Iron Man 3 writer: Why that Mandarin reveal was the toughest scene to script

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Dec 19, 2013, 4:54 PM EST

According to its screenwriter, the hardest scene to write for Iron Man 3 was, perhaps not surprisingly, the one that fans are still most divided about.

Iron Man 3 was an easy runaway hit for Marvel, pulling in more than a billion dollars worldwide in its theatrical run and who knows how much with home video sales. But some comics fans weren't pleased with the film's decision to make the Mandarin -- one of Iron Man's most iconic nemeses -- nothing more than an actor playing the part of The Mandarin so that the real villain, Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian, could keep conducting his Extremis experiments in peace. It's without a doubt the film's most divisive plot device, and it's also the hardest thing screenwriter Drew Pearce had to script for the film.

"...I think the Mandarin reveal scene was the most difficult one to write, conceptually," Pearce said in a new piece for Vulture in which he broke down what's become an infamous scene for many.

According to Pearce, the idea of turning the Mandarin into nothing more than an actor playing the part stemmed from the idea that you didn't have to go dark to make an interesting villain, that you could just create a compelling figure that turned out to be nothing more than an interesting act. It also stemmed from director Shane Black's idea that, when working within a big franchise, you should start things off big. 

"He turns out not to be the thing that the movie — and the marketing of the movie — purports him to be, which is this canon-based archnemesis to Iron Man. It gets to the trickiest thing of all the superhero movies out at the moment, which is: What makes for an interesting villain? Often, they're just there as a dark reflection of the hero, but Shane Black, who directed Iron Man 3 and who I co-wrote the movie with, told me that the key to making massive movies in this machine that will try to sand the edges off of what you write is to go into it with bold strokes," Pearce said. "For the Mandarin, I'd been kicking around lots of ideas about false faces and terrorist pop stars and I was really worried about telling Marvel — I thought we'd get strung up — but Shane said, 'F**k 'em, this idea is kind of indelible. We should run towards it.' And to both of our surprise, when we pitched it to Kevin Feige, who's the president of Marvel Studios, he took it in and said, 'I love it.' He'd been trying to crack the Mandarin concept since the first Iron Man. The Mandarin was actually in the first Iron Man up until six weeks before they shot it!"

So, Pearce was left with the task of working a fake Mandarin into the script while still creating a sense of fun for the audience in the midst of plenty of other dark superhero adaptations, and quickly found the character that tore comic book fandom in two.

"Weirdly, the less commentary we put into that character, the more the theme of the false face came out in that contrast. It's an interesting thing, because there are two camps when it comes to superhero movies. There are the people who think that the darker it goes, the cleverer it is and the more pathos you have, but in the view of Shane and I, the best version for satire is in the Trojan horse that's more entertaining and comedic. Hopefully, I think that's what we managed with Trevor Slattery."

The other part of the Mandarin/Trevor reveal equation, according to Pearce, was both the performance of Sir Ben Kingsley in the role and the performance of Robert Downey Jr., who was willing to pull back enough to let Kingsley shine.

"To Robert Downey Jr.'s credit, I think he's a selfless enough actor that in this scene, he's willing to take a step back and be the straight man to Sir Ben's Trevor reveal," Pearce said. "Without that, the scene wouldn't work: Trevor is so huge that unless there's a sense of genuine tension and reality around him, it doesn't work at all."

So, that's the story of how one of the most conflict-inducing scenes in superhero movie history came about. What do you think? Was it worth it, or was it a waste of Iron Man screentime?

(Via Vulture)