‘Iron Man 3′ Director Peels Off Mandarin’s Real-Life ‘Cloak’

Shane Black goes deep into the villain's origins and sheds the comic's Chinese stereotypes along the way.

What makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe different from other multi-billion dollar film properties is not its reliance on pitch-perfect casting, but on finding the right filmmaker to translate the page to the screen. Joss Whedon’s work on the “Avengers” became the undeniable proof that Marvel’s faith in directors pays off, even unorthodox choices, and with “Iron Man 3,” the studio kept to that philosophy.

You may not know Shane Black by name, but you certainly know him by reputation. Black made a name for himself as a highly successful screenwriter, having penned the original “Lethal Weapon,” but broke into the directing business and the Robert Downey, Jr. business with the cult favorite “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” MTV News and a few other outlets recently sat down with Black, who explained the challenges of entering a franchise, especially three films in.

“It was something daunting, but at the same time, there was something very challenging about doing a third one,” Black said. “I’m always into the idea of sequels because of the question, ‘What stories are there left to tell?’ and ‘How do you take something and make it seem like it was meant to be there all along?’ ”

One element that will certainly distinguish “Iron Man 3″ from the first two Tony Stark films and “The Avengers” is the eccentric performance from Ben Kingsley as the villainous Mandarin. When attempting to adapt the classic comic book bad guy, Black approached him from a very specific, very modern point of view.

“[Mandarin] has an intelligence background. His nationality is not even clear because he’s shrouded in secrecy, but at some point, this field officer went nuts and became a student of warfare and ancient Chinese symbology and drew from South American insurgency tactics and has created around himself this little world of warfare,” Black said. “The only unifying principal of which seems to be a hatred of the United States, so he represents every terrorist, in a way. But specifically, he’s crafted himself in the manner of the Mandarin, of a warlord.”

Part of this new take on the Mandarin involved leaving behind the dated racial aspects of the character. “I think that’s great, because you get to do the comic book, but you don’t have to deal with the specifics of Fu Manchu stereotyping,” Black said. “We’re not saying he’s Chinese. We’re saying that he in fact draws a cloak around him of Chinese symbols and dragons because it represents his obsession with Sun Tzu and various ancient arts of warfare that he has studied.”

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Writer/editor for MTV. If it involves cowboys, spies, or hitmen, I'm there. All three would be ideal.
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