Iron Man 3: The Mandarin plot twist explained

Writer Drew Pearce tells us why they deviated so far from the comics for the iconic villain.

The brilliant Sir Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin (Credit: Marvel)

***Warning: Spoilers ahead***

Last April, Marvel threatened to turn away their fan base away when The Mandarin the chief bad guy of ‘Iron Man 3’ wasn’t exactly what they’d been waiting for. Fans wanted brooding evil. Instead they got drunken pretense… We got Trevor Slattery.

The film’s big reveal exposed canonical comic book character The Mandarin as an elaborate diversion – a persona put on by washed-up bumbling British luvvie Trevor Slattery (played to perfection by Sir Ben Kingsley), who’d been hired as a puppet to front a bigger villainous plot.

Audiences were genuinely divided by “The Mandarin Twist”. And it became the biggest talking point of Summer 2013 at the cinema. Not bad for an idea that writer Drew Pearce came up with on the toilet…

“I came back from the loo, having thought of “The Mandarin Twist”, and [director] Shane Black and me then started to talk about who he would be. And we went to a place where he would be an actor. I can’t remember, it could well have been Shane that said “Well, you’re English. You should just write him as an English actor.” Then this spiraled into this ridiculous…” Drew laughs.

“The brilliant thing about working with Shane is whatever I would give him as Trevor, he would just laugh and he would go “Do it more. Go further. Do it more.” Not really thinking that we would ever be allowed to do it in the movie. But then Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel loves it too, and controversial superhero cinematic history was made.”

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There was some logic behind the leftfield twist though, as Drew explains they wanted a character that “mirrored” Iron Man himself, Tony Stark:

“One of the things of Tony’s story that we wanted to tell was this idea of false faces, and the idea that Iron Man had kind of taken over, and Tony was losing what his sense of self was,” says Drew.

“We knew we wanted something iconic for him to go up against, and The Mandarin was very much in our thoughts. But that’s actually why ‘The Mandarin Twist’ as it’s usually referred, came about. We were trying to find something mirrored Tony is that respect. And something that works with [Guy Pearce’s villain] Killian as well. The fact that it turned into a drunken, ridiculous, old British folk is weird…”

The Marvel studio’s reinvention of classic (and sometimes forgotten) comic book lore has become one of the biggest success stories modern movies, but exposing an iconic character nothing more than an actor was still pretty brave. However Drew says they weren’t bothered about a fan backlash, they were more concerned Trevor’s just wouldn’t translate.

“We were more worried leading up to it that the reveal wouldn’t work. That people wouldn’t find Trevor funny, or be entertained by it. I guess we knew, going in, that it was a very radically different interpretation of a canonical character. But, if I’m honest, it didn’t really worry me afterwards,” says Drew. “Obviously, I feel a sympathy for people who expected one thing, but I also believe it’s totally the right thing to do with, particularly the superhero genre as it continues, to throw new things in. Throw in twists. Not be predictable.”

“I think we did the right thing. And I think over time, as Trevor becomes a bit more, like has become a part of superhero/pop culture landscape, I feel more proud of him as time goes on.”

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Drew himself recently graduated into directing at Marvel, having been given the creative reigns of much-talked-about new “one shot” ‘All Hail The King’.

Depicting Trevor Slattery’s post-‘Iron Man 3’ life in prison (and new found fame amongst his fellow inmates), the short movie in included on the new ‘Thor: The Dark World’ Blu-ray, out now in the UK.

But, as the British-born screenwriter says, the idea for this new chapter in Marvel history didn’t even exist until they saw Ben Kingsley himself in character.

“There was always this fear of like “Will the twist land?” And, when we just saw him do it on-set we were like “OK. Trevor’s in the bag!” Sir Ben was nailing every second of Trevor’s existence. And so, over lunch Kevin and I thought we should do more with him. Because he’s barely in the movie… and I actually wrote it that night in a hotel room in North Carolina.

“Then last summer, Kevin and the rest of the brain trust sat down.” He says. “We were brainstorming ideas, and it was Joss Whedon that said “You have Sir Ben Kingsley?” And I said “I don’t know if he’ll do it, but he was interested.” And Joss said “If there’s a chance you can do a one shot with Ben Kingsley, that is the only thing you should be doing.”

“He’s quite right. He’s absolutely quite right. ‘All Hail The King’ is essentially a student film, with one of the greatest actors of our generation…”

‘All Hail The King’ in included on the Blu-ray release of ‘Thor: The Dark World’, out now in the UK.

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