Photo: Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios
Spoilers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings below.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first new origin story of Marvel’s Phase 4 and a long-overdue showcase for the first Asian American lead hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film’s plot is fairly self-contained — impressive considering that the first half takes place in San Francisco, where Ant-Man characters could have made unnecessary cameos. But it also comes with intriguing questions hints at the future of the MCU, especially in its two post-credit scenes. Let’s break down exactly what goes on there.
It was no big secret that Benedict Wong would reprise his role as Wong in Shang-Chi, though it’s interesting to see what he’s up to here. Earlier in the film, Wong is seen fighting Abomination — Tim Roth’s villain from The Incredible Hulk — in Xialing’s (Meng’er Zhang) underground ring. It seemed at first as if the MCU was just reminding us that this antagonist still exists since he will appear in She-Hulk next year.
But in the post-credits scene, Wong pulls Shang-Chi and Katy (Awkwafina) through his portal to a library to talk to them about the rings — the weapons, not the organization — which may have you asking …
Because Wong is just as great, dammit! Doctor Strange likely stayed back to watch over the Sanctum in New York, though the recently released Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer shows the place in absolute shambles. While the timeline isn’t clear-cut right now, we do know that both Spider-Man and Shang-Chi take place in the MCU’s present day, which, due to the Blip, is actually in 2023.
Yep, along with Wong, Shang-Chi, and Katy, we see Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel and Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, both in hologram form. But like almost every Carol Danvers appearance so far in the MCU, she’s always in a rush! She’s just gotta go help out alien races. She does manage to show off her new hairstyle (no more short hair) and notes that the rings are not of alien creation as far as she can tell.
We don’t know much about the origins of the rings after Shang-Chi. Wong mentions that they don’t match any of the artifacts in Strange’s codex, the ancient book he used to learn the mystic arts in Doctor Strange. And even with extra Avengers input, he can’t seem to figure out where the hell they came from, while Shang-Chi himself clearly has no clue. Wong mentions that they’re sending out a beacon. We know the rings are incredibly old and were in Wenwu’s possession for a looong time. But what else? What’s their energy source? And why do Wong and Strange care?
It seems as though Wong and Strange may be hunting down and cataloguing ancient artifacts in response to the whole Infinity Stone debacle. When Vanity Fair spoke with Michael Waldron, writer for Loki and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, he gave an interesting quote about Strange and what his sequel will look like: “He’s Indiana Jones in a cloak to me.” At the time, that didn’t exactly seem to track, but now I see it. Someone’s gotta hunt down weapons and artifacts that could snap out half of existence or crack open the multiverse.
But why are the rings not showing up anywhere? This is also where Waldron may come in. Loki introduces a key player for Phase 4: Kang. (To be precise, He Who Remains is a Kang variant, but I digress.) In the comics, Kang the Conqueror is as formidable as Thanos, plus he can time-travel. In Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s Young Avengers: Sidekicks, Kang’s teenage self travels back in time to join the Young Avengers as Iron Lad — basically, an even higher-tech Iron Man — in an attempt to defeat his future time-lord self. Since he’s from the future, his technology is stronger and more advanced. If you’re still with me: What if the MCU is priming the rings not as weapons of the ancient past but of the far future? It’s a long-shot theory, but it would tie Shang-Chi into the fabric of Phase 4 nicely.
Now here, I am also confused. In Avengers: Endgame, it seemed as if the agonizing Bruce vs. Hulk conflict was finally been put to bed with the introduction of smart Hulk. “Eighteen months in a gamma lab, I put the brains and the brawn together,” he tells Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, and Scott Lang in that film. But in this Shang-Chi stinger scene, Bruce is clearly not in his smart Hulk form, though he does still have his arm in a sling while healing from burns he sustained when using the Infinity Gauntlet. What is going on?
I suppose you wouldn’t want to hide Mark Ruffalo behind all that CGI forever. And Marvel loves to stuff Bruce Banner’s important life events in between films (see also: the birth of smart Hulk before Endgame and his journey to Sakaar before Thor: Ragnarok). Ruffalo (and Abomination) will be back in the upcoming Disney+ show She-Hulk, so we’ll probably learn what happened then. But really, it’s funny that Marvel assumes we’ll connect the nonexistent dots. A character in a suddenly different haircut or location is one thing, but this Hulk dilemma is a whole other level of head-scratching.
In the second end-credit stinger, we catch up with Xialing, whom Shang-Chi said would be handling the shutdown of the Ten Rings organization. Suuure. She’s more or less doing that, but Xialing also seems to be remaking the Ten Rings into a more female-centric spy org. Funny, Black Widow just spent its entire runtime shutting down another web of female spies, but we’d like to think Xialing’s will be more ethical. No mind control or pig experimentation here! Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings ends with a place card promising, “The Ten Rings will return.” So it’s safe to say we’ll see a lot more of Xialing in the future.
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