How Marvel Retconned Its Iron Man 3 Mandarin Controversy

Marvel includes the Mandarin character from Iron Man 3 in Shang-Chi, and it retcons key aspects of the character from that first MCU film.

Warning: This feature contains spoilers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the plot of the Mandarin and Xu Wenwu.

Among Marvel’s most controversial storytelling decisions is the depiction of The Mandarin in Iron Man 3 – and it has retconned the character in its latest MCU movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The character of The Mandarin has a spotty history in Marvel Comics, appearing as the father and nemesis of the hero Shang-Chi. Originally, a character named Fu Manchu played this role, but it received negative commentary based on its use of racial stereotypes. That character is no longer a Marvel property, however, with the rights sitting elsewhere, and Marvel abandoning it, with another character, The Mandarin, stepping into that role, including as the archenemy of Iron Man.

The MCU brought a character calling themselves The Mandarin into Iron Man 3 and, at the time, fans were ready for the ultimate showdown between Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and his archnemesis. Controversially, that Mandarin ended up being a fakeout, revealed as a plot by Aldritch Killian (Guy Pearce) to manipulate Stark by paying an actor, Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) to pose as the Mandarin and the leader of the Ten Rings organization. Fans were divided in response – though the fakeout and Kingsley’s performance are certainly among the best parts of the movie.

Related: Why Shang-Chi Isn’t Releasing On Disney+ (& How It Hurts Marvel)

Shang-Chi brings the “real” Mandarin into the MCU, though the character has been retconned to not make use of that name. The character in question is the father of Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), and goes by the name Xu Wenwu, portrayed by Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai. As in the comics, he’s the leader of the organization called the Ten Rings, named for the ten powerful bracelets he wears on his wrists, which give him long life, super strength, and a range of other powers. In a conversation with his son and daughter, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), Wenwu reveals he’s never gone by the name “The Mandarin.”

Tony Leung in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

But there’s a further retcon, and much more to the Mandarin story in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Wenwu goes on to reveal that Killian made up the name “The Mandarin” in order to give their Ten Rings leader character a name. The real Ten Rings leader actually finds the name insulting – comparing the name to mandarins, the food. Wenwu is clearly frustrated by his depiction by Killian and Slattery, including the Mandarin name, and has been holding onto this anger for many years, as revealed by his imprisonment of Slattery himself, with Kinglsey reprising his role, as discovered by Shang, Xialing, and Katy (Awkwafina).

Slattery confirms Wenwu’s claims, that Killian had hired him to play the role of The Mandarin, and that Wenwu had captured him and held him for years. The only reason he was still alive is that Wenwu’s men enjoyed his performances. Slattery goes on to have a significant role in the movie, guiding Shang, Xialing, and Katy to the fabled village of Ta-Lo via his translation of the noises made by the creature Morris, with whom he’d been imprisoned. It’s a surprising turn for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and clearly shows that Marvel felt it had to retcon the MCU in order to tweak the representation of the character known as The Mandarin, and move it further from its controversial origins.

Next: Is Shang-Chi Overpowering The Ten Rings? Mjolnir Comparison Explained

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