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WARNING: If you have not seen Iron Man 3 yet, you should stop reading right now. This article will completely ruin the movie’s twist, and I do not wish to hamper anybody’s enjoyment of the film.
Iron Man 3 made $175.3 million at the box office last weekend, boasting the second-biggest opening of all time. A ton of people saw it-- but not everyone was happy about it. Some vocal comic book fans have taken to comments sections and message boards all around the internet to complain about the film's big twist, which reveals Sir Ben Kingsley's The Mandarin not as a supervillain, but a drug-addicted actor – leaving Guy Pearce’s Extremis-ridden Aldrich Killian as the real main baddie. The Mandarin's portrayal is completely different than anything previously seen in the comics, and has upset a few people.
But they’re wrong. The film never loses sight of the nature of the character, and not only helps make Iron Man 3 a better movie, but actually adds more cohesiveness to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
A quick history lesson: The Mandarin, created by Stan Lee, was first introduced in 1964. The character was of Chinese descent and trained in science and martial arts from a young age before stumbling upon ten rings that came from a crashed alien spaceship. Each of the rings had its own abilities, and he harnessed them to begin a quest for power, fueled by intense megalomania. It was when The Mandarin began plans for world domination that he first encountered Iron Man, and the two became arch-nemeses.
Fans upset about Iron Man 3's reversal of the Mandarin seem mostly hung up on the aesthetics. Could any Iron Man fan say that the Mandarin, a man with a genius-level intellect, wouldn’t devise a plan involving a shadow terrorist leader who hides the identity of the true mastermind? For those who believed that the “magic” element wasn’t explored enough and were disappointed that the character didn’t have ten rings with individual powers, was it not enough that Aldrich Killian/The Mandarin could spit fire, had superhuman strength and regenerative abilities? With control over a massive conglomerate with Advanced Idea Mechanics as well as a widespread terrorism organization, can you argue that he didn’t have the same kind of clout and influence? If those are the characteristics that make The Mandarin, the only complaint that people have is that he looks like Guy Pearce instead of Sir Ben Kingsley.
Killian being The Mandarin also has a much greater impact on the world of Tony Stark. Kingsley’s character being The Mandarin keeps the villain at an arm’s length from the hero, but putting Killian in that seat brings the situation much closer to home. In Iron Man 3 we learn that Killian is not only the C.E.O. of A.I.M., a direct competitor of Stark Industries, but that he also once had a close relationship with Pepper Potts, and was once totally burned by Tony at a party. Now think bigger. Killian’s position as the leader of the Ten Rings means that he was directly linked to Tony’s kidnapping in Afghanistan in Iron Man, and also helped Anton Vanko get to the Circuit de Monaco in Iron Man 2. Killian’s extreme personal and professional issues give The Mandarin legitimate character motivations to try and destroy Tony Stark’s life and establishes him as the Iron Man's greatest villain - just like in the comics.
Funny enough, it’s the comic origins vs. movie portrayal debate that makes the twist go from simply being clever to ingenious. As Katey explained in fuller detail HERE, fans went into the movie expecting a straight-from-the-comics adaptation of the character and were completely thrown for a loop when Kingsley’s Trevor waddled out of the bathroom mumbling with a Cockney accent. Reversing expectations both helped to tell the story that Black wanted to tell and add to the entertainment value of the film. Can we really ask for more than that?