If The Mandarin is going to work as the villain in “Iron Man 3,” he’s going to have to be a fairly radical reinvention of the character that has traditionally appeared in the pages of the Marvel comics. It goes beyond the obvious issue of him being a sort of oddly dated “Yellow Menace” character, and it’s more about the fact that villainy in the 21st century looks very different because the world itself has changed.
Ben Kingsley’s take on The Mandarin is, before anything else, media-savvy. He’s a television terrorist, a guy whose every accessory, whose look and voice and mannerisms are all created, calculated, part of an image that he’s trying to project. He is a brilliant tactician, but that’s not just about military strength or being able to reach out and, oh, I don’t know… blow Tony Stark’s house right off the side of the mountain where it sits. His strength comes from his complete lack of fear, his determination to use every single tool available to reshape the world to his will.
You’ve seen a wee tiny bit of The Mandarin in the trailers so far, and I’ve seen just a week bit more of his work than that, but Marvel’s still playing him close to the vest. He’s not the only bad guy in the film, of course, but he is the most overt bad guy in the film. More than that, he’s one of the most overt bad guys in any of the Marvel movies so far, because that’s what he’s designed to be. He is meant to be a symbol of chaos and fear and everything that the Marvel universe heroes are trying to stop.
I think the more married you are to an idea of who the character is already, the more likely you are to be disappointed by the way Shane Black and Drew Pearce have reconfigured him. The less hardline your concept is, the more likely you are to be open to this interpretation. I like the idea that every ring on every finger, every sartorial choice, his hair, his voice… it’s all an act. It’s all a creation, and it’s all designed to simply push an agenda.
How will The Mandarin be connected to Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and the work he’s doing with Maya Hansen? And how does Tony Stark end up cut off from everyone, forced once again to use his brain to figure a way out of trouble?
We’ll find out when “Iron Man 3” arrives in theaters on May 3, 2013.