The following post contain SPOILERS for Iron Man 3.
Iron Man 3 was the biggest hit of 2013 (at least until Catching Fire passes it in the next couple of days), but that doesn’t mean it was unformly liked or praised. Some comic-book fans were particularly miffed by the movie’s depiction of The Mandarin, a long-standing Iron Man villain known for his obsession with world domination and his 10 super-powered rings. On the page, The Mandarin is a menace; on film, as conceived by writer/director Shane Black, The Mandarin is a joke. Played by Sir Ben Kingsley, he’s actually a bumbling actor playing a role to misdirect Iron Man away from the film’s true villain, played by Guy Pearce. After being exposed by Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark as a fraud, Kingsley’s Mandarin (real name: Trevor Slattery) was sent to prison.
That’s where a new film in Marvel Studio’s “One-Shot” series will pick up his story. The 14-minute short, titled “All Hail The King,” will be available on the Thor: The Dark World Blu-ray on February 25. Entertainment Weekly has a preview of the film, and an interview with its writer/director, Drew Pearce. They describe it as “an epilogue to Iron Man 3” and also “a possible prologue to Iron Man 4,” a possibility Pearce (who co-wrote Iron Man 3 with Black) didn’t exactly deny when EW asked him about it:
“Oh, it couldn’t possibly. [Laughs.] I think short movies in general, whether they’re Marvel ones or not, you kind of want them to feel like they’re opening you up to a bigger world. Yeah, I definitely think there are—the non-spoiler way for me to say it—by the end of the short, there are definitely a lot of exciting other places that are brought up in it that could then go in the Marvel universe. You know, whether that’s an Iron Man movie or another one going into Phase Two or Three.”
The implication—and the giddy speculation by many grumpy comics fans who still think The Mandarin was mistreated by Black—is that perhaps the “real” Mandarin might actually still exist somewhere, and wants revenge, or that Kingsley’s character is The Mandarin and the whole Trevor Slattery identity was an elaborate ruse. Regardless of the final truth, the questions and this apparatus of big movies followed by little “One-Shot” short epilogues speaks to the brilliance of Marvel’s shared universe model, and the effectiveness of their cliffhangers. Marvel pissed off a whole bunch of people with The Mandarin subplot, and they left it dangling just enough to convince people to now buy the Thor: The Dark World Blu-ray (not even the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray, which presumably Iron Man 3 fans were already buying anyway) to find out the rest of the story. It’s a money-making scheme worthy of a supervillain.