Until the last decade or so, Iron Man had always been at his best as an ensemble character – a founding member of the Avengers and a constant since their debut – subsequently he doesn’t enjoy the same heavyweight rogues’ gallery as his contempories – save one. Speaking exclusively to SciFiNow, Marvel Studios president and Iron Man 3 executive producer Kevin Feige reveals how Iron Man’s iconic nemesis was reinvented for the 21st Century….
Was the plan always to bring the Mandarin character into the Marvel’s Iron Man storyline?
The Mandarin is unquestionably Tony Stark’s greatest foe. The reason for that, frankly, is not because he’s appeared in a lot of great stories, but he’s just appeared in a lot of stories, going back to the early Sixties. So, if you asked the question, “Who is Iron Man’s greatest foe?” Odds are, people would say the Mandarin, and because of that he’s always been at the top of every list for each movie. In fact, he was a part of every draft of Iron Man 1 until about three months before we started filming.
Each time we came to another film, we talked about the Mandarin, but just didn’t have a great idea of how to do it. His appearances in the comics are very dated in a lot of them. They are not appropriate anymore, and he’s been updated in many ways, but not in a way that we ever found would work for the movie.
Then Shane Black had an idea of making him somebody whose background is unknown; we don’t know where he’s from at first, but he seems to be some kind of military officer that has gone off the reservation. He is starting to pull all of this iconography and symbolism from other cultures to his own ends to use them as symbols to pervert the symbol of the United States. He utilises the moniker of the Mandarin and robes with dragons on them and uses South American sort of guerilla tactics to create this aura of fear of his terror organisation. The Mandarin is sort of a very frightening, modern-day terrorist who has taken terror motifs from all over the world to use to his own ends. It was a very cool and relevant and scary idea. And the best thing about the Mandarin, always in the comics, has been how relentless he was against Tony.
When you see this film, something has happened in act one and the Mandarin is deemed responsible. On national television, Tony says, “I’m gonna come after you, Mandarin. I’m gonna find you.” And within a day, the Mandarin has decimated Tony’s house. Obadiah Stane didn’t do that, Whiplash didn’t do that, Loki didn’t do that. The Mandarin does it in the first act of Iron Man 3. That is very, very serious and very big.
When we were casting the part, we wanted somebody whose ethnicity was not specific and we wanted somebody who was a spectacular actor. Sir Ben Kingsley was interested, and it all fell into place.
There are many different incarnations of the Mandarin; he’s sort of pulled from all the comic-books to create this very unique and very iconic villain. When you first hear his voice in the trailer, it is unexpected. That came about because we needed Sir Ben to record some dialogue for a San Diego Comic-Con piece that we’d done. He said that he had been working on the Mandarin’s voice, so we let him try it. We all didn’t know what to think at first until we started laying it into the picture and said, “My God, it’s brilliant.” It’s fascinating and you can’t out your finger on what it is or where it’s coming from, which is exactly what the Mandarin is in this movie. So having Sir Ben Kingsley on board is amazing, and I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people with his performance.
Iron Man 3 is released 26 April 2013. Read an exclusive interview with Robert Downey Jr and screenwriter Drew Pearce in this month’s SciFiNow.