Iron Man 3 is undoubtedly the most divisive Marvel movie thus far. There may be Marvel films that are more generally disliked, but the folks that don’t like Iron Man 3 act like they’ve been personally offended by the whole thing. Essentially it boils down to the inspired decision of writers Shane Black and Drew Pearce to subvert expectations by having The Mandarin turn out to be a front, as Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is ultimately revealed to be the main bad guy. This is brilliant on a number of levels, from commenting on the role of villainy in a post-9/11 world to acting as fix for trying to adapt a stereotypical and somewhat racist character for the big screen. It’s smart, it’s surprising, and it pays off beautifully with some of the funniest moments in Marvel Cinematic Universe history.
But when filmmaker Black was developing the film, it originally had one more subversion of expectations: Killian was going to be gender swapped. However, as Black tells Uproxx, he was forced by the higher ups at Marvel to change the character back to male for fear of limiting toy sales. Seriously.
“There was an early draft of Iron Man 3 where we had an inkling of a problem. Which is that we had a female character who was the villain in the draft. We had finished the script and we were given a no-holds-barred memo saying that cannot stand and we’ve changed our minds because, after consulting, we’ve decided that toy won’t sell as well if it’s a female. So, we had to change the entire script because of toy making. Now, that’s not Feige. That’s Marvel corporate, but now you don’t have that problem anymore.”
Yep, Killian was almost a woman.
“New York called and said, ‘That’s money out of our bank.’ In the earlier draft, the woman was essentially Killian – and they didn’t want a female Killian, they wanted a male Killian. I liked the idea, like Remington Steele, you think it’s the man but at the end, the woman has been running the whole show. They just said, ‘no way.’”
Black adds that he can’t for sure say this decision was made by notoriously meddlesome Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter, but it’s a safe bet that this was Perlmutter’s doing. And for what? How many kids were dying to get their hands on Aldrich Killian toys when Iron Man 3 hit theaters? Seriously, I’m asking. Pearce’s iteration of Killian was interesting, but it’s not like the character makes for a must-have action figure.
We’re already seeing the tides change at Marvel as they’ve gender-swapped the role of The Ancient One in the upcoming Doctor Strange with Tilda Swinton, so really Black was ahead of the curve here. And what a delightful surprise that would’ve been.
Black goes on to say that Feige was a tremendous resource when he was working on Iron Man 3, so clearly his working relationship with the true creative driving force at Marvel Studios was a good one. And he even reveals that Joss Whedon’s mentorship—and advice to listen to Feige—helped him make the leap to blockbuster filmmaking as well. It’s a shame that folks can’t get past a change in source material to realize that Iron Man 3 is one of the most satisfying and character-driven films in the entire MCU, and I keep hoping one of these days the film’s gonna get the universally positive acclaim it so rightly deserves.
Luckily, Black is back with a wholly original film in The Nice Guys, hitting theaters later this week, and he’s preparing to put his spin on blockbuster filmmaking once more with The Predator, which he aims to start filming later this year.
As for Iron Man 3, it remains one of the best MCU movies thus far. If you disagree, try giving it a rewatch without the expectations of comics fidelity re: The Mandarin, and enjoy it for the PTSD Tony Stark romp that it is.