'Iron Man 3': Maybe Tony Stark really IS all about the armor?

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the-mandarin_510x340The Mandarin is not a Chinese refugee turned supervillain, as in the comics. This version, played by Brit Ben Kingsley with a kind of amorphous accent, was designed to transcend any one culture (which may be a nod to the box-office power of China these days), while still adopting assorted warrior motifs from around the world.

“It’s less about his specific ethnicity than the symbolism of various cultures and iconography that he perverts for his own end,” Feige said in an earlier EW interview. From his samurai hair, to his royal robe, to his bin Laden-esque beard, and the AK-47 he keeps at his side, Kingsley’s interpretation is a hodgepodge of the sinister.

But something kept nagging at me — what is that on the t-shirt he’s wearing under that vest?

If you click on the photo above for a larger, zoomed-in version, it becomes even more obvious. You can see the letters “ONS” to the left and “REO” (or is it “AGO”?) to the right, as well as assorted cylinders. I felt like I’d seen it before, somewhere …

Then I found this: He’s wearing some variation on this t-shirt with all the different caliber of bullets. The BMG in the bottom middle refers to “Browning Machine Gun,” and that .50 caliber cartridge above it.

So The Mandarin is a gun nut (we could have guessed that from the AK-47 to his left.)

But Feige was very specific — everything about The Mandarin’s appearance is meant to shape the public’s view of who he is. “Our version of this character wants to push those buttons in everyone, in every different country, all around the world to his own ends,” Feige says.

This could be his way of tapping those survivalist types in the U.S., who have more faith in their own ammunition stockpile more than the government. But Feige declines to clarify what that part of the costume means, or what the obscured writing on the shirt says.

“If I tell you what it is, that takes away from all the amazing speculation I’ll get to read on EW.com’s comment board,” Feige jokes. Don’t disappoint him, folks. What are your theories?

Whatever the case, Iron Man 3 seems to be focusing on a battle between appearance vs. true self.

While Rhodes has hopped into War Machine’s armor in the past to help Stark, his new Iron Patriot suit brands him as a pure military weapon, working on behalf of the United States of America, while Stark — driven away by an attack from Kingsley’s Mandarin — remains a loose-cannon, a freelance good-guy who comes through in a pinch, but isn’t following anyone’s orders.

As Iron Patriot, Rhodes is a man in uniform — and that uniform gives him a certain identity, just as The Mandarin’s appearance does for him. Stark, on the other hand, is just trying to figure out how to be comfortable in his own skin.

That may be a fight he never quite wins.

For more Marvel news

Read More:

‘Iron Man 3‘ and ‘Thor’ 2 to be released in 3-D; ‘Ant-Man’ to follow ‘Avengers 2′
‘Iron Man 3′ back underway after Robert Downey Jr. injury
Marvel’s ‘Phase Two’ goes micro (‘Ant-Man’) and macro (‘Guardians of the Galaxy’)

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