Has the Next Big Marvel Cinematic Universe Villain Been Here the Whole Time?

Avengers: Endgame has left the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a curious place, with a lot of questions left facing Phase 4 of the MCU saga. One of the biggest questions is no doubt who Marvel Studios will set up as the next "Big Bad" of the MCU, after Thanos and his forces were Snapped out of existence.

After many theories and guesses by fans, some recent comments by Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige may better hint at who that villain could be - and it's a foe that may have been lurking right in front of us since the MCU first began!

In a recent Reddit AMA session, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige revealed that they were planning to tie up a loose end from the MCU's beginnings, by eventually debuting the *real* version of The Mandarin and his Ten Rings terrorist group in a future MCU project. Feige didn't give anymore details than that, which could mean The Mandarin has been tapped as a character to be featured in an upcoming Marvel Studios movie, or that the villain will be a larger mastermind tease for the Phase 4 story arc, and will eventually take center stage in a future MCU Crossover event.

Father of the Master

Marvel Shang-Chi Movie Announced

If it's an MCU movie that Feige is alluding to in his tease of the real Mandarin's debut, fans already seem to think they know what it would be: the upcoming Shang-Chi movie!

The connection that's being made is that Shang-Chi's Marvel Comics origin has him being the son of Fu Manchu, a Chinese supervillain who is a mastermind at disguise, manipulation and crime. Fu Manchu impregnates a white woman as his "perfect" genetic specimen, and takes the son born of that union (Shang-Chi) under his wing, training him to become a martial arts master. Shang-Chi actually serves his father's evil agenda for a time, believing his dad is a good leader. When Shang-Chi eventually discovers his father's true nature, he rebels and becomes the hero who is regarded as 'The Master of Kung Fu.'

That's an epic bit of Shakespearean drama built into Shang-Chi's character, with room for a lot of Asian cultural influences and themes (family, honor, the history of martial arts, etc.). There's only one problem with depicting the story as it's written on the page: Fu Manchu is a pretty racist 'sneaky Asian' caricature. Ironically, it would be as hard to bring the classic Fu Manchu character to the modern MCU as it was to bring the classic version of The Mandarin to the Iron Man franchise over half a decade ago.

Marvel Studios has arguably been dancing around the issue of adapting outdated and racially insensitive characters for the modern movie market. In the cases of villains like Man-Ape, smart updates like the version of M'Baku we met in Black Panther have not only been acceptable to audiences, they've become fan-favs (see also: Cottonmouth). The Mandarin could get a similar transformation, as more recent Marvel Comics have explored versions of The Mandarin (or his children) that are more like rival industrialists / terrorists for Iron Man to battle (read: more modern, less racist). Shang-Chi could marry ancient mysticism and modern tech through a version of The Mandarin who replaces Fu Manchu in the role of Shang-Chi's father. It would be a smart update of the character's origin, and instantly make his solo movie a relevant story of the MCU that fans would flock to theaters to see.

New World Order

The Mandarin Marvel

If The Mandarin is truly a character being positioned as *the* next big bad of the MCU, then the timing couldn't be better. Phase 4 will be a storyline that, in part, must reconcile the losses of some of the world's biggest heroes during Avengers: Infinity War / Endgame. Obviously the two biggest losses are Tony Stark / Iron Man and Steve Rogers / Captain America, which will embolden all sorts of new villains to push to exploit the power vacuum left behind by the world's leading Avengers.

In the case of The Mandarin, it's important to remember that the villain and his Ten Rings terrorist group first made their presence felt in Iron Man, working with Obadiah Stane to force Tony Stark to give them the leading edge in the modern tech arms race. Having failed in that task, and having their name and image abused by Aldrich Killian and AIM during Iron Man 3, Ten Rings has had all the time and reason in the world to prepare for a world without Iron Man - and to use Tony Stark's absence to establish themselves as the most powerful evil organization now operating in the MCU (RIP Hydra). By the time of the next big MCU crossover event, The Mandarin and Ten Rings could be pulling the strings at the center of the conflict, finally stepping out of the shadows to take on the new crop of MCU heroes.

Of course these aren't mutually exclusive ideas: Shang-Chi could introduce the "real" version of Mandarin and provide some foundation, while the larger Phase 4 storyline would pepper in teases of how the mastermind villain is manipulating events related to the Phase 4 films, building toward some big new crossover.

How would you like to see The Mandarin introduced to the MCU? Let us know in the comments!

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READ MORE: Why Kang the Conqueror is a great MCU Phase 4 villain.

Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel are now in theaters. Spider-Man: Far From Home hits theaters on July 2nd.