A dragon is not enough

The climatic CGI battle is typically Marvel fare, but it suggests a future CGI battle that should be anything but typical.

Marvel Studios

By Brad Gullickson ยท Published on September 3, 2021

Ending Explained is a recurring series where we explore the finals, secrets and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. This time we look at the ending of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Yes, prepare for spoilers.

So much of human existence is preoccupied with denying ourselves. We do not want to be who we are. We want to be better.

The hero at the center of Marvel’s latest committed a cruel act when he was a child. After witnessing the brutal murder of his mother and experiencing the cruel guidance of his furious father, Xu Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) sought revenge on the man who crushed their family. With the deed done, the child ran to America and hid from his father’s oppressive grip.

At the end of ShangUse and The Legend of the Ten Rings, the titular character draws his aunt’s words (Michelle Yeoh |) into his being. As she explains, he can not run from either parent. He is the product of his mother and father and every Xu who came before. Only when he embraces this family tree can he ever find peace in his skin and unleash his full potential.

Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) is trapped in his own pain. He has brought his ten small army to the secret village of Ta-Lo in hopes of decimating the dark gate that will liberate Dweller-In-Darkness within. The fear lord has poisoned his mind with the help of Wenwu’s grief and tricked him into believing that his dead bride resides in Ta-Lo’s mythical mountain.

What is Dweller-in-Darkness?

Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange introduces the audience to the concept of dimensional worlds beyond our comprehension. That film jumps along the mirror dimension and twists time within the dark dimension. Dweller-in-Darkness is from an even scarier dimension called Everinnye.

In the Marvel comics, this dimension is a nightmare-like arena where human fear burns everything up. Dweller-In-Darkness first appeared in Thor # 229 and is clearly inspired by HP Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu” short story. What a mighty beard of tentacles they have. The better to wrap yourself up and hug you, my dear.

Dweller-in-Darkness is born of our collective fear and requires terror to function. Having been locked inside eternities behind the gates of Ta-Lo, they are eager to roam freely and enjoy themselves with our petrified souls. Like any large MCU animal, the Dweller-in-Darkness uses the Shang-Chi climax and puts the push-and-pull tension between father and son next to it. Or to be more precise, Dweller-in-Darkness slurps Wenwu’s essence down their esophagus. Yummmm. Fatherly disappointment is oh-so-tasty.

Shang-Chi, who had finally accepted his parents’ duality, however, claims mastery over his father’s ten rings. Using the great protector dragon that lives beneath Ta-Lo’s lake, the film’s hero releases the ten rings of Dweller-in-Darkness in total. The dark creature cannot fight such a catastrophic power and explodes into a million small pieces of fish.

What’s the deal with the ten rings?

By the exit of Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, in an intermediate credit sequence, Shang-Chi and Katy (Awkwafina) features in an epilogue that they seem to reserve boasted. Earlier in the film, their friends chastised them both for not accepting adulthood. Now the duo are happy to tell about the Ta-Lo fight with Dweller-in-Darkness in hopes of getting their peers approval. But also to know that this absurd mystical war is too crazy for the average MCU person to understand – even though they live in a world where half the population can get away at any time.

Just as Shang-Chi and Katy’s friends start mocking, a portal opens behind them, and Wong (Benedict Wong) step forward. He drags Shang-Chi and Katy into a super secret meeting with Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who call in using their holo phones. The Avengers need to know more about these ten rings that Shang-Chi now possesses.

When they were recently activated, Wong felt the ten ring presence all the way in Kamar-Taj, the hidden Himilayan land where Stephen Strange first met the Ancient. After a quick metallurgical analysis, the Avengers can only tell Shang-Chi that the ten rings are not made of Chitauri metal or Vibranium. The rings are also much older than first assumed and they appear to be firing a lighthouse for someone or something.

Another dark creature gets the message

Many comic book producers receive thanks during the closing credits on ShangChi and the legend of the ten rings. But when it comes to the second set of “Special Thanks” all the way to the very end, comic writer Matt fraction is located on the tippy-top, away from the usual set of writers and artists. His Invincible Iron Man comic book series went a long way in rediscovering The Mandarin, aka Wenwu’s troubled comic book pendant.

While the film never tells the story of where Wenwu picked up the rings, Fraction’s is Iron Man describes their first meeting explicitly. The ten rings are of foreign origin. They arrived on a spaceship that was piloted and crashed Axxon-Karr, a Makluan explorer who was immediately attacked by ancient Earthlings because of his dragon-like appearance.

Wenwu eventually finds Axxon-Karr hiding in a cave in the Valley of the Spirits. Without jumping a blow to death, Wenwu kills the dragon and steals the ten rings contained in the spaceship’s engine. From there, global dominance occurs.

The signal from the ten rings is undoubtedly directed at the stars, specifically the planet Maklu IV. There’s another dragon ready for war: Fin Fang Foom. And the celebrities jump in their seats at the thought of such a colossally close meeting.

Who is Fin Fang Foom?

When the first trailer arrives ShangChi and the legend of the ten rings fell, the brief glimpses of the Great Protector made us hope for a climactic Fin Fang Foom showdown. Jack Kirby’s space dragon, who often appreciates the same style of purple shorts that the Hulk makes, is one of Marvel’s most iconic creatures. He is big; he is silly; he is the perfect blend of absurdity and cool. And he’s not the type of character you throw away in the last ten minutes of your movie. Fin Fang Foom deserves a whole lot more respect than Dweller-in-Darkness.

“He whose limbs crush mountains, and whose backs scrape the sun.” When it’s your enemy’s alias, you better notice it. Fine Fang Foom may not cause the reality-crushing chaos of a Kang the Conquerer, but he destroys the Earth nicely and well.

Fine Fang Foom is a character. He is not a thoughtless roaring animal to be basked against. The challenge for MCU is to get him to work beyond being a big CGI scare. You must cast him as Thanos and find Fin Fang Fooms Josh Brolin.

In the comics, Fin Fang Foom and Wenwu are pretty tight. This relationship will not be present in one ShangUse successor. The mandarin is dead … yes …

The Ten Poor Fates

As we witness in the post-credits scene of Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, the terrorist organization Ten Rings is back and running. They may not even have the ten rings, but they have Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). Not only will she maintain her father’s destructive grip on the planet, but she will also maintain push / pull family tensions with Shang-Chi. Her rule will not make him more comfortable than their father’s criminal dominance.

ShangChi and the legend of the ten rings ends with a promise. Not that Shang-Chi returns, but that “The Ten Rings Return.” Xialing is a force to be reckoned with, and a partnership with Fin Fang Foom may be all she needs to fight Shang-Chi’s magical MacGuffins.

Shang-Chi has apparently come to terms with the darkness and light flowing within him. He is both his mother and his father. Knowing this brings him peace, but what good is peace when your sister causes destruction on the entire planet? The family war continues. Now with even more dragonflies.

Related topics: Ending Explained, Marvel Studios

Brad Gullickson is a weekly columnist for film school rejection and senior curator for a perfect shot. When he’s not wandering around movies here, he wanders about comics as a co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him on Twitter: @MouthDork. (Han / ham)

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