I realize this comes a bit late, but there seems to be a general consensus amongst comic book geeks (a group I'm usually proud to call myself a member of) that the Mandarin twist in Iron Man 3 was terrible and completely ruined the movie. Frankly, I couldn't disagree more. Nevertheless I'm here to save the movie, or at least the Mandarin, for all of you others out there.
The reason I love Iron Man 3's Mandarin is the same that others hate him. He's different, he's pathethic, he's a drunk former actor who sports a serious drug habit. It took me by surprise at first, and I was taken aback by it, but then came the AIM connection and I thought it was brilliant! A few others in the theatre clearly didn't think so, and left the cinema around that point. Well, I enjoyed the heck out of the entire film, and if anyone didn't enjoy it simply because of a surprise twist, then I'll solve that problem for you.
In Iron Man, they established that there was an organization called the Ten Rings. This organization had a strong resemblance to any number of terrorist organizations out there, but somehow without that religious or political fanaticism that seems to be the excuse for real world terrorists. They were just a group of really bad people with no apparent goal except getting bigger and stronger weapons. For that movie, they didn't need more than that, but for the franchise... Maybe there's more to them than meets the eye? Maybe they did have an agenda, a goal, a quest or a leader who just... moves in mysterious ways.
In Iron Man 3, AIM had created their own “Ten Rings”, with the Mandarin at the head. This is clearly a copycat organization based on the existing Ten Rings, who seem to have disappeared. They're better organized, have vast amount of resources and have no problem with using advanced weaponry. Also, all of them speak perfectly good English, a language only one of the Ten Rings members of Iron Man mastered. The old Ten Rings took a pretty heavy beating in Iron Man, so when AIM needed to cover up their exploding people, they simply took over the “brand” the original Ten Rings had made. They used the iconology and the Ten Rings mythos to create a leader the Mandarin so that the American government could have its target. It's pretty much what the AIM of the comics would do in the same situation, only slightly less sophisticated.
Now for the finale. Who is the leader of the original Ten Rings? Who was the man behind the mythos AIM used to make their own supervillain? Who is this, in lack of a better term, master of misdirection? And most of all, now that the Ten Rings organization has been proven to be American in nature, with Mandarin as a now very public puppet, who can laugh in the shadows as his original band of international terrorists recruits, rebuilds and regroups. Everyone is a pawn of the Mandarin, after all is said and done. Whether they know it or not.
As far as I know, this is fairly consistent with how both Mandarin and AIM operates. AIM covers things up, while Mandarin, despite his powers, uses misdirection as if it was his oxygen.
Iron Man 3 can be an amazing film if you let it. If you hated the twist before, try watching it again while keeping this post in mind, then tell me if your view of it changed in the comments below.