Warning: The following article may contain spoilers for Iron Man 3. I've tried not to give away any plot twists, but you should proceed with caution
Iron Man 3 comes crashing, banging and walloping into theaters next week in what will be the first installment of the shell-head franchise to be directed by Lethal Weapon scribe . I managed to catch a press screening of the movie this week and while it's by no means faultless, it's a worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a solid platform for the studio to launch Phase 2. is back cracking wise, but is now also suffering from the after-effects of the events in Manhattan and is prone to the occasional panic attack. In order to try and get his head straight, Stark has development an unhealthy obsession of building Iron Man suits, which has put strain on his relationship with Pepper Potts. Something has to give. Stark needs a purpose, he needs to be the hero again.
Enter the Mandarin.
A series of explosions have rocked America. The Mandarin appears on a low-quality video, his fingers adorned with rings, wearing a Oriental-style overcoat and Aviator sunglasses promising more carnage to come. He ominously tells a stunned nation that he's not a terrorist. Instead, he argues that he's a teacher, and class is about to begin. And so we are introduced to what I think is arguably the best cinematic comic book villain since the Joker.
First up, the Mandarin is very much a 21st-century villain. He claims to be the leader of the international organization The Ten Rings, yet never makes clear what he's fighting for. He calls himself a teacher and like a teacher has a fervent belief in his own rhetoric, which he broadcasts through badly lit, low quality video sent to news organizations throughout the world. He films himself firing his AK47 with military precision at targets. He burns flags and is surrounded by loyal foot soldiers and adoring children. He immediately invokes memories of bin Laden and every other terrorist who's threatened war by way of ideology. It's disconcerting because the Mandarin is so familiar. The propaganda, the miss-placed idealism, the cold-hearted antipathy for another way of life are all things we've been seeing on our televisions for the past decade.
And then everything gets flipped on its head. I'm not going to give it away, but the Mandarin's big reveal almost knocked me off my seat. It might anger fans of the Marvel character, but I thought it was a brave decision that means the Mandarin will go down in the pantheon of great comic book villains. In Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne said to Alfred:
People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy... A man is just flesh and blood, and can be ignored or destroyed. But a symbol....as a symbol I can be incorruptible, everlasting.....
This is the Mandarin. He's the flamboyant figurehead, the face in front of the camera for people to fear and despise, while the real danger -- the money men and the corrupt government -- wreak havoc in the shadows. We live in an epoch of global financial crises, wars over natural resources, and governments in the pockets of lobbyists. The Mandarin is a true soldier of fortune, with the emphasis very much on fortune. If the Joker was chaos theory made manifest, someone who simply wanted to watch the world burn, then the Mandarin is a wholly more cynical villain. A Colonel Kurtz with a paycheck. A stooge in an iconic costume. If Batman was the hero that Gotham City needed, then the Mandarin is the villain our corrupt, celebrity-obsessed and greedy society deserves.
I want to hear your thoughts on the Mandarin. Have you managed to see Iron Man 3 yet? If so, what did you think about his portrayal in the movie? Fill the comment section below with your opinions.