SPOILER WARNING: Do not read this story if you haven’t seen “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” currently playing in theaters.
Throughout “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” there are only a few small signs that the 25th feature film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is actually a part of it. As Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) navigate through modern San Francisco, they walk past posters signifying the aftermath of the “Blip” from “Avengers: Endgame,” when half the world’s population suddenly rematerialized. Later, when the duo first walk into an illegal fight club operating in a half-finished skyscraper in Macau, Wong (Benedict Wong) from 2016’s “Doctor Strange” is in the middle of a friendly sparring match with the Abomination from 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” — a teaser for the latter’s expected appearance in Marvel’s 2022 Disney Plus series “She-Hulk.” And, of course, there’s the delightful return of Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery, a.k.a. the fake Mandarin from 2013’s “Iron Man 3.”
But it’s not until the very end of “Shang-Chi” — in one of Marvel’s hallmark post-credits scenes — that the movie fully steps inside the MCU. Quite literally: With the help of Wong’s teleportation sling ring, Shang-Chi and Katy step from a San Francisco restaurant into Wong’s sanctum to discuss the mystifying, ancient origins of the powerful rings that are now in Shang-Chi’s possession. As a dazed Shang-Chi and Katy look on, the camera reveals that Wong has called on Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), to consult via holographic FaceTime.
They’re all stumped, especially by the mysterious signal emanating from within the rings — no doubt leaving these questions to be resolved in another MCU title in the future. Before he hangs up, however, Bruce fixes Shang-Chi and Katy with a knowing smile, and says, “Welcome to the circus.”
When asked about when he knew how that scene was going to unfold, “Shang-Chi” co-writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton gave his own knowing smile.
“Right before the premiere is what it feels like,” he said.
In truth, Cretton said that “renditions” of that scene were in the works early on. Once they decided to bring Wong back for the fight club sequence, for example, Cretton also wanted the character to return for the post-credits scene — and then get pulled by Shang-Chi and Katy into a round of drunken karaoke.
“I knew I wanted them all to be sitting ‘Hotel California’ together,” Cretton said. “But we weren’t sure it was actually going to work until we shot it.”
What Cretton didn’t know until the film was late in post-production was which Avengers would join Wong in his analysis of the rings.
Post-credits scenes “go through so many tweaks and updates depending on what’s being developed in other shows and movies in the MCU,” Cretton said. “It was so dependent on what those characters are doing in the MCU around that time.”
Cretton’s personal preference was for at least one of those characters’ to be Larson’s Captain Marvel, given that the Oscar-winning actor had starred in the filmmaker’s three previous movies: 2019’s “Just Cause,” 2017’s “The Glass Castle,” and 2013’s “Short Term 12” — the film that launched Larson’s career. But Captain Marvel’s base of operations is on the other side of the galaxy, so for a time, it wasn’t clear how she could pop up on Earth for a quick confab about some unusual jewelry.
“We talked about it being Brie, but we did not know that it could make plausible sense that Brie could be there,” Cretton said. “I mean, it obviously helps that we ended up landing on hologram versions of these characters so they can just step away and get back into whatever crazy stuff they’re dealing with. And I’m not even totally aware of what they’re dealing with. All I know is I pitch ideas, and the only time that ideas get kicked back is if it doesn’t make logical sense to other ideas that are percolating for those characters.”
Ultimately, Cretton shot Ruffalo and Larson’s part of the post-credits sequence as one of the last elements of additional photography on “Shang-Chi” earlier this year.
“I hadn’t seen Brie in a long time, so to be able to catch up with her on set, and hang out while she’s wearing a Captain Marvel costume — it was super weird, but we had a good laugh,” Cretton said.
The second post-credits scene in “Shang-Chi,” which plays at the very end of the credits, came together in a far more predictable fashion: Cretton shot it during principal photography, and it doesn’t involve any past Avengers. Instead, the scene demonstrates what “Shang-Chi” is contributing to the larger MCU.
The scene opens with Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) standing in her old bedroom on the massive Ten Rings compound run by her late father (Tony Leung). Shang-Chi thinks Xialing is there to dismantle it; instead, she takes her place on her father’s old throne, as the camera pans back to reveal Xialing is actually giving the Ten Rings a 21st century upgrade, with a punk-graffiti makeover to the decor similar to her fight club in Macau, and a new, egalitarian complement of warrior women and men training together.
The scene, which pays off Xialing’s lifelong resentment that her father ignored her in favor of Shang-Chi, concludes with the words “The Ten Rings will return” on the screen — underlining how central the group is now to the MCU.
While it’s fair to say that Xialing’s changes have made the Ten Rings a more inclusive organization, the scene also leaves the impression that its nefarious aims — the consolidation of power across the planet — remains the same.
It’s an impression Cretton doesn’t discourage, but he’s not confirming anything, either.
“I think that’s a fair assessment, if that’s what you think,” he said ruefully. “You know, the purpose of these snippets, they are to create questions.”
Similarly, when asked if it’s telling that Ruffalo’s Banner appears in human form, rather than as the Hulkified version he became in “Avengers: Endgame,” Cretton just cocks an eyebrow.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Is that telling?”
The director does draw the line, however, at the implication that he may not be aware of where Shang-Chi’s rings actually did come from, or what the signal the rings are sending out into the universe means.
“Of course I know!” he says. Then he pauses and laughs. “I mean, you know, I know enough — I know as much as anybody.”