Now that I’ve seen Iron Man 2, I’m a little more qualified to talk about it, and I must say I agree with Dustin’s assertion that Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash/Ivan Vanko wasn’t… quite right. He was a solid villain, but still seemed somehow underused. Given that there was only about 15 minutes of actual direct conflict with Iron Man, he seemed a somewhat anemic foil. Same Rockwell’s excellent portrayal of Justin Hammer was the greater villain, and even he was portrayed as a little bit… goofy.
This question of who the best villain choice is for Iron Man is a tough one. The first one had Jeff Bridges as Obidiah Stane/Iron Monger, but once again, the actual fighting was reduced to a rushed finale. Iron Man needs a nemesis. My hope is that Hammer will be used in the next film as a sort of behind-the-scenes mastermind with less buffoonery, but he still needs a real villain to fight. Jon Favreau apparently has some ideas, but there’s a bit of a catch. He recently told MTV:
You have to do The Mandarin…The problem with The Mandarin is, the way it’s depicted in the comic books, you don’t want to see that. He also has 10 magical rings, and it just doesn’t feel right for our thing, so it’s either tech-based or the rings are not really rings…But maybe with ‘Thor’ and all those others you’ll introduce magic to that world and it won’t seem so out of place.
He’s right — The Mandarin doesn’t quite fit into the universe he’s created thus far. The Iron Man movies are a bit like the Batman films in that they’re very grounded in technology and the “real” world — none of the alien races or magic or mutants that flood the rest of the Marvel universe. And The Mandarin is particularly prickly because his earlier origins are… well… there’s a wee bit too much stereotyping. I mean, he’s called The Mandarin. It’s only a couple of steps removed from having a villain called The Oriental or The Asian.
That said, he’s a pretty great villain and could be fantastic if used properly. A direct descendant of Genghis Khan, he’s trained in combat and is a scientific genius who uses a combination of magic and alien technology to subjugate his people and take on Iron Man numerous times. He invents giant, ass-kicking robots. He’s not just a villain, but a conqueror, which is a fitting foe for someone like Favreau’s Iron Man, who is reasonably anti-government and a man invested in creating world peace, as he claims in the recent film.
It’s not an insurmountable problem. Much like Iron Monger and Whiplash, the names of the enemies are never even given in the films, and The Mandarin could be no different, if that’s the sticking point. Iron Man needs his Joker, and The Mandarin may well be the solution. Also? I hereby nominate Ken Watanabe.