Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first in a new line of MCU origin stories for the next generation of Marvel heroes. And while the film’s story feels separate to the events of Endgame, it’s actually more connected to the MCU than many other upcoming projects. In fact, it may be the most important chapter yet.
The appearances of Doctor Strange‘s Wong and The Incredible Hulk‘s Abomination in early trailers were great nods to Marvel’s wider universe — but it’s the inclusion of The Ten Rings that makes Shang-Chi a very intriguing prospect.
So, who are The Ten Rings, and why are they important to the MCU?
The Ten Rings was originally a generic ‘terrorist group’ in Iron Man
The superhero films of the mid-2000s were more ‘grounded’ than their epic, spacefaring sequels, but they could also be pretty tactless and xenophobic. It was in this environmental that The Ten Rings was born.
Originally, The Ten Rings was depicted as a generic terrorist organisation residing in Afghanistan, preying on foreigners and extorting them for money.
At the start of the film, the group captures Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and holds him to ransom, but it’s quickly dispatched once Stark builds his first Iron Man armour and destroys his captors.
While The Ten Rings is later revealed to be working with villain Obadiah Stane, Iron Man really didn’t do much with the group outside of using it as a scapegoat — and the narrative implies Stark single-handedly destroys it for good.
The Ten Rings does return in Iron Man 3, but the circumstances are very, very different.
Iron Man 3 introduced two fake ‘Mandarins’
Iron Man 3 revisited the concept of The Ten Rings by ‘revealing’ the leader of the terrorist organisation — The Mandarin — as the figurehead behind a series of bombings around the world. Behind the scenes, it was revealed that this Mandarin was actually an actor known as Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), who worked as a front for Killian Aldrich, a scientist exploiting the fears and xenophobia of America behind the scenes.
This film acknowledged The Ten Rings were a real MCU threat, but used the imagery of the organisation as a smokescreen. It also chose to portray The Mandarin as a fictional character, rather than a present threat.
After major backlash against The Mandarin’s portrayal as a fake, a film short known as All Hail the King was unveiled by Marvel.
This again featured Trevor Slattery, but it also marked the first appearance of the real Mandarin (Wenwu, set to be played by Tony Leung in Shang-Chi) as he threatened Slattery for sullying his name. In the course of the short, it was revealed that Slattery was actually impersonating the real Mandarin, and that there’d be consequences for the act.
While All Hail the King isn’t considered essential MCU viewing, it was the first time Marvel acknowledged The Ten Rings as a legitimate threat to its MCU heroes. It also laid some major groundwork for Shang-Chi, seven years before the film released.
Given Slattery makes a cameo appearance in the upcoming film, it’s likely this exchange will be acknowledged for the sake of righting what Iron Man and Iron Man 3 got wrong.
The Ten Rings is an important part of the MCU’s history, and it’s long existed as a threat, brewing beneath the surface.
While the group’s origins are fairly generic and originally relied on xenophobic stereotypes, it’s set to get the justice it deserves with the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a film which ties together an entire decade of haphazard storytelling.
We haven’t seen the ‘real’ Ten Rings in a film just yet, but Shang-Chi will change that for good.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings releases in select Australian cinemas only on September 2.
For everyone currently stuck in lockdown, you can watch the rest of the MCU films on Disney+ to keep yourself occupied until you can finally check out Shang-Chi for yourself.