Along with reuniting us with familiar faces like Black Widow and Thor, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 4 slate of films is introducing us to some new faces, like martial artist extraordinaire Shang-Chi. Following reports in late 2018 that Marvel Studios put a Shang-Chi movie into development, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was officially announced at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, with Kim’s Convenience star Simu Liu bringing the eponymous hero to life. He’ll face off against The Mandarin, who’s existed in the comics since 1964 and will be played by Internal Affairs’ Tony Leung.
While Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings marks The Mandarin’s first true appearance in the MCU, the mythology of the character has existed in this franchise since the beginning, with Iron Man 3 being the first place that title was placed front and center. That being said, don’t expect Tony Leung’s version of The Mandarin to be a straightforward adaptation of his comic book counterpart. Let’s go over how The Mandarin has factored into the MCU so far, and what’s in store for him going forward.
How The MCU Previously Depicted The Mandarin
The Mandarin’s influence in the MCU goes all the way back to 2008’s Iron Man, as the terrorist organization that kidnapped Tony Stark was called The Ten Rings, in reference to the weapons The Mandarin wears on his fingers in the Marvel Comics universe. However, it wasn’t until Iron Man 3 that The Mandarin finally appeared in the MCU… or at least that’s how it initially looked. In reality, Ben Kingsley was actually playing Trevor Slattery, a has-been actor who was hired by Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian to play The Mandarin for the public in order to take the blame for the accidents caused by A.I.M.’s experiments. Towards the end of the threequel, Killian declared that he was The Mandarin, but he had nothing to strengthen that claim other than having a dragon tattoo on his chest.
Following Iron Man 3, it looked like The Mandarin would go down in MCU history as a faux villain inspired by legends. Then the One-Shot All Hail the King came along, which saw the incarcerated Trevor Slattery being interviewed by a journalist named Jackson Norriss. At the end of this short film, Norriss revealed he was a Ten Rings operative who’d been sent by the real Mandarin to break Slattery out of prison and brought to The Mandarin to pay for making a mockery of his name. Could we see Kingsley cameo as Slattery in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as a prisoner at The Mandarin’s base? I’d certainly be game for that, but let’s move on to more important matters.
How The Mandarin Will Be Depicted In Shang-Chi
All Hail the King was released in 2014, so between then and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ official announcement, there was no word about if we’d ever actually see The Mandarin in the MCU. But now he’s on the way, with Tony Leung’s version of the character being named Wenwu, and Mandarin being one of many aliases he’s used over his lifetime. Speaking of which, judging by the first Shang-Chi trailer and how long the myths of The Mandarin have existed in the MCU, it appears as though this incarnation has been around for centuries, if not millennia. If this is accurate, the source of his longevity hasn’t been revealed yet.
In addition to being the leader of the Ten Rings, Tony Leung’s Mandarin is also Shang-Chi’s father in the MCU. This is a departure from the comics, where Shang-Chi is the son of Fu Manchu, but given that character’s problematic history and rights issues, it was decided to have Mandarin inherit that role instead. As shown in the Shang-Chi trailer, Wenwu trained his son to be one of the world’s best fighters, but there came a time when allowed his son to live a normal life for 10 years. Now Wenwu wants Shang-Chi to return home to take his place as co-leader of the Ten Rings, but Shang-Chi’s not interested in joining the family business. So now comes the inevitable father vs. son clash.
Why Marvel Comics Fans Should Temper Their Expectations About The MCU’s Mandarin
Just because The Mandarin is joining the MCU doesn’t mean you should expect him to be exactly like the original Mandarin. For one thing, obviously this Mandarin will never be an Iron Man foe, as Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark died in Avengers: Endgame. And instead of wearing actual ten rings on his fingers that each have their own special ability, Wenwu wears arm bands that glow with blue energy and increase his power.
Granted, when comic book characters are adapted for movies and TV shows, changing certain things about them comes with the territory. But in Mandarin’s case, there are definitely some creative liberties being taken. Here’s what Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings producer Jonathan Schwartz told EW about that:
I think people hear 'the Mandarin' and expect a very specific kind of thing, and that may not be the thing they're getting. They're hopefully getting a more complex and layered take on the character than that name would lead you to.
With only one trailer’s worth of footage to go off of, needless to say there’s a lot about Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings we still don’t know about, including the full story behind The Mandarin. At the very least, it looks like he’ll be a formidable threat, and however the upcoming MCU movie plays out, hopefully Mandarin will survive its events rather than be killed off. This is a Marvel villain who deserves the opportunity to shine across multiple projects, and the longer he sticks around, perhaps that means he’ll move closer to resembling the Mandarin from the comics.
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who also co-wrote the script with David Callaham and Andrew Lanham, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings also stars Awkwafina as Katy, Michelle Yeoh as Jiang Nan, Fala Chen as Jiang Li, Meng'er Zhang as Xialing Ronny Chieng as Jon Jon and Florian Munteanu as Razor Fist. The movie punches its way into theaters on September 3. Don’t forget to look through our upcoming Marvel movies guide to learn what else will arrive in Phase 4 and beyond.