Marvel movies are great, but they have one glaring problem: there are a lot of characters in the comics and hardly enough movies to cram them into. This might be one reason fans lost their collective minds when the Mandarin was revealed to be nothing more than an actor in Iron Man 3. A favorite villain seemed to be depicted excellently throughout the film, only to [SPOILER ALERT] be, in fact, an actor. Later, the film’s real bad guy, Aldrich Killian, claimed he was the Mandarin. So fans were left wondering if the MCU-version Mandarin was actually fake, or just some vengeful white guy.
The handling of the Mandarin was so botched that Marvel later came out with a One Shot short film revealing that there was actually a really real Mandarin, but that we never got to meet him. In any case, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be seeing the Mandarin anytime soon. Given that Marvel movies only come out 2-3 times a year, this doesn’t give us much of a chance to see this character when Marvel is busy cramming in new characters and plots into these films.
So where does that leave us with some of Marvel’s more minor characters who may not have as high of a profile but are still fan favorites anyway? Well, Marvel has kind of solved that a little bit by reformulating some characters and squeezing them into cameos. A great example of this was obscure Captain America villain, Batroc the Leaper, who was seen briefly as the mercenary Batroc toward the beginning of Winter Soldier. But what if Marvel squeezes a character in but nobody notices? I think that’s exactly what happened with famed uber-dragon, Fin Fang Foom.
Who the heck is Fin Fang Foom?
If you don’t know, Fin Fang Foom is a giant dragon from outer space. Yep, a freaking dragon from outer space. That was worth typing twice. He is also gigantic (42′ in length), breathes fire and acid, is telepathic and has shapeshifting abilities. Now, seeing as how we clearly haven’t seen a giant dragon in any Marvel movies (well, except for this easter egg), my argument must hinge on the fact that Fin Fang Foom can shapeshift and therefore really be anyone in any film. Except my argument doesn’t.
So far, Marvel has decided to play it safe on some of their wackier concepts. In Phase One, they introduced Asgard and the concept of gods that were actually aliens from another dimension. But these gods are mostly humanoid and don’t require a great deal of stretching one’s suspension of disbelief. In Phase Two, they kept going with the aliens theme, introducing more alien species (talking trees, talking ducks, talking Thanoses) and crowing a little bit about introducing the science-themed “Quantum Realm” in Ant-Man. But nothing was revealed on the order of a 42′ shapeshifting dragon. (You could say that the giant, flying creatures in the climactic battle of Avengers were of this scale, but they didn’t have to talk or help advance the plot, so really they were just killable eye candy.)
Further, Marvel has distinctly toned down other mystical parts of the MCU while waiting to break all hell loose, presumably, in Doctor Strange. The Mandarin, who we already discussed earlier, has no magic rings. MODOK, traditionally portrayed as a giant head with arms and legs, was reduced to an artificial intelligence built in the 1950s and had nowhere near the oddball craziness that has come to define him.
The point of all this being, Marvel doesn’t need to have a 42′ long, acid-emitting, telepathic dragon in order to portray Fin Fang Foom on screen.
Behold, a dragon!
What Marvel really needs to portray Fin Fang Foom is the heart and soul of the character. So let’s get into what that is. First, Fin Fang Foom has been around a long time. The character debuted in 1961 and has featured in many different storylines. (He even fought the Justice League of America once!) Of note, he once died and possessed the body of a young boy. Even more of note, he has a long history with the Mandarin, whom he once allied with.
The Mandarin wears 10 magical rings. These rings originate with the alien species of which Fin Fang Foom comes. In the comics and some animated features, Fin Fang Foom takes it upon himself to guard the rings while Mandarin has them, thereby becoming a sort of servant for the Mandarin. A de facto bodyguard at times, Fin Fang Foom even portrays the Mandarin at times to further protect his boss.
In the MCU, there is one guy who claims he is the Mandarin but, thanks to Marvel’s One Shot, we know he isn’t:
How can Aldrich Killian be a space dragon? Well, remember that we don’t need him to actually be a space dragon in order for Marvel to use many of Fin Fang Foom’s traits and apply them to a character. In the crafting of Iron Man 3, Marvel seemed sensitive in portraying Chinese culture. The Mandarin was changed from Chinese to Middle Eastern and, I argue, Fin Fang Foom was changed from a classic Chinese dragon figure to a white American.
Aldrich Killian is without a doubt connected to the Mandarin. He knew enough about the Mandarin to effectively disguise Trevor Slattery, the actor portraying him. Then, when it seemed as if the Mandarin jig was already up, Aldrich proclaims that he is the Mandarin. This had to be done in order to further make the Mandarin seem like he was not real. Aldrich only does this to protect his true boss.
Even more Fin Fang Foom-like, Aldrich Killian even breathes fire. So Aldrich Killian is a fire-breathing protector of the Mandarin. Sounds a lot like Fin Fang Foom to me.
Now, allow me a second to stretch this a bit more. Remember I mentioned earlier that Fin Fang Foom once died and possessed a young boy. Also recall that the Mandarin got his rings from Foom’s alien species. In Iron Man 3, we are never told what really caused Extremis to work or where scientist Maya Hansen got her idea. We know Tony helped her out a bit, but not enough to counteract the whole “exploding people” problem. If anything, the exploding subjects of Extremis benefited the Mandarin as they were used as terrorist weapons. WHAT IF there really is a race of alien dragons in the MCU? They may never make an appearance, but they will live on in the form of Mandarin’s rings and, perhaps, in the form of Extremis, if you can buy that Extremis originally originated from the same aliens. Maybe, just maybe, Extremis is Marvel’s wink and nod to Fin Fang Foom’s ability to possess people, except in this case the “possession” is toned down for audiences into simple, understandable genetics-based sci fi.