Writer-director Shane Black explains the how's and why's of IRON MAN 3's big plot twist

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Judging from the most recent box office figures, a whole lot of you have seen Iron Man 3 by now. And I’m pretty sure that besides for the laugh-a-minute dialogue, the brain melting action set pieces, the amazing visuals and that hilarious kid, there’s one scene that probably stands out as the most memorable.

For some longtime fans of ol’ Shellhead though, that memory has not been all that good, while others have absolutely loved it. Now co-writer/director Shane Black spills the beans on why the infamous plot twist went down the way it did.

Clearly, if you’re one of the 6 people who hasn’t seen the movie yet, MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING! 

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Is it better to be SPOILERed or SPOILERed? I say is it too much to ask for both?

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Genius, billionaire, playboy SPOILER.

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I AM SPOILER MAN!

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Good job, guys. Let’s just not come in tomorrow. Let’s just take a day. Have you ever tried SPOILER? There’s a SPOILER  joint about two blocks from here.

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Right, and now that we’ve got rid of them, let’s get to what we came here to discuss: Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin. Or Ben Kingsley’s Not-Mandarin, if you were.

When it’s revealed in the movie that the Baptist preacher drawling, Asian mysticism fueled, video making global terrorist, The Mandarin, is actually nothing but a sham, a convenient mouthpiece created by Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian to not only take the fall for Killian’s accidental bombings, but also to create the market for Killian’s own business interests, it is easily one the best (and most well kept) plot twists of recent times. It’s the very definition of a “rug pulled out from underneath you” moment. And it is hilarious.

When Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery, the real name of the bum English actor who Killian has hired to create the persona of The Mandarin, comes bumbling out of that bathroom, with his cockney accent and semi-inebriated appearance, it’s an incredible gag, played pitch perfect by the greatly talented Kingsley.

The problem was that in comic book lore, The Mandarin is as close to an arch nemesis as Tony Stark has. He’s the Joker to Stark’s Batman, the Magneto to Stark’s Xavier, the Norman Osborn to Stark’s Spider-Man. And now he’d just been reduced to a toilet gag.

This obviously didn’t sit too well with plenty of comic book fans, who were quite vocal in their ire. I may even have joined in the chorus of boos a few times myself. Since then though, I’ve warmed up a bit to the idea of this new “mandarin”. I understand that the original character, with his Fu Manchu appearance and cackling laugh, was an incredibly racist stereotype when he was first created, and it would have been exceedingly difficult for Marvel to bring this character to life on the big screen without taking a huge amount of flak. However, not only have comic writers like Matt Fraction and Daniel and Charles Knauff perfectly recreated the Mandarin for more modern sensibilities recently, but the movie version of the character, the one we thought we were going to see before the switcheroo, already got around virtually all of the character’s stereotypes by having not only his look redesigned, but even his ethnicity. Kingsley’s Mandarin looks like a cross between Osama Bin Laden, a South American warlord and a pimp.

But apparently offensive looks and heritage was not the only reason why Marvel chose to do the character the way they did. As Black explained to Total Film, he just wasn’t all that interesting.

“I would say that we struggled to find a way to present a mythic terrorist that had something about him that registered after the movie’s over as having been a unique take, or a clever idea, or a way to say something of use.”

“And what was of use about the Mandarin’s portrayal in this movie, to me, is that it offers up a way that you can sort of show how people are complicit in being frightened. They buy into things in the way that the audience for this movie buys into it.”

“I think that’s a message that’s more interesting for the modern world, because I think there’s a lot of fear that’s generated toward very available and obvious targets, which could perhaps be directed more intelligently at what’s behind them.”

In that regard, I do agree. It was a very clever and far more layered take on the character than just “terrorist supervillain with magic rings”. That being said, like I mentioned, the modern version of the character (which incidentally was created in the exact same time period from which Iron Man 3 borrows most of its narrative cues) is already more than that. Often out-thinking the genius Tony Stark, he’s evolved far beyond his standard mystic roots, to become a highly manipulative despot, who can strike at Stark from around the world through intricate plans, but also go armoured toe to ringed finger with him when it came to a plain ol’ throwdown. And I would have loved to see this version realized on the screen.

There is of course nothing stopping Marvel from still making that version happen though. The original Mandarin was also a bumbling fool before he stumbled across ten magic rings – actually ten highly advanced alien artifacts from a crashed spaceship – that allowed him to bend the laws of physics to his will, and so start to realize his megalomaniacal dreams. So what’s to stop the same thing from happening to good ol’ Trevor Slattery? With the Marvel Cinematic Universe running into extraterrestrial threats every other day now, what’s to say that Trevor can’t find some crashed ET ship and get transformed from loveable scamp to powerful nemesis?

Tell me that’s not a movie that you would watch in a heartbeat.

Last Updated: May 21, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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