Before Iron Man 3 came out, the hype reached insane levels. Since it was the first movie after The Avengers, with Ben Kingsley as the villain — not to mention the fact that it benefitted simply from being another Iron Man movie — it performed well. The movie's trailers did a spectacular job emphasizing Kingsley's shadowy antagonist, who just so happens to be a beloved character from Iron Man lore:
Every shot of his costume took your breath away, every line rang in your ears, and every step into his lair brought you to a whole other world. Unfortunately, it wasn't the world we wanted to be taken to. Why?
The Mandarin Was Never The Mandarin!
In what turned out to be quite the controversial change-up, we learned that the fearsome Mandarin was nothing more than an elaborate cover for Aldrich Killian and his generically evil company. This wouldn't have been too big a deal if Killian had been a good villain. Alas, the underwhelming fire-breathing businessman was a major disappointment. That's why fan backlash was enormous. Eventually, director Shane Black and the folks at Marvel named multiple issues as the reasons for the change, ranging from "creativity" to "avoiding racist stereotypes."
Well, Black has stepped back into the picture, with more to say on the decision to bait-and-switch the primary antagonist in an interview with Uproxx:
"...it never occurred to us the Mandarin is as iconic to people as, say, the Joker in Batman... [Fans] just wanted to see the magic rings shoot lasers."
While that does apply to the general audience (who didn't have much of a problem with the change), it did not go over well with the hardcore fans. And that's something that blindsided Marvel executives, as they thought fans would "eat it up."
But Wait! There's An Apology!
Many fans are familiar with the Marvel One-Shots. Although they're a thing of the past now, they did a great job teasing upcoming movies. We followed Coulson, Peggy Carter, and a random couple as they stumbled through the MCU. The most important one? All Hail the King, which features an incarcerated Trevor Slattery (y'know, fake Mandarin):
The short film features a mysterious agent — ironically played by Batman v Superman's Scoot McNairy — speaking to Slattery about how there was a real Mandarin, and how he wanted to meet Slattery. Despite never seeing him, it pleased fans. It reassured fans that the villain's potential hadn't been wasted, and that he exists, with the Ten Rings organization still at his beck and call.
In the Uproxx interview, Black went on to talk about the movie, saying that:
"Marvel saw so many negative things they made a whole other movie just to apologize called All Hail the King. In which they said, 'No, no, the Mandarin is still alive. That wasn't him. There's a real Mandarin.'"
Essentially, he's saying that the short was only made due to the negative fan reception the switch got. It was Marvel's apology, basically. A $500,000 apology. Starring an Oscar winner. Oh well. If you've got it, flaunt it.
How did you feel about the Mandarin twist?