The - MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING - reveal that one of Marvel comic's favourite villains The Mandarin was essentially one big rug-pull of a movie joke amused as many as it angered.
And with All Hail The King , Marvel's new One Shot mini-movie that appears on the Thor: The Dark World DVD/Blu-ray, The Mandarin (or rather, Trevor Slattery), is back.
We caught up with All Hail The King 's writer and director Drew Pearce (also the writer of Iron Man 3 , showrunner of the underappreciated superhero TV comedy No Heroics , and future writer for Mission: Impossible 5 and Sherlock Holmes 3 ) to talk about what drew him and Sir Ben Kingsley back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the controversy surrounding The Mandarin reveal, and what's next for both Trevor and Drew in the Marvel Universe.
What was your first reaction when Marvel contacted you about wanting to do the One Shot?
I wish that my life were as simple as Marvel badgering me to develop a One Shot for them! I'd been trying to direct and write a One Shot for Marvel since Runaways (opens in new tab) was picked up, because the One Shot program comes in and out of existence at points, and you have to will the shorts to happen. Kevin (Feige) is always excited to try to make them happen, and sometimes they need a bit of a push, and the push on this one was Sir Ben.
I'd written a few different characters across a few One Shots, and so when Sir Ben said he'd do this one, oddly enough that tipped this over the line - that one of the greatest actors of his generation was agreeing to do what is essentially my ridiculous student film.
What other One Shots had you written that didn't quite make it to fruition?
My Marvel obsession with Damage Control (opens in new tab) is still there… but it's pretty difficult to make into a short. The clue is in the title that you have to do a lot of damage to then control it - and that's not really in the budget of a short movie. I just think it's got huge potential as a franchise.
Did the directing come naturally?
When I first got into TV in England, it was always - in the most prosaic of terms - to 'make things'. When I was writing, producing or directing, I showran my own shows and stuff like that. Obviously I got very lucky to get this - what I'm sure is a very brief - window to write for movies, but because I've been busy doing that for the last few years, I hadn't had a chance to direct. Which was one of the reasons why it was both an organic progression for me to direct something for Marvel, but also a huge risk in many ways for Kevin to back me on this, and for that I'm hugely grateful.
As soon as we're rolling I remember it's the thing I enjoy most out of everything in the process. So the three incredibly intense days that we shot this unbelievably elaborate DVD extra were probably my best three days work-wise for the last couple of years.
The One Shots are increasingly seeming to build more building blocks for the cinematic universe - and this tweaks the concept of the Mandarin as we've seen on-screen so far. Was that always part of the grander gameplan, or was it in any way a reaction to the rabid fanboys who weren't happy with the character's depiction in Iron Man 3 ?
Well this is what's interesting about the concept of the One Shot. I think people assume the drive is in some way housekeeping or universe building, but in all honesty the impetus for doing this was to get to play with Trevor Slattery and Sir Ben again. And the fact that while The Mandarin casts a long shadow over the recent MCU, Trevor himself has only had around two scenes on-screen of a Marvel movie - so that really was the drive.
As far as The Mandarin goes, there's been a lot of talk about whether it's a response, and the weird thing for me is that for me, Kevin and the rest of the guys at Marvel, it doesn't really feel like a course correction. It was the exact same thing we were talking about around the release of Iron Man 3 - that The Mandarin is a mantle passed down through the ages, and that the ten rings existed throughout the first and second Iron Man movies (the people who give Mickey Rourke his tickets to America are the Ten Rings, as well).
So weirdly it's connecting the dots rather than in any way retconning for the masses.
Was it difficult to get Sir Ben back on board?
The real reason this short happened is because I wrote it and sent it to Ben - who I got to know quite well on the set of Iron Man 3 - and he just turned around and said 'I'd love to do it', and he somehow squeezed in a three day shoot in a year where he did seven movies! He absolutely didn't have to do this film, other than because he loves Trevor and wanted to return.
At some point it would be lovely to think there could be a Marvel movie from a villain's point of view. I suspect that to make that movie, the villain would have to turn to the good side. I think there's no way this would ever happen, but a Thunderbolts movie of some variety would be amazing - the idea of a team of MCU villains who are essentially forced to work together to gain their pardon is an extremely exciting way to position a superhero movie we definitely haven't seen before.
The internet has noticed that Scoot McNairy's character in All Hail the King , Jackson Norris, has the same name as the superhero Nighthawk from The Defenders comics. Is there groundwork being put there for the Defenders Netflix show?
I've learnt over the years not to delineate between things that I thought up whilst sat there in my pants writing a script, and what are Easter Eggs in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Suffice to say, both Easter Eggs and my stupid ideas in my pants go through the brain trust of Kevin Feige and the gang. Often, the 'stupid pants ideas' may oddly come to fruition in bigger things down the road, and the Easter Eggs may lie there untouched. So it's a really interesting, organic process as to how those movies and how those characters come into the world. Who knows what happens next for all these characters?
You're also onboard to script the movie adaptation of Runaways - can you give us any update on that?
I wish I knew if The Runaways had a place in Phase 3. I'm not close enough to the core. I don't work for Marvel, so I don't have a sense of the Master Plan other than when tiny crumbs are passed to me! I'm still super-proud of the script. I think it's a brilliant film in the making - not necessarily because of my script, but because of Brian K Vaughan's excellent idea. I know Kevin's still a big fan of the script that's there in the vault. Whether it finds its way onto the runway for Phase 3, I have no idea, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
And as a fan of the source material, what is it you really want to do with that movie?
Honestly, telling the first arc of that story is the key to that story. I also think that one of the things that would make it so unique in the universe, and also a better movie in the MCU - if we made it now rather than four years ago - is that it could now be part of this tapestry where people are becoming aware of superheroes inside of the MCU. Which is what makes the comics so fun. But I think at its fundament, it's a reverse twist on the Spider-Man theme that 'With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility', because it's actually a movie where that relates to the parents and not the kids, and I've never seen a movie that does that, superhero or otherwise.
The realisation that your parents are fallible people, being heightened immeasurably by the fact that they're superpowered people who are using their superpowers for evil and not good. I just think it's the most potent idea and the script that exists at the moment takes an almost grandiose - almost Godfather -esque view of the crime syndicate. I just think it's so rich as an idea. It's just not as obvious as a single male superhero character, it's not as marketable, and I think that'll always be a hurdle with it.
All Hail the King will appear on the Thor: The Dark World DVD/Blu-ray, which will be available from 24 February 2014.