“Some people call me a terrorist. I consider myself a teacher,” Ben Kingsley’s version of The Mandarin snarled in early previews. “Lesson #1: Heroes – there is no such thing.”
Interesting word choice there, because it turns out that his villain … is also “no such thing.”
The terrorist who takes over the television airwaves to claim responsibility for various bombings around the world is a front, a sham. The Mandarin is created as way to make high-tech bio-accidents look like purposeful attacks on the military, by way of protecting the developers whose healing Extremis serum sometimes has volatile, catastrophic side effects for its users — causing them to detonate like living bombs.
Kingsley’s true character? A clueless, cowering, dim-witted actor named Trevor.
It’s not that The Mandarin isn’t in the movie — it’s just that he’s not the character you think he is, which leads to one of the most unexpected twists in the mythology of any recent superhero saga. Instead we find out that Guy Pearce’s scientist-entrepreneur Aldrich Killian is the true mastermind, although in the Extremis graphic novel, he is merely a desperate scientist who commits suicide after selling the formula to a domestic terror group.
In Iron Man 3, the character gets to go full on Big Bad. “Ultimately we do give you the Mandarin, the real guy, but it’s Guy Pearce in the end with the big dragon tattooed on his chest,” Black says. “He says, ‘You don’t understand, I’ve been this guy since I was born. I’ve been embodying him in this [actor] that I’ve had proxying for me, but it’s really me.'”
Feige notes that every character in the movies — from Tony Stark to his various villains — has some degree of variation from the comics.
“There was a point where it becomes an extreme change,” Feige acknowledges. “It was nerve wracking.”
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