Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way:
Of course, by now, almost everyone knows that the “Mandarin” in the Iron Man 3 trailers turns out to be a drug-addicted actor in the movie. Some people liked the twist, while most hated it. Pretty much no one accepts that Guy Pierce was the Mandarin. But what no one seems to realize is that the Mandarin has already made an appearance in the movie. His name is Raza, and he’s the apparent leader of the terrorist group that captures Tony Stark in the first Iron Man.
Think about it…
The Mandarin is best known as the wearer of ten rings of alien design, each with a different and dangerous power. As you might notice in the picture above, this man only wears one. But what was the name of the terrorist cell in the movie? That’s right, the Ten Rings. In the more realistic world of the first Iron Man movie, aliens hadn’t been introduced yet, so a terrorist organization was much better suited for this movie than two fistfuls of technology that would have shattered audience’s suspension of disbelief.
The Mandarin is also the descendent of Genghis Khan, leader of the Mongol Empire which covered most of China and Central Asia. Raza is of Arab descent, so it’s unlikely he’s physically related to the Mongolian Emperor. As a spiritual successor, however, he works perfectly. When he first encounters Tony, he gives a speech about how the use of the bow and arrow gave Genghis Khan the ability to conquer the world and how he wants to do the same thing using Stark’s weapons. Similar goals and similar tactics illustrate another way of being descended from a great military leader.
But the Mandarin was Chinese, so they couldn’t be the same person, right? The Mandarin was created in the 1964, at which time one of the greatest perceived threats to America was Red China. Naturally, a Chinese villain was the order of the day. The movie, on the other hand, was created during the War in Afghanistan, and the threat had shifted, now coming from radical Islamic terrorists. Therefore, an Arabic Mandarin was much more likely to strike fear into American hearts.
Raza certainly had the potential to come back into the series; as far as we’re shown, Obadiah Stane left him alive and temporarily paralyzed, although without his followers or Iron Man technology. Still, the man survived an explosion to the face and only came back hungry for more power. With the recent Marvel short All Hail the King stating definitively that there is a real Mandarin out there, it’s only a matter of time before he shows his face, and I’m betting it’s got burn marks on the side.
Iron Man and Iron Man 3 are owned by Marvel Studios.