Sir Ben Kingsley—who has parlayed his playing Gandhi into an estimable career of equally stoic villain roles in movies like Sneakers and Sexy Beast—may end up being the bad guy all over again in Iron Man 3. The actor is reportedly in final talks to join the Shane Black-directed film, and while Marvel confirmed rumors that the plot would draw from Warren Ellis’ Extremis storyline, it would say only that Kingsley will play an unspecified character “involved in the spread of a virus through nanobots.” (Which, who isn’t these days?)
Anyway, as readers of the comic know, that would suggest the most likely candidate is “Mallen,” whose injection with an experimental nanotechnology serum gives him super-strength, super-fast speed, fire breath, sharp claws, and the ability to discharge electricity, all of which are good things to have if you’re fighting Iron Man. However, none of these are things we can exactly see Ben Kingsley doing, which may be why The Hollywood Reporter suggests he “will not be the primary villain.”
Variety and THR also differ on whether this means Kingsley could play Chinese supervillain the Mandarin: Variety flatly says no—which echoes Black’s earlier comments that the character is “a racist caricature”—but THR says "there is a chance" he will, albeit with some revisions intended to make the Mandarin less offensive to the modern, highly lucrative Chinese film market (and to a lesser extent, distance the Mandarin’s ring-derived power from Green Lantern). It’s unclear as yet how they might plan to go about doing that, but not having Ben Kingsley play a Chinese guy could be a good start.