Marvel Hinted at the MCU Return of 1 of Its Phase 4 Villains Years in Advance

Avengers: Endgame changed the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Literally, the six heroes who formed Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are all either gone or about to usher in their replacements. So Phase 4 will, in many respects, mark a whole new start for the MCU. But at least one major Marvel villain will be making a return years after he was first teased.

Marvel Studios visual at the Disney+ booth at the D23 Expo
Marvel Studios visual at the Disney+ booth at the D23 Expo | ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Marvel teased the MCU’s version of The Mandarin in 2013’s ‘Iron Man 3’

As the first MCU movie released after The Avengers, Iron Man 3 enjoyed a huge box office bump. But moreover, fans were eager to see Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark face off against his arch-nemesis, The Mandarin. The film’s marketing teased Oscar winner Ben Kingsley’s reinterpretation of the character as a the leader of the Ten Rings terrorist organization.

But — spoilers — Kingsley’s character turns out to be an actor named Trevor Slattery. His Mandarin is nothing but a ruse concocted by businessman Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). That reveal ultimately divided MCU fans. While some believe writer-director Shane Black delivered a notable twist, others — particularly comic book purists — felt betrayed by the misdirection.

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The “real” Mandarin still hasn’t arrived in the MCU just yet

Perhaps motivated by this reaction, Marvel Studios decided to do a bit of light retconning. Instead of allowing Killian’s fake Mandarin to be the final word on the character, the MCU introduced a new possibility. The 2014 Marvel One-Shot “All Hail the King” reveals the real Mandarin is still at large. And what’s more, he’s none too happy to see his name sullied.

After all, Tony Stark’s former mentor Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) hired the Ten Rings to kidnap Stark in Iron Man. But the existence of the Ten Rings as an organization lends itself to the Mandarin himself really being out there. And in an instant, fans had their hopes of seeing the MCU truly take on the Mandarin restored. Of course, it will now be without Iron Man involved.

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The Mandarin lands in ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’

As Phase 4 nears, fans finally know a bit about how Marvel will tackle the Mandarin this time around. Tony Leung — best known for working with director Wong Kar-wai — will play the character in 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Judging by the title, the film will pit marital arts hero Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) against the organization previously featured in the MCU.

Plot details on director Destin Daniel Cretton’s film have not been confirmed. For all fans know, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings could be set earlier in the MCU. After all, Black Widow already takes place in between earlier movies. Could the Mandarin’s reappearance take a similar route? And if so, could we see him enact revenge on Trevor Slattery?