Outside of that, Killian’s lone motivation appears to be that Stark snubbed him at a party in Switzerland decades ago. That’s it. Why the elaborate scheme of creating an alternate threat in The Mandarin? No real reason. Forcing Killian to declare himself as The Mandarin only creates more questions than the movie bothers to answer.

Why would Killian adopt a moniker that has blatant Asian undertones? The name worked for the character at the time he was created, but makes no sense is it’s adopted by Pearce’s contemporary character. If Killian is supposed to be the threat the entire time, why would he even take a meeting with Pepper early on in the film? What if Pepper had said she adored the Extremis idea and wanted to move forward with it? Would the rest of the movie have cancelled out? And why does Killian/Mandarin have to wait until Tony gives out his address on the news to attack. Isn’t Stark’s identity – and, therefore, his residences – public knowledge? Stark calling out “The Mandarin” on live television is yet another useless red herring that maintains the ruse of the Mandarin’s real identity until the reveal … but then end up looking very silly once you think back on them in hindsight.

My biggest problem with the handling of The Mandarin, however, comes down to the fact that I believe Iron Man fans were cheated out of a legitimate confrontation between Robert Downey Jr.’s version of Iron Man and an interpretation of The Mandarin that would have worked for the MCU’s modern settings. I think of Christian Bale’s interrogation-room scene with Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, or Tobey Maguire confronting Willem Dafoe atop a bridge in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man. These are seminal moments for fans who not only read comics but respect the narratives that enriched the history and identity of these Marvel superheroes.

Shane Black’s handling of The Mandarin was a cute trick, and if they only wanted to deflate the mysticism of The Mandarin by admitting this dated character doesn’t work in this timeline, I would have been OK with that message. But by cramming a classic villain like The Mandarin into a secondary character like Killian – who should have his own agenda, and flails when he’s forced to absorb the Mandarin’s motivations – I think Iron Man 3 does a disservice to Stark, Killian, A.I.M., Extremis, The Mandarin and Marvel fans, as a whole.

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