Ben Kingsley finally surprised us in 2000 when he played a despicable sociopath in “Sexy Beast” after years of playing more likeable if even reverent characters. And even though he’s played a couple of mildly nefarious characters since, nobody could have imagined him becoming a baddie in the vein of The Mandarin for “Iron Man 3.” In the new trailer for the above film, we only see hints of Kingsley in the role, despite showing us that he may have created the most menacing comic book villain in the history of movies.
Perhaps in Ben Kingsley’s personal diary, the line “it all starts with a beard and a pony tail” is written first when describing how to approach The Mandarin. In a lesser actor, wearing a beard and the above hair accoutrement might unintentionally bring on a few chortles. On Kingsley, he appears to not only look convincing, but also in how The Mandarin presents himself and speaks.
Yes, if you didn’t get chills hearing Kingsley’s eerily calm and flat speech patterns in the “Iron Man 3” trailer, then you don’t have ears.
The comparisons to Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises”, though, are going to be inevitable. In fact, in the physical transformation department, some are going to argue that Tom Hardy’s Bane was much more taxing on a physical level. Not only did Hardy have to beef up for the role, he also had to wear that painful facemask over his nose and mouth for long hours.
If Kingsley’s getup as The Mandarin doesn’t come close to Bane’s uncomfortable appearance, it seems to be made up for with Kingsley’s pure imposing presence. In addition, The Mandarin has magic powers at his disposal, unlike Bane who went strictly by extreme intellect and a mysterious serum for physical strength. This doesn’t mean The Mandarin is any slouch in intellect either, hence giving Kingsley the chance to play someone who’s the exact polar opposite of Gandhi.
Once reminded of that trajectory, it’s easy to see how far of a transformation Ben Kingsley has had as an actor over the last 30 years. Although what will “Iron Man 3” do to keep Kingsley’s Mandarin from being seen too much in detail so he still keeps a mysterious edge? In the trailer, we get hints that The Mandarin will mostly be seen in the shadows rather than in bright light.
Despite Kingsley’s intense appearance, it may be better off to keep him in constant low light conditions to enhance the menacing. That’s considerably different from Bane who was seen up front and center in physical battles with Batman. The Mandarin is ultimately made into the terrorist guise of an Osama Bin Laden who sends other dangerous minions out to do his dirty work.
With that, Kingsley may be relying somewhat on lighting for the first time to bring a foreboding character he hasn’t done before. Whether his demise is similar to Kingsley’s Don Logan in “Sexy Beast” is another matter.
No matter if The Mandarin has an ambiguous death, it’s easy to say that Kingsley will never be able to play a creepier villain again who has as much power or magnetic presence.