Movies

The Casual Marvel Fan’s Guide to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

They brought back who? And what’s up with those two post-credits scenes?

Simu Liu, in what looks like a red baseball jacket, looking confused, with a giant question mark over his face
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Marvel Studios.

This article contains spoilers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as well as a few relevant portions of much older Marvel movies.

Wait, who is Trevor? Should I know him?

If you haven’t seen Iron Man 3 recently, a refresher: The villain in that movie is ostensibly “the Mandarin,” played by Ben Kingsley. When Tony Stark finally tracks this terrorist down, ready to finish him off, however, the Mandarin reveals that he is not, in fact, the Mandarin—instead, he’s a Liverpudlian actor named Trevor Slattery. Both the actual Mandarin, who turns out to be the father of Shaun a.k.a. Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), and Trevor himself both allude to this backstory. After the events of Iron Man 3, Trevor was kidnapped by Shaun’s dad and locked in the basement to atone for his “sin” of portraying the Mandarin on a national stage and sullying his name … not that he had such a great reputation in the first place.

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Because Trevor was just an attention-hungry actor forced into performing this role by Iron Man 3’s real villain, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), he’s not actually a bad dude. He’s just kind of a self-absorbed, zoned-out one. He ends up siding with the good guys and even helping a bit in the final battle in this movie, so he’s pretty much redeemed himself.

Why is this the first time we’re meeting the real Mandarin?

The Mandarin was referenced throughout the Iron Man movies as part of a sleeper cell system known as the Ten Rings (those are the terrorists who kidnap Tony Stark in the original Iron Man), but in that trilogy, as explained above, it all built up to a bait and switch. Now Marvel is filling in the rest of the backstory of Wenwu, the real Mandarin, who we meet for the first time here. He explains that his identity was robbed by this terrible actor to seemingly commit crimes under his name, which led to Wenwu kidnapping Trevor and locking him in the basement. And Wenwu didn’t name himself the Mandarin, to be clear. As he explains, that was a pretty racist moniker assigned to him by the Westerners who took him down to assert their own dominance. (Wenmu, meanwhile, is inspired by both the version of the Mandarin from the comics as well as Shang-Chi’s father in the comics, a caricature named Fu Manchu, but Leung and director Destin Daniel Cretton try to reclaim the character from his racist origins.)

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Who is the guy with the big knife for a hand? Should I know him? What about the guy in the mask?

If you’re a comics reader, you might recognize Xu Wenwu’s sharp-armed henchman as the aptly named Razor Fist, a nemesis of Shang-Chi’s going back to the mid-1970s. (And if you’re not, you can probably glean his moniker from the name garishly painted on the side of the sports car Shang-Chi swipes from the Ten Rings garage.) This version of Razor Fist doesn’t seem to line up with any of the characters who’ve taken that name in the comic books, but he’s played by Florian Munteanu, the former heavyweight boxer last seen whupping on Michael B. Jordan in Creed II.

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As for the masked fella, that’s Death Dealer, played by the actor and martial artist Andy Le. He’s a fairly obscure figure in the comics, appearing only for a four-issue run of Master of Kung Fu in 1982, so the movie feels no need to hew to that iteration of the character.

Is Xialing a good guy (or gal, as it were)? Or a bad guy, now that the post-credits scene showsher taking over for her dad?

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Xialing, Shaun’s younger sister, played by newcomer Meng’er Zhang, is another original character created for the film. It’s hard to predict what’s next for her, considering this lack of comic book history. After she makes amends with her brother early on in the film, the film’s final post-credits scene shows her taking over her father’s compound and Ten Rings army that she said she was returning to dismantle after the crew won the day and saved the world. Instead of shutting down operations, she exits the building and assumes her new role as the leader of what remains of the army. So maybe she will become the new Mandarin? Maybe she’ll turn her back on her brother? Truly, who knows?

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Why does Benedict Wong’s character look so familiar? What’s he from?

You’ve seen Benedict Wong’s character before if you’ve ever watched Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War, or Avengers: Endgame: He is Master Wong, a sorcerer responsible for the many ancient books from which Stephen Strange reads to boost his own sorcery skills. Wong is also in charge of protecting the Sanctums, which are magical buildings projecting a shield protecting Earth from some mystical bad guys.

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Part of Doctor Strange involves the Doc trying to save Wong as well, after Wong is killed while guarding one of the Sanctums. Strange ends up traveling back in time to prevent Wong from dying, and they’ve been best buddies—and roommates!—ever since. He continues watching out for the Sanctums and letting Strange study from his books. After the events of Endgame, in which he helped out in defeating Thanos and saving the world, Wong has become somewhat of a known figure—or at least, he appears to be, based on Shaun’s excited reaction when Wong shows up demanding his help.

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Speaking of Master Wong, who is that he’s battling in Xialing’s fight club?

Remember The Incredible Hulk, the Edward Norton movie from 2008? (It’s OK, no one does.) In that movie, a British special forces soldier named Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) is transformed into the Abomination, an appropriately gross-looking monstrosity who lays waste to a chunk of Manhattan before he’s subdued by the Hulk. What he’s doing fighting sorcerers as a side hustle is anyone’s guess, but Blonsky is scheduled to be a part of Marvel’s upcoming She-Hulk TV series. Whether this series will also explain how Edward Norton became Mark Ruffalo is anyone’s guess.

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Why is Awkwafina taken along for the ride at the end of the movie? Is she someone from the comics?

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Katy, Shaun’s bestie (and possible love interest???), isn’t from any of the Marvel comic books. She’s an original character and definitely one of the stand-outs among several other great newcomers. Katy isn’t endowed with any magical powers like her pal, but she does prove to be an expert archer by the film’s final battle.

Perhaps it’s a combo of her hidden strength and closeness to Shaun that leads Wong to ask her to join the guys on their next superheroic quest. But let’s be real: It’s probably because Marvel wasn’t about to sideline Awkwafina, arguably the best-known member of the movie’s cast.

When does this take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline? I noticed all those references to the Blip.

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We are indeed in the post-Blip timeline, which begins in 2023, after the five-year gap following Avengers: Infinity War. It doesn’t seem to have affected Shang-Chi and co. a whole lot, although his friends make reference to living in a world where half the population can just up and vanish, and a poster advertises psychological help for people dealing with “post-Blip anxiety.” But Wong’s cameo notwithstanding, the movie largely takes place in a world of its own, at least until the mid-credits scene.

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In that mid-credits scene, Bruce Banner is back to being a human. Wasn’t he supposed to be staying as the Hulk forever? And why is his arm broken?

For the most part, we don’t know. (Stay tuned for She-Hulk and Moon Knight, coming to an internet-enabled device near you in 2022?) But we can guess that his arm is en-slinged due to injuries from wielding the Infinity Gauntlet at the end of Avengers: Endgame.

For more on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, listen to Sam Adams and Allegra Frank discuss the movie in spoiler-filled detail.

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