interested in doing a short for Marvel Studios then that is definitely the direction to go in. More details soon.
Maybe there is a real Mandarin out there and maybe, if Iron Man 4 happens one day - and we know Marvel very much wants that to be the case - then we can see Stark face off against him.
All Hail The King releases with Thor: The Dark World on 3D Combo Pack (3D Blu-ray, 2D Blu-ray, Digital Copy), Single-Disc Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand February 25, 2014.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014, The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6 2016, July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your Marvel movie news!