Since his introduction in Iron Man 3 as an existing, albeit unreal character, the Mandarin and his terrorist organization, the Ten Rings, have been nothing more than a laughing stock in the MCU. With a pantheon of heavy-hitting supervillains, like Thanos, Ultron, and Dormammu, the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will need even more interesting and fan-favorite characters to join the already massive tapestry. This is where Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings comes into play.
Although the Mandarin will be introduced alongside Shang-Chi in the film universe, in the comics he was Iron Man's most formidable archenemy. Debuting in 1964's Tales of Suspense #50, the Chinese terrorist, Genghis Khan ancestor, martial artist, and scientist is one of the most interesting Stan Lee creations. The character finds his origins in the Valley of Spirits, a forbidden land where he discovers the remains of Axonn-Karr, an alien from Maklu-IV, and studies Makluan science over the course of several years.
The Mandarin also possesses a set of ten rings, each of which has a different power, such as lightning, incandescence, influence, and more. Later on in the character's comic book history, after countless plans for world domination were thwarted by Iron Man, the Mandarin even had his own Avengers team, the "Avatars of the Mandarin." The supervillain was quite a force in the comics, yet he was irrevocably downplayed in the third Iron Man installment.
Movie Mandarin Didn't Cut It
After its release, Iron Man 3 garnered a magnitude of criticism and backlash over the way it handled the Mandarin, not solely in the "Trevor" reveal. In fact, many Chinese Americans felt betrayed by Marvel, especially because the Chinese government was directly involved in the movie's production, through DMG film group. Ben Kingsley, the actor who played the fake Mandarin, is of British and partial South Asian descent, which had alarmed fans of Chinese ancestry. A lack of diversification in the Marvel movies has continued to aggravate the Asian community, and the upcoming Shang-Chi film is seeing its own share of backlash.
Beyond even the films, the comics version of the Mandarin faced similar concerns. Though he wasn't painted outright within the communist image, the supervillain was still very much stereotyped, as were many Chinese in the Marvel comics, which seemed to emulate Cold War fears through its characters. In one of the Mandarin's very first appearances, he is shown angrily dismissing Chinese military officers, who were in need of weapons, displaying that even the Chinese government feared him tremendously.
Comic fans, on the other hand, were more upset over the movie's "big twist" ending. Iron Man 3 wields this exciting mystery story about a man suffering from PTSD as a dangerous drug is given to vets and a megalomaniac terrorist uses televised monologues to both claim his involvement and drive fear into his enemies. Gearing up for an explosive ending, after having watched the trailer a hundred times over, I myself was left dumbfounded and a little annoyed when "Trevor" was revealed. In reality, the Mandarin on the screen was nothing but a facade to hide the activities of Aldrich Killian.
Hope For Redemption
The real Mandarin is out there, after all the Ten Rings terrorist organization is the same one that kidnapped Tony in the very first Iron Man. One of the few times the Mandarin's existence is acknowledged in the MCU is in Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King. Ben Kingsley's "Trevor," now imprisoned for his activities in Iron Man 3, is asked a few questions concerning his involvement with the Ten Rings:
Jackson Norris: There's somebody who wants to meet you. Trevor: Do I know him?Jackson Norris: No, but you took his name and now he wants it back.Trevor: Ahh. No, sorry, I still don't get it.
While Trevor's whereabouts in the MCU remain unknown, it's clear the Mandarin will be an important—if not destructive—force going forward.
Just announced in Hall H at #SDCC, Marvel Studios’ SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS, with Simu Liu, Awkwafina and Tony Leung, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. In theaters February 12, 2021. pic.twitter.com/VXaqJ5uN6B— Marvel Studios (@MarvelStudios) July 21, 2019
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stars Simu Liu as the main protagonist, a Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin creation, and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung plays the villainous Mandarin. The fictional superhero is a master of kung-fu, utilizing martial arts and self-duplication to bring down his opponents. The first Asian-led Marvel flick will be helmed by director Destin Daniel Cretton, an up-and-coming filmmaker with an eye for the unique and majestic.
Though little is known about the overall production, other than a 2021 release date, it's clear Marvel knows exactly what it's doing. Rising into fame amid the 1970s, kung-fu itself became a hugely popular fad, with the likes of Bruce Lee and David Carradine as poster-boys for the martial art. Shang-Chi himself was born from these very trends, forever being known as the son of Dr. Fu Manchu. Some fans theorize the film, on the other hand, will make Shang-Chi the Mandarin's offspring, which is sure to be an exciting alteration.
With two years to wait and a bevy of MCU films to binge before its release, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is set to be one action-packed thrill ride. After toppling Avatar at the box office, Marvel isn't taking any slack. The forthcoming slate of films will be otherworldly in production and scope. As the Mandarin himself would say, "Let one of my cutting karate blows add weight to my words." And in one fell swoop, Marvel has once more stolen our attention.
We'll just have to wait to see the legend for ourselves.