MARVEL ONE-SHOT - ALL HAIL THE KING Opens the Door to a Devilish, Darker Mandarin Storyline [Review - ★★★★]

While Agent Carter offers a more self contained story stemming from the finale of Captain America: The First Avenger, All Hail the King goes the opposite way by bringing the events of the Iron Man trilogy full circle.

[Spoiler Warning: While I usually try my best to steer completely clear from divulging specific details in my reviews I can't do that in regards to this film. If you prefer to be surprised when you watch this short for the first time stop reading now]

Who is The Mandarin? In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, his presence was first hinted at in 2008's Iron Man movie when his Ten Rings organization kidnapped Tony Stark which eventually led him to become the famous armor-clad superhero. In Iron Man 2, the Ten Rings have a much more obscure role, but they're there. Then came last summer's Iron Man 3 which was finally going to address the question 'Who is The Mandarin?' But it didn't. Instead the film introduced us to Trevor Slattery (Sir Ben Kingsley), an out of work British actor who was hired by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) to use the Mandarin name and create an imaginary facade of terrorism in an effort to hide Killian's scientific experiments gone wrong. At the end of the film, Killian is stopped and Trevor is taken into custody, seemingly wrapping up the story of The Mandarin as a nothing more than a hoax. But as anyone whose followed these films from the get go knows, The Mandarin and the Ten Rings are very real. And now they're royally pissed.

All Hail the King opens in Seagate Prison where Trevor is incarcerated and enjoying a bit of fame with fellow inmates who give him protection from the more violent criminals and occasionally ask him to spout dialogue as The Mandarin. The story picks up with Trevor's bodyguard Herman (Terry Tate himself Lester Speight) escorting him to conduct a final interview with documentary filmmaker Jackson Norriss (Scoot McNairy). By showing Trevor pieces of his past, including a hilarious promo reel for an 80s crime show that never aired, Jackson tries to uncover more about who this suddenly famous nobody really is and how he came to find himself in the position to take on The Mandarin mantle. Over the course of their discussion, you can feel the tension mounting as something treacherous is about to occur. And when it does, the truth behind the once reclusive Ten Rings -- and The Mandarin -- is finally revealed.

Sir Ben's portrayal as the bumbling Trevor Slattery was well received by audiences when he made his debut last summer. If you liked him then, you're love him now. Trevor is an endearing and damaged soul who goes from momentarily dropping his brash bravado upon seeing a photo of his mother to spouting outrageously funny quips about why actors shouldn't be taken seriously. Kingsley fires on all cylinders in a role that doesn't really require it, but is so much more enjoyable because of the extra effort. His performance in this 14 minute short is rich, hilarious and charming, and gets better with each new viewing.

But that's not all. It wouldn't be a Marvel Studios production without a handful of Easter Eggs and cameos. So let me list the ones I noticed:

- Marvel Comics fans should be familiar with Seagate Prison as the facility that creates Hero-for-Hire Luke Cage, who will be getting his own series on Netflix in the near future. While it's not outright shown that he makes an appearance here, it's certainly alluded to.

- Marvel's Netflix shows will eventually lead into a miniseries event featuring the superhero team The Defenders. A group that includes a character coincidentally named Jackson Norriss, better known as Nighthawk.

- Fletcher Heggs, aka The Knight -- one of Tony Stark's rogues, makes an appearance and is played by Allen Maldonado.

- Actor Matt Gerald (Avatar, Escape Plan, Terminator 3) plays an inmate in Seagate who's at odds with Trevor. Though his character name "White Power Dave" doesn't stem from comics canon, there's no telling in what capacity he may reappear down the road.

So where does this leave us? Marvel's Agent Carter One-Shot is being extended into a television series. Will we see a Trevor Slattery show next? Doubtful, but All Hail the King does something more important. It reopens the door for Marvel to tackle The Mandarin's cinematic presence in the way director Jon Favreau was building up to with Iron Man and Iron Man 2, while at the same time not disregarding anything already established in the last film. It's not a retcon of what came before, but a continuation and a brilliant one at that. I really hope they do plan to move forward with this story since I consider this to be Marvel's best One-Shot to date, and that's saying a lot since I adore everything about Hayley Atwell's solo outing Agent Carter.

Finally, as always, make sure to watch through the credits for the a most welcome and surprising cameo. No I'm not going to give this one away.

4 Stars

Written and directed by Drew Pearce, All Hail the King will be included in the Thor: The Dark World Blu-ray 3D and Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack, available in stores on February 25th, as well as on Digital 3D and Digital HD February 4th.