And why I defend it.
|Once again, I get to talk about racism. Joy.|
He’s a racist caricature.
I’m sorry to all the character’s fans, but it’s true.
Most, if not all, ethnicities have a go-to villain stereotype that we tend to use here in America, many of which have fallen out of fashion. The British alternate between suave masterminds to utter brutes, South Americans are usually portrayed as drug dealers, and anyone who doesn’t look white can be cast as some kind of terrorist. (I’ll be getting to that soon enough, don’t you worry.) But there was once a character called Dr. Fu Manchu. Long story short, he made up for his cruelty with his massive intellect, numerous degrees, and enormous criminal empire. The character was so popular that he inspired similar “Yellow Peril” villains like Ming the Merciless, Dr. No, Rā's al Ghūl… and, yes, the Mandarin.
|1960's... Just... no.|
Now? Very racist.
As such, the character has been given numerous revamps in the comics to make him more relevant and less of a stereotype.
|Including making him look white, I guess.|
|Including making him look green, I guess.|
But you can’t not use a hero’s arch villain. Superman will always end up fighting Lex Luthor and Batman will always end up fighting the Joker.
|Except in Beware the Batman, but who knows what Season 2 would have brought us?|
It was Drew Pierce, the film’s screenwriter, who suggested that “the Mandarin” should be a fake; a front for the real villain. They took the idea and ran with it.
According to Shane Black: “I wanted to do an interesting story choice, something that was about our own fear and our own ways of viewing villains. What if he's sort of this all-things-to-all-people uber-terrorist? What if he is the myth, and in the end that is what we're dealing with: a created myth perpetuated and cobbled together from popular consciousness?"
In an interesting twist, the character is racist on purpose. And that makes it not racist in the end.
Let me explain, because that’s a heck of a statement.
Remember the “Mandarin”’s spiel on fortune cookies? They’re an American invention, made by taken vaguely foreign things and presenting it to look Chinese? Well, that’s exactly what Shane Black did. He took a British man with dark skin and turned him into a modern terrorist who was allegedly a follower of the teachings of Sun Tzu. You couldn’t cobble together more ethnic villain stereotypes if you tried.
Before the film came out, they had to present the “Mandarin” like he was the genuine villain. Shane Black, even Ben Kingsley gave interviews talking about his role like he was the main villain. And so, cries of racism were thrown around.
|Ironically enough, the sarcasm dripping off this picture is kind of unintentionally correct.|
The dark skin? The modern terrorism theme? The Chinese trappings? Everything about him screams “villain” because, as uncomfortable as this idea might make us, this is kind of what we expect from our villains. We accept that Middle Easterners will be shown as terrorists in film, and that Asia will always try and rule the world somehow. It’s only when you take all of these stereotypes and toss them together that we tend to speak up against it.
In-universe, Aldrich Killian based the Mandarin on what people expected a terrorist mastermind to look like, playing on fears of the Middle East and Asia. And that’s also what the filmmakers did.
So no. I don’t believe that this particular version of the character is inherently racist because it’s using these stereotypes to point out how ludicrous they are.
The definition of satire.
But now that I’ve defended the idea, what about the twist?
Well, it’s actually quite impressive how they managed to keep it a secret. Marion Cotillard’s identity as Talia al Ghul was leaked ages before the film came out. People correctly guessed that Vision had the Mind Stone in his forehead.
Information gets out.
Except here. Just this once.
|LEGO even went the extra mile to make the Mandarin look like the bad guy.|
The fact that Iron Man’s number one comic book arch enemy is a fake is freaking ballsy. It was a real risk to take, and not everybody in the audience was happy with it, leading to a retcon that I’ll get to in my coverage of the Marvel One-Shots.
In my opinion (which, in the end, is all I can give), I think the twist works. Even when you ignore the fact that Killian was getting more focus than the movie’s alleged villain, it’s foreshadowed in many ways (as I pointed out in the Recap), it fits with the film’s theme of identity and who people really are when the chips are down, and goes along with how Iron Man 3 treats the standard film formula in general, which I’ll get into in the second Review.
But even if I liked the twist, what about Trevor Slattery/The Mandarin as a character?
Ben Kingsley gives an amazing performance. Two of them.
The Mandarin may be a collection of stereotypes, but the best thing about him is the only thing that isn't: that voice. When the Mandarin speaks, that Baptist preacher voice makes you listen. There’s something about it that puts a chill down your spine.
|Kind of reminds me of another villain from 2012 with a weird voice who worked for a secret villain….|
Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley)
Love him or hate him. People think that this brain-fried actor is either hilarious or annoying. Personally, I find him hilarious. Ben Kingsley rarely gets a chance to strut his comedic abilities, and he certainly delivers. Is it over the top? A little. But that’s where the love-it-or-hate-it comes in.
Personally, I find the character to be a little refreshing. I mean, this is a dark movie. Trevor provides some much-needed comic relief that isn't based on sarcasm and snark.
But there still remains one final question that, as ever, is simply a matter of opinion.
Was It Worth It?
I mean, they basically used up Iron Man’s greatest enemy as a smokescreen. Was the twist worth altering the character and making sure that the Mandarin could never appear onscreen in his more traditional form? Well, as of a later Marvel One-Shot, that’s a moot point. But Aldrich Killian has a good point: Ever since Thor, subtlety’s had its day. I mean, Marvel was working on a movie about a talking raccoon at this point. Did they really feel the need to take away the Mandarins magic/alien Rings of Power? It would be pretty cool to see Tony fight a guy like that.
|Even though he's OP out the wazoo.|
But like I said, this is all a matter of opinion. And in the end, I enjoyed Iron Man 3’s take on the Mandarin. It was clever, it was cool, and it was funny. If you disagree with me, that’s fine. If you wanted to see the Mandarin shoot lightning from his rings, that’s fine. If you didn’t think Trevor Slattery was funny, that’s fine. At the very least, I hope I helped you to see that the change to the character had a reason and wasn’t just done to piss you off in particular. You might not agree with the change, but at least you learned something, right? Maybe?
Well, maybe I’ll teach you something in my Review of the movie as a whole, like how Iron Man 3 is basically the anti-comic book-movie. What do I mean by that? You’ll have to find out.