Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ most significant MCU connections

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) in Marvel Studios' SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Photo by Jasin Boland. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) in Marvel Studios' SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Photo by Jasin Boland. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /

How does Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fit into the larger shared universe?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an original property for Marvel Studios and, as an origin story for a new superhero, it has less connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe compared to a movie like Black Widow, but there is still plenty for Marvel faithfuls to get excited about.

The most obvious one is in the movie’s title, the Ten Rings – this is the organization that claimed responsibility for capturing Tony Stark at the beginning of Iron Man. Shang-Chi’s expository segment details how the group has spread to all corners of the world.

And the leader of the Ten Rings was supposed to be the big bad of Iron Man 3. Using the Mandarin moniker, Ben Kingsley’s villain turned out to be a paid actor, Trevor Slattery, hired by Killian to fool and distract the public from the real threat. This movie reveals the true lord of the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi’s father, who doesn’t appreciate the chicken dish nickname, Mandarin. The organization breaks the thespian out of prison in the Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King and now we learn that instead of executing him for impersonating the Mandarin, Shang-Chi’s father decides to make Trevor his court jester.

Ben Kingsley surprisingly has just as big a part in Shang-Chi as he does in Iron Man 3. All other familiar faces are relegated to cameo-sized roles in Shang-Chi; these appearances range from major Avengers to a funny dude on a bus. The New York City street vendor from Spider-Man: Homecoming now has a social media following out on the west coast. Comedian Zach Cherry played the guy who calls up to Spider-Man from his food truck, casually commanding the wall crawler to “do a flip”. In Shang-Chi, Cherry’s character is live-streaming the unidentified hero’s dazzling fight against Razor Fist and other Ten Rings thugs on a San Francisco bus.

Is Zach Cherry playing the same person is both movies? Why not? People move cross country. This isn’t the first time a Marvel actor has played an unnamed character in one movie, only to graduate to a bigger part in another. Martin Starr had no lines in The Incredible Hulk as a college student in Virginia and then became Peter Parker’s teacher in New York years later.

And speaking of The Incredible Hulk, both the hero and villain from that movie drop into Shang-Chi. More on the big green guy in a minute, because unlike the strongest Avenger, Abomination has not been seen since that second MCU title. He faces off against Wong in a Chinese fighting tournament; this is certainly an unusual place to find Emil Blonsky after being choked out by Hulk and taken in by Thunderbolt Ross. How is he now free? If he broke out of his cell, then Wong would certainly not willingly be his sparring partner.

His apparent friendship with the sorcerer points to signs that A-Bomb has been rehabilitated. However, more explanation should be required since he did wreak havoc in Harlem and kill anyone that stood in his way. An equally important question is why Doctor Strange’s companion would compete in an underground fight club. Perhaps it has to do with a conversation the two had in Avengers: Infinity War, where Wong explained that he doesn’t even have a few bucks to pay for a tuna melt, and this establishment is an easy way for him to make some quick cash.

As for Hulk himself, he surprises fans shortly after the credits roll, speaking to Wong about the nature of the ten rings. It seems that his invite to join the movie also serves to establish that Bruce can revert back to his human form after spending most of Avengers: Endgame as Professor Hulk, a mix of the two personalities. Plus, with Shang-Chi having more of a connection to Iron Man 3 than any other MCU blockbuster, is it a coincidence that Mark Ruffalo sneaks into both movies’ credit scenes?

Brie Larson appears as Captain Marvel in the mid-credits scene to determine if the source of the rings is extra-terrestrial. But there is also a non-diegetic reason for Larson to show up here. Fans of director Destin Daniel Cretton should be delighted to see Larson in yet another one of Cretton’s films. They collaborated together on three of his four previous features, including one of Larson’s most lauded roles, Short-Term 12.

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Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) in Marvel Studios’ SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Photo by Jasin Boland. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /

Another notable link to Iron Man 3 is that one of the cage fighters appear to be powered up by Extremis. This was Killian’s experimental creation that would allow people to regrow limbs, with a side effect of combustibility. Both Abomination and Extremis are reminders that even when high-level hazards have been dealt with by superheroes, they can still exist in some capacity within the universe.

A few elements from Shang-Chi leave us with questions for the future. Shang-Chi and Xialing’s aunt explain that their mystical city guards the world from the Dweller in Darkness, a soul-sucking dragon that has been trapped behind the Dark Gate in another dimension. This plot point is quite similar to Doctor Strange, where the Sorcerer Supreme was tasked with protecting Earth from the Dark Dimension. With the MCU recently exploring the concept of multiverses, particularly in the Loki series, could this possibly be a gateway to an alternate universe, or will it be a one and done storyline like Dormammu in Doctor Strange?

Lastly, Wong tells Shang-Chi that when he first possessed the powers of the ten rings, it activated some kind of beacon. Since the rings are thousands of years old, could this somehow tie into the upcoming Eternals film, which features a team that has been hiding on Earth for millenniums.

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Are you looking forward to seeing more of Shang-Chi in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Did you enjoy Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? Let us know in the comments below!