The trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings shows that the titular hero is getting a new backstory in the MCU, fixing the fake villain twist for Iron Man 3 in the process. Originating in the 1970s, Marvel’s Shang-Chi was a kung fu master who had turned against his evil, mastermind, father. However, the character is getting updated for the MCU, which offers the opportunity for Disney to fix a previous mistake.
Marvel released the first Shang-Chi trailer in April 2021, setting up viewer expectations for the Phase 4 movie. Unlike other MCU entries, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings looks to be a bit more grounded in terms of its action sequences; although there is a hint of the fantastic — particularly the shots of the guardian lions and the red army — the movie looks to lean into its kung fu influences, relying less on massive CGI set pieces and more on exciting, well-choreographed fight sequences. In doing so, not only is the movie offering something new to the MCU, but it’s also fulfilling the missed opportunity with Netflix’s critically maligned Marvel series Iron Fist.
Shang-Chi is thus positioned to address a number of issues in Marvel’s history. One of the biggest missteps in the past ten years was how Iron Man 3 used the Mandarin, Tony Stark’s archenemy in the comics. In updating the character to fit into the technology-oriented tone of the Iron Man movies in the MCU, the character was changed — but in a way that was deeply unsatisfying for fans of the character. But new information has also come to light which may mean that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings could address the use of the character in a more significant way than first thought.
How Iron Man 3 Used Mandarin
The Mandarin is a major antagonist in the Iron Man comics, so it was only a matter of time until he appeared in the MCU; however, the third Tony Stark solo film subverted expectations for the character with a twist reveal. Rather than being a real warlord and criminal, this version — played by veteran actor Ben Kingsley — is actually an actor named Trevor Slattery. Slattery was hired by the movie’s primary antagonist, Aldrich Killian, who exploited Slattery’s drug addiction (and acting talent) to create a “target” for the U.S. government to focus on. This fake “terrorist” claimed to be associated with the “Ten Rings” organization (the terrorists who captured Stark in Iron Man). By claiming responsibilities for the “attacks,” he covered up Killian’s Extremis Soldiers experiments.
It makes sense this was changed for Iron Man 3 and combined with the Extremis plot. While magic has appeared in the MCU, the Iron Man movies dealt with futuristic (but still believable) technology and military conflict. The Mandarin, as he appeared in the comics, is a wealthy Chinese martial arts master who uses several alien rings that contain the spirit of dead warriors; although there is a technological element to the Mandarin’s stories, on a basic level, it doesn’t fit with the established tone for Iron Man in the MCU. The original Extremis story in the comics is changed too; written by Warren Ellis in the early 2000s, Iron Man: Extremis didn’t include the extreme heat and fire element (it was more like a highly-regenerative Super Soldier Serum), and Dr. Aldrich Killian commits suicide rather than taking on an antagonist role.
Iron Man 3 found a way to both fit the Mandarin into the MCU while avoiding harmful Chinese stereotypes, while also using the Extremis storyline in a way that was visually and thematically distinct from what was happening in the Captain America movies. Unfortunately, the Mandarin twist wasn’t successful. The powerful and interesting character in the comics was reduced to essentially a punchline. While the twist was unexpected, and Slattery’s out-of-character interactions with Stark are genuinely funny, the end result was essentially that the “real” Mandarin didn’t get to be in the MCU.
How Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings Uses Mandarin
The upcoming Shang-Chi movie is reintroducing Mandarin, but this time, the MCU is using a more comic-accurate version of the character. Although it looks like Shang-Chi is changing the Ten Rings to arm bands, everything else in the trailer suggests that Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s version of the character is more like his comic-book counterpart: he is wealthy, rules a criminal organization, and is being played by a Chinese actor. The terrorist, whose real name is Wenwu, is a master of martial arts and has an ancient mystique around him — which hints at the Makluan Rings in the comics. Most importantly, this time the Mandarin genuinely is the primary antagonist of the film and will be presented as sinister and threatening (unlike Kingsley’s dopey, drug-loving Slattery).
Of course, one major difference from Marvel Comics is that in Shang-Chi, the Mandarin is replacing Fu Manchu. This is necessary on a couple of levels: one, the Fu Manchu character is deeply racist, and two, Marvel didn’t create the character, which complicates the issue of film rights. Initially, Marvel attempted to adapt the popular TV show Kung Fu in the 1970s as a way to capitalize on the martial arts craze at the time; instead, Marvel obtained the license for Dr. Fu Manchu, a pulp villain from the 1910s novels by Saxon Rohmer. In these earlier comics, Shang-Chi is Fu Manchu’s son who turns away from his father when he discovers his evil nature.
For what should be obvious reasons, having Dr. Fu Manchu in the MCU wouldn’t work. After Marvel lost the rights to the character, they renamed him Zheng Zu — but the xenophobic aspects of the character’s history continue to haunt him. Created by a white man, the villain Fu Manchu is thoroughly stereotypical, representing the worst aspects of orientalism. What’s worse, the character has a long history of being controversial: even in the 1930s, concerns were raised over how the Fu Manchu franchise depicted the Chinese. It’s fair to say that Marvel’s decision to adapt the character in the 1970s — when rereleases of the old Fu Manchu movies were the target of protest — was problematic, to say the least.
An interesting revelation from the marketing for Shang-Chi, however, is the presence of Ben Kingsley at the movie’s premiere in August 2021 hints at a broader addressing of the depiction of the character in Iron Man 3. While Marvel could have addressed the matter in dialogue, or even ignored it altogether, if Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery makes an appearance in the movie, it means there’s a more significant part linking back to Iron Man 3. While it’s possible the actor showed up as part of the industry in support of the movie, It’s more likely that Kingsley appears as Slattery in the movie – potentially in a position where the real Mandarin decides to take revenge on the actor for his previous portrayal in Iron Man 3. While it’s still unconfirmed what role Kinglsey and Slattery might take in the movie – this is the first hint of Kingsley’s potential involvement in the movie, so Marvel has been very secretive about it – it will be exciting for fans and haters of the Mandarin twist in Iron Man 3 to see how Marvel addresses or continues the role of the actor in the MCU.
Why The Mandarin Is Perfect for Shang-Chi’s Father
Having the Mandarin be Shang-Chi’s father allows the MCU to honor the best parts of both characters from the comics, while eschewing the more harmful stereotypical elements. The presence of Ben Kinglsey’s Trevor Slattery also allos an opportunity to differentiate his Mandarin act from the real Mandarin who will appear in Shang-Chi. Representation is important, and Marvel Phase 4 seems devoted to being more diverse. Shang-Chi, played by Simu Liu, is the first Asian character the get his own solo film in the MCU, and the studio has made an effort to predominantly cast actors of Chinese ancestry. Just as Black Panther was a groundbreaking movie for its representation, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings appears poised to do the same.
- Black Widow (2021)Release date: Jul 09, 2021
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)Release date: Sep 03, 2021
- Eternals (2021)Release date: Nov 05, 2021
- Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)Release date: Dec 17, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release date: May 06, 2022
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)Release date: Mar 25, 2022
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever/Black Panther 2 (2022)Release date: Jul 08, 2022
- The Marvels/Captain Marvel 2 (2022)Release date: Nov 11, 2022
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