Marvel still has MCU plans for the real Mandarin

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I don’t think there’s any entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as divisive as Iron Man 3. Shane Black’s 2013 comic book techno-thriller was a hit both with critics and at the box office, and also a crucial stage in the personal arc of Robert Downey jr.’s Tony Stark. And yet, some fans still hated it. And a lot of that enmity was down to how Marvel handled the Mandarin.

Created by Stan Lee and Don Heck in 1964, The Mandarin was one of Iron Man’s arch-nemeses in the comics. A descendant of Gengis Khan, the Mandarin inherited his progenitor’s lust for domination, which he tried to exact using his genius intellect as well as ten “magical” rings – actually repurposed extraterrestrial technology salvaged from a crashed spaceship. He was also a walking collection of terrible Asian stereotypes and caricatures. This was clearly a problem.

Marvel got around this in Iron Man 3 by casting the mixed-race Sir Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin and reworking the character to be a charismatic criminal mastermind – who controlled the Ten Rings terrorist organization first mentioned in the first Iron Man movie – whose design was a mix of Asian and Middle-Eastern iconography. Except he was actually none of these things.

In a twist as shocking as it was hilarious, it gets revealed that Kingsley’s Mandarin is actually Trevor Slattery, a drunk British actor who was hired by Guy Pearce’s Adrian Killian to mask his real villainous activities with flashy diversions.

Fans – like me – were divided on this turn of events. On the one hand, the reveal was done so brilliantly (how Marvel even kept it secret is beyond me) that it was entertaining as hell. But on the other hand, one of Marvel’s most iconic villains had just been reduced to a punchline in a gag. Marvel offered some solace to fans though as the All Hail the King short-film included on the Thor: The Dark World home release caught up with Slattery, now a prisoner in Seagate Prison who is living luxuriously due to the false assumption by other inmates of his infamy. However, Slattery is confronted and broken out of prison by a man who reveals himself to be a member of the real Ten Rings, who informs the actor that the real Mandarin is not happy at all that Slattery has been using his name.

And that’s the last we had heard of that. I say “had”, because some unexpected news popped up this week when Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige performed an AMA (aka Ask Me Anything) on Reddit. Amid all the questions about the mysterious Phase 4 of the MCU (which Feige danced around), a Redditor by the name of GentlemanGearGrinder asked whether there are “any plans to incorporate the Ten Rings from the first Iron Man, or the ‘real’ Mandarin teased in ‘All Hail the King’ in the future?”. Surprisingly, Feige answered with a very straightforward “Yes”.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time Feige has hinted as much. Soon after the release of All Hail the King, the studio boss told IGN Movies the following:

There have been [talks about the real Mandarin]. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do the fun short that Drew Pearce wrote and directed. That was to clarify, ‘Hey, just because we did this thing doesn’t mean this other thing doesn’t exist.’ And as we were making Iron Man 3 — and I think Drew’s spoken about this — that was always our intention, was that Aldrich Killian was perverting the notion of these things he’s heard.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME SPOILER WARNING

AVENGERS: ENDGAME SPOILER WARNING

AVENGERS: ENDGAME SPOILER WARNING

With how Iron Man’s story plays out in Avengers: Endgame, if the real Mandarin was to be finally introduced into the MCU, it would not be in Iron Man sequel despite how much the two are linked. What Marvel could do though is instead replace Fu Manchu – the very same terrible Asian caricature that the Mandarin was originally based on – as the main villain of the upcoming Shang-Chi solo film with this other Mandarin instead. Use his updated appearance and modus operandi from the modern Iron Man comics and Mandarin actually fits so perfectly into Shang Chi’s own updated backstory that I’ll be very surprised if this isn’t exactly what Feige and co have planned.

Meanwhile, make sure to go check out Feige’s AMA in full. While he doesn’t drop any other major bombs, there are a couple of neat nuggets like the fact that while Marvel has broad plans for the MCU way into the future, they have detailed plans for the next five years.

Last Updated: May 17, 2019

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