While the Marvel Cinematic Universe films are already the most prolific series of continuity-connected features ever conceived, it does have its share of duds along with dubious outings that remained profitable. Amongst the latter group was director Shane Black’s 2013 canonical contribution Iron Man 3. The film, a $1.2 billion global hit, does carry a tainted perception with the fandom due to a notable weakness when it came to villains. However, Black has reveals that a major veto by the studio nixed a prospectively intriguing (non-Mandarin) twist that might have also helped the MCU’s estrogen drought.
In an interview with Uproxx, Shane Black was properly nostalgic regarding his MCU opportunity, despite more practical memories of it being a rather tumultuous process, especially when it came to interactions with the Marvel. However, dropping a rather fascinating revelation, Black revealed that much of what made the process difficult came from meddling by unnamed Marvel corporate bigwigs. While Iron Man 3 suffered in the villain department, it seems that the original intention in the script that Black co-wrote with Drew Pearce was to unveil a female character as its ultimate big bad! According to Black, Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hansen originally had a larger part in the plot, further explaining:
“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.”
Iron Man 3 did, in fact, contain a female villain… two of them, if you count Stephanie Szostak’s Brandt. Yet, according to Black, it was Hall’s Maya Hansen (pictured below) who was supposed to be revealed as the film’s villainous mastermind in a dynamic he compares to the 1982 television series Remington Steele in which Pierce Brosnan’s titular character served as a handsome, sexism-mollifying figurehead for the private detection agency of Stephanie Zimbalist’s Laura Holt. However, the Remington-like plans were nixed after a now-former corporate regime at Marvel (and NOT Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige,) decided that Iron Man 3 needed a villain who could make a more marketable transition as a toy onto the pegs of retail stores.
Of course, the main villain in Iron Man 3 we did get was Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, an old acquaintance of Tony Stark’s who utilized a form of advanced nanotechnology called Extremis to turn himself and his lackeys into flame-spitting, hot-to-the-touch super-powered people. Meanwhile, the final version of the film’s Remington Steele twist ditched the feminist approach and took Ben Kingsley’s heavily hyped role as Iron Man’s best-known comic book nemesis The Mandarin and turned it into one of cinema’s most reviled twists, revealed simply as feckless actor serving as a front and working as Killian’s catspaw.
Hall’s Hansen, a character adapted from Marvel Comics’ originally inspiring “Extremis” storyline, was ultimately depicted in the film with a similar arc in which she betrayed Tony Stark by initially aiding Killian’s conspiracy, only to regret her actions later, followed by a sacrificial moment of redemption. However, it seems that the Maya Hansen villain angle – one of a few plot planned twists – was steamrolled by what Black calls “Marvel corporate” over the absurdly in-the-box, (arguably sexist) motivation of male-minded toy marketing.
While the women-deprived merchandising woes of major tent-pole films has obviously been a potent topic in recent years, the idea that a myopic merchandising tail could wag the proverbial dog of the film’s plot is actually rather shocking and disappointing. Regardless of how the nixed “evil Maya” twist might have ultimately played out, it seems to be yet another thing that contributed to Iron Man 3‘s status as one of the MCU’s black sheep entries. Ironically enough, the hypothetical Aldrich Killian merchandise that allegedly had such a profound influence on the film’s plot ended up being virtually nonexistent.