Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige Weighs in on that Controversial ‘Iron Man 3’ Twist

Marvel Studios has a stellar reputation when it comes to casting. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown more popular, the studio has struck the perfect balance between rising stars and big-name talent. Now the MCU is poised to circle back — hopefully with Oscar winner Ben Kingsley on board — to the controversial twist in Iron Man 3. Here’s how Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige feels about that decision so many years later.

Robert Downey Jr. wears a suit and smiles while posing next to an Iron Man suit
Robert Downey Jr. wears a suit and smiles while posing next to an Iron Man suit | Han Myung-Gu/WireImage

Fans who have revisited the Marvel movies in order have noted the missed potential of ‘Iron Man 3’

Normally, the third part of a MCU hero’s trilogy takes some major risks. Captain America: Civil War essentially served as a full-on Avengers movie, pitting Chris Evans’ hero against Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Thor: Ragnarok dashed past the tone, supporting cast, and even the setting of the first two movies. And Spider-Man: No Way Home could be taking fans into the Spider-Verse. So what of Iron Man 3?

After the first movie kicked off the MCU, Iron Man 2 felt comparably like a bit of a let down. Fans were hoping Iron Man 3 would help the trilogy bounce back. And the seeming inclusion of Kingsley as a more grounded, real-world interpretation of The Mandarin felt like the perfect move. The villain is Iron Man’s arch-nemesis in Marvel Comics, and his Ten Rings organization was responsible for Tony Stark’s kidnapping in the first film.

Alas, this wasn’t the route the movie went. Instead, Kingsley’s character was an actor posing as The Mandarin at the behest of true villain Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Some fans found the twist amusing, and others felt it betrayed Iron Man’s story. To their point, Downey’s exit from the MCU means Iron Man will likely never face off against The Mandarin on screen at all, despite his arrival in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

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Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige just weighed in on the benefit to that controversial ‘Iron Man 3’ twist

In Shang-Chi, legendary actor Tony Leung steps into the role of The Mandarin, who’s also the father of Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi. But some fans maintain the Iron Man 3 twist wasn’t bad at all. And as he told Rotten Tomatoes recently, Feige stands by Marvel’s decision to subvert fan expectations.

“We’ve been talking about that when we do bring [The Mandarin] to the screen, [we] only wanted to do it when we felt we could do it supreme justice and really showcase the complexity of this character, which frankly we couldn’t do in an Iron Man movie because an Iron Man movie is about Iron Man. An Iron Man movie is about Tony Stark.

So [Iron Man 3 director] Shane Black, in his film and his script that he co-wrote, came up with this fun twist that we love to this day, and it turned out to be [Kingsley’s character,] Trevor Slattery. Just because that version wasn’t real didn’t mean there’s not a leader of the Ten Rings organization, and that is who we meet for the first time in Shang-Chi.”

Fans will have to decide whether Marvel planned The Mandarin’s return or if that decision came after the fact. Soon after the backlash to Iron Man 3, Marvel released the short film All Hail the King. Its story established the real Mandarin was still out there. So it appears to be among the most blatant MCU retcons so far.

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Simu Liu’s hero will come face to face with the real Mandarin in ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’

In any case, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings offers a Mandarin much closer to the comics. At the same time, his depiction sidesteps many of the racial stereotypes that appeared in the comics decades ago. As for Feige, he’s thrilled to bring Leung into the MCU.

“Tony Leung playing Shang-Chi’s father and the leader of the Ten Rings is another pinch-yourself, dream-come-true moment because he’s one of the best actors of our time and we’re very excited to have him introduced to, I hope, a whole new fan base who might not be aware of his spectacular work that he’s done,” Feige told Rotten Tomatoes.

Leung is best known for starring in the movies of director Wong Kar-wai. The pair collaborated on movies such as Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love, and The Grandmaster. Now Leung faces off against the latest MCU hero, in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The movie hits theaters on Sept. 3, 2021.