This article contains spoilers for “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
It’s a wild time to be an origin movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coming just after “Loki” upended everything by introducing the multiverse, “Shang-Chi” brings its own brand of magic to the MCU in an adventure that apparently stands completely alone from everything else currently going on in the franchise.
I say “apparently” because everything in the MCU always has some kind of big picture ramifications — they just aren’t always obvious until later. “Shang-Chi” I think is one of those types of situations. I think there are details here that will only make sense sometime between now and “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” next summer.
But it’s always fun to take some shots in the dark anyway, and that’s what I’m gonna do here. So let’s talk about the mid-credits scene.
This bonus scene shows Shaun (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) chatting with Wong (Benedict Wong) about those magical arm rings. But it’s not just them. Also present are Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Banner is in his human form here, rather than the Smart Hulk thing he had going in “Avengers: Endgame,” his arm in a sling. And Captain Marvel is sporting the haircut she had in “Captain Marvel” rather than the cut she sported during the battle at the end of “Endgame.”
The discussion is brief, because none of them can figure anything out about the rings other than that they are extremely old.
What the ‘Shang-Chi’ mid-credits scene means
There’s no obvious comic book connection between the rings and anything currently going in the MCU — they don’t even have anything to do with Shang-Chi in the comics. Nor does their comic book origins give us any — they were actually alien devices that the Mandarin found in a crashed space ship. But those aliens — shapeshifting dragon people called the Makluans — aren’t any we’ve met before now.
Though it does seem very possible that the dragon that was locked away in Ta Lo could be one of these Makluans, that little data point wouldn’t shine any light on what’s ahead. The Makluans being shapeshifters, though, is potentially interesting, as we’ve certainly met another group of shapeshifters from space before: the Skrulls. It would be a very MCU thing to do to tie the creation of the rings to the Skrulls instead.
But it’s more likely that the repeated comments about the Ten Rings being extremely old means they’re tied to the Eternals in some way. They’re old, the rings are old — it makes sense. The Eternals have no ties to the rings in the comics, but that doesn’t mean anything for what the MCU will do. Fortunately, “Eternals” is out in November so we won’t have to wait long to find out if that’s a thing.
This scene is odd, though, because of two details I already mentioned: Banner being Banner instead of Smart Hulk, Captain Marvel sporting the same hairdo she had at the beginning of “Avengers: Endgame” rather than the cut she wore at the end of the movie. Also conspicuous is what isn’t in the scene — anyone who was snapped. These details make me wonder if “Shang-Chi” takes place somewhere in the five-year gap between snaps, rather than in the MCU’s present.
Or maybe it’s a multiverse alt timeline where nobody got unsnapped? There is only one reference to that whole thing, early in the movie when Awkwafina makes a comment about living in a world where half the population could just disappear. She conspicuously didn’t mention anybody returning, which wouldn’t have registered with my brain had the dramatic reshuffling of the MCU schedule not ended up putting “Shang-Chi” immediately after the multiverse was introduced in “Loki.”
There’s just a lot going on here that doesn’t quite add up, but we don’t have all the answers just yet.