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Although Marvel Studios hasn't officially unveiled its lineup of Phase 4 movies just yet outside of Spider-Man: Far From Home (it's hard to say if there will be an event presenting this information similar to what was done for Phase 3 in 2014), slowly but surely, we're learning what will comprise this slate. The latest addition to the bunch is Shang-Chi, starring the same-named martial arts hero who's been around the Marvel Comics universe for decades. Wonder Woman 1984's David Callaham is writing Shang-Chi, and though it will be a while until we learn what this story is about, the movie could be a good opportunity to address an MCU plot thread that's been lingering for several years: the existence of The Mandarin.
Since being introduced in 1964's Tales of Suspense #50, The Mandarin has been one of Iron Man's greatest comic book enemies, using his naturally impressive intellect, martial arts skills and the ten aliens rings he found (each of which have their own special ability) to terrorize the Armored Avenger and the entire world. In 2013, Iron Man 3 finally adapted The Mandarin for the big screen. Well, sort of.
Within the MCU, The Mandarin was initially presented as the leader of The Ten Rings terrorist organization, but as it turned out, this individual was actually just a drunken actor named Trevor Slattery, who was hired by Iron Man 3's real villain, AIM head Aldrich Killian, to be the public proxy distracting the public while Killian carried out his illegal activities behind the scenes. Towards the end of Iron Man 3, Killian claimed he was the true Mandarin, but other than having some dragon tattoos, he hardly felt like a proper adaptation of the character.
Then came the All Hail the King, the Marvel One-Shot depicting Trevor Slattery being interviewed by documentarian Jackson Norriss about his past and how he became affiliated with Aldrich Killian. At the very end, Norriss explained that Killian had based The Mandarin persona on an actual historical figure. Revealing himself to be a Ten Rings member, Norriss held Trevor at gunpoint and told the idiotic performer that he was taking him to see the real Mandarin, who was insulted that Slattery and Killian made a mockery of his name.
And that's it. Four years have passed since All Hail the King, and there hasn't been any mention of The Mandarin since. There aren't any more Iron Man movies on the way, and it's been indicated that Robert Downey Jr. might be leaving the MCU after Avengers: Endgame. So it's unlikely that we'll ever get an Iron Man/Mandarin showdown within this universe, but as a consolation prize, The Mandarin could easily fill in as Shang-Chi's arch-nemesis on the big screen.
Within the Marvel Comics continuity, Shang-Chi was initially presented as the son of Fu Manchu, based off the same-named literary character. When Shang-Chi discovered that his father was an international criminal, he rebelled against his father, and many of Shang-Chi's earliest adventures followed him battling his father's minions. Due to licensing issues over characters and concepts from the Fu Manchu books, Marvel eventually had to stop calling him that, and years later, it was revealed that this individual was actually an ancient Chinese sorcerer named Zheng Zu who had discovered the secret to immortality and had used Fu Manchu as an alias.
Given how the original version of Fu Manchu is considered to be a negative stereotype, you can be sure that the Shang-Chi movie will not be using that name in any way. It's possible that the project could still adapt the Zheng Zu aspect of the character, particularly since Doctor Strange opened the door to magic in the MCU However, if Shang-Chi wants to pit its eponymous protagonist against a more grounded threat, The Mandarin would be the better candidate since he's already established.
Admittedly, in his earliest comic book years, The Mandarin had some Fu Manchu-like qualities, but those have thankfully been toned down in modern years, and with the proper legwork, the real Mandarin can be shown in the MCU as a man of Asian descent without coming across as a stereotype. Beyond that, Shang-Chi could certainly use The Mandarin to substitute for Fu Manchu/Zheng Zu as the main protagonist's father, but frankly, it's more interesting to imagine the MCU's Mandarin as a target that Shang-Chi, as a special operative, has to neutralize.
It's hard to say whether the MCU's Mandarin has indeed been alive for possibly thousands of years or if that's just a myth and Mandarin is really a title that's been passed down over generations, but either way, this is a powerful man. He's in charge of one of the world's most notorious terrorist organizations, which is already enough incentive for the government agencies around the world to want to stop him once they learn of his existence.
But Earth in the MCU's modern era has been exposed to a lot of strange and unusual forces, extraterrestrial arguably the most prominent. This might not have been possible to pull off when Iron Man came out, but a decade later, it's easy enough to imagine that this Mandarin came across alien technology sometime after the events of All Hail the King, whether it's literally through ten rings or through other tools. Who knows, since Captain Marvel is showing some of Earth's secret history with aliens, maybe Mandarin has had this alien technology for a lot longer, but he didn't know how to properly utilize it.
In any case, it would be cool to see Shang-Chi as the secret agent (possibly working for MI-6, like in the comics) who's been tasked to find and stop The Mandarin before the villain can use this alien technology to carry out The Ten Rings' most devastating attack yet. There would still be some fantastical elements that we come to expect from the MCU, but this story would still be grounded enough that it wouldn't take attention away from seeing Shang-Chi's martial arts skills in action. Alternatively, the Shang-Chi movie could take a magical vs. mystical approach and show how Shang-Chi's mastering his chi, which allows him to pull off physical feats a normal athlete couldn't, compares to power from another world.
The MCU has had a lot on its plate over the decade, not the least of which has been building up to Thanos collecting all six Infinity Stones and then unleashing their power. So it is understandable that there simply hasn't been enough time to show the true Mandarin, but that doesn't mean he needs to keep gathering dust. Having him confront Iron Man appears to be out of the picture, but through Shang-Chi, The Mandarin could be put to good use and finally join the ranks of classic Marvel villains who've had the privilege of appearing in live action.
Shang-Chi is still in early development, so stay tuned to CinemaBlend for continuing updates on how the movie is progressing. Don't forget to also look through our Marvel movies guide to learn what else the MCU will be releasing in the coming years.