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Iron Man 3’s The Mandarin – In Name Only?

DISCLAIMER: If you haven’t seen Iron Man 3, beware! This article is full to the brim with spoilers which will potentially ruin the film, the franchise, maybe even your life! Or you can just keep reading and risk it.

The version of the Mandarin presented in Iron Man 3 is rather unique and quite different from the version presented in the comics. Even before the release of the film, it was clear that Sir Ben Kingsley‘s portrayal was not quite going to match the source material, but nobody could have predicted how different the Mandarin would actually be.

Traditionally, or rather, in the comics, the Mandarin is a man of Chinese descent, whose incredible martial arts training and acquisition of 10 alien rings, one for each finger, gives him the ability to be a worthy adversary of Iron Man. Add to that his childhood, raised by his aunt, embittered against the world after the death of his parents, and having been born duringthe Chinese Communist revolution, we have a recipe for disaster.

Iron Man 3 has bastardised the Mandarin, and even satirised the cleverly devised character we know and love from the comics. Having introduced the idea of aliens into the MCU in The Avengers, it would not be absurd to add an alien element into Iron Man 3, would it? Or at least add the alien element which defines the Mandarin as a character, his rings?

One would have thought so, but this was not the case. The Mandarin was scientifically advanced, yes, and there was a very Hollywood-y circular plot in that respect, as Tony Stark meets the true Mandarin, Aldrich Killian, and his eventual accomplice Maya Hansen in 1999 (though they weren’t affiliated then). The basis of the Mandarin’s power is this idea of regeneration, as the disabled scientist Killian decides that he wants to look normal. He goes on to heal amputees from the army and others, and begins to build up a body of Extremis-enhanced super soldiers. However, the formula is not perfected, and these super-charged humans sometimes spontaneously explode. It’s quite farfetched, really.

So, there are no rings, totally different powers, now what about the sinister, worldly, interesting appearance of the Mandarin? No, in fact, his famed facial hair is satirised, it’s all a façade as Killian, who turns out to be the real Mandarin, merely hires an actor to falsify this image, as the ‘face of terrorism’. It’s an interesting choice, it’s topical, it’s quite clever, but it’s fairly pointless. There simply isn’t a need for it other than the humour of discovering the famed Mandarin is an English actor named Trevor. I suppose it was a good twist which caught me totally unaware, but I was disappointed, if only because Kingsley was absolutely terrific as the Mandarin, and deserved the title of ‘antagonist’, rather than just ‘decoy’.

All-in-all, given the main things that define the Mandarin, his appearance, background, hell-bent desire for destruction, the alien rings, and anything else one can associate with the classic character from the comics, Iron Man 3 did indeed bastardise the classic character.

At least they kept his name.

What did you think of Iron Man 3‘s version of the Mandarin?

About the author

Jamie Touche