Ending Explained is a recurring series where we explore the finales, 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 don’t want to be who we are. We want to be better.
The hero at the center of Marvel’s latest committed a heinous act when he was a child. Having witnessed the brutal murder of his mother and experienced the cruel tutelage of his rageful father, Xu Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) sought vengeance against the man who shattered their family. With the deed done, the child ran to America, hiding from his father’s oppressive grip.
During the ending of Shang–Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the titular character pulls the words of his aunt (Michelle Yeoh) into his very 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 caught in his own agony. He’s brought his Ten Rings army to the secret village of Ta-Lo, hoping to decimate the Dark Gate, which will unleash the Dweller-In-Darkness within. The Fear Lord has poisoned his mind, using Wenwu’s grief, tricking him into believing that his dead bride resides within Ta-Lo’s mythic mountain.
What is the Dweller-in-Darkness?
Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange introduces audiences to the concept of dimensional realms beyond our understanding. That movie skips along the Mirror Dimension and twists time within the Dark Dimension. The Dweller-in-Darkness is from an even scarier dimension called Everinnye.
In the Marvel comics, this dimension is a nightmarish arena where human fear fuels everything. The Dweller-In-Darkness first appeared in Thor #229 and is clearly inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu” short story. What a mighty beard of tentacles they have. The better to wrap you up and squish you, my dear.
Born from our collective fear, the Dweller-in-Darkness requires terror to operate. Having been locked away for eons behind Ta-Lo’s gate, they’re eager to roam free, feasting on our petrified souls. Like any large-and-in-charge MCU beastie, the Dweller-in-Darkness consumes the Shang-Chi climax, putting the push-and-pull tension between father and son to the wayside. Or, to be more accurate, the Dweller-in-Darkness slurps Wenwu’s essence down their gullet. Yummmm. Paternal disappointment is oh-so-tasty.
Shang-Chi, however, having finally accepted his parents’ duality, claims mastery over his father’s Ten Rings. With the help of the Great Protector — the dragon who lives beneath Ta-Lo’s lake — the movie’s hero unleashes the Ten Rings upon the Dweller-in-Darkness in totality. The dark being cannot combat such catastrophic power and explodes into a million little fishy pieces.
What’s the Deal with the Ten Rings?
At the end of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, in a mid-credits sequence, Shang-Chi and Katy (Awkwafina) feature in an epilogue they’ve seemed to reserve for bragging rights. Earlier in the movie, their friends chastised them both for not accepting adulthood. Now, the duo joyously recounts the Ta-Lo battle with the Dweller-in-Darkness, hoping to gain their pals’ approval. But also, knowing that this absurd mystical war is too crazy for the average MCU human to comprehend — even though they live in a world where half the population can blip away at any given moment.
Just as Shang-Chi and Katy’s friends begin their mocking, a portal opens behind them, and Wong (Benedict Wong) steps forth. He pulls 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 Rings’ presence all the way in Kamar-Taj, the hidden Himilayan land where Stephen Strange first met the Ancient One. After a quick metallurgical analysis, the Avengers can only tell Shang-Chi that the Ten Rings are not made from Chitauri metal or Vibranium. The rings are also way older than initially thought, and they seem to be firing a beacon for someone or something.
Another Dark Being Gets the Message
Many comic book creators receive thanks during the ending credits of Shang–Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. But when it comes to the second set of “Special Thanks” all the way at the very, very end, comic writer Matt Fraction is positioned at the tippy-top, away from the usual set of writers and artists. His Invincible Iron Man comic book series went a long way in retconning The Mandarin, a.k.a. Wenwu’s problematic comic book counterpart.
While the movie never tells the story of where Wenwu retrieved the rings, Fraction’s Iron Man details their first encounter explicitly. The Ten Rings are alien in origin. They arrived on a spaceship piloted and crash-landed by Axxon-Karr, a Makluan explorer whom ancient Earthlings immediately attacked due to his dragon-like appearance.
Wenwu eventually finds Axxon-Karr hiding in a cave within the Valley of Spirits. Without skipping a beat, Wenwu slays the dragon and steals the Ten Rings contained within the spaceship’s engine. From there, global domination occurs.
The signal emanating from the Ten Rings is undoubtedly directed toward the stars, specifically the planet Maklu IV. There, another dragon readies for war: Fin Fang Foom. And those in the know are bouncing in their seats at the thought of such a colossal close encounter.
Who is Fin Fang Foom?
When the first trailer for Shang–Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings dropped, the brief glimpses of the Great Protector had us hoping for a climactic Fin Fang Foom showdown. Jack Kirby’s space dragon, who often appreciates the same style of purple shorts that the Hulk does, is one of Marvel’s most iconic creatures. He’s big; he’s goofy; he’s 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 helluva lot more respect than the Dweller-in-Darkness.
“He Whose Limbs Shatter Mountains and Whose Back Scrapes the Sun.” When that’s your enemy’s go-to alias, you better take notice. Fin Fang Foom may not cause the reality-shattering chaos of a Kang the Conquerer, but he’ll wreck Earth up nice and good.
Fin Fang Foom is a character. He’s not a mindless roaring beast to be bashed against. The challenge for the MCU is to make him work beyond being a big CGI fright. You gotta cast him like Thanos and find Fin Fang Foom’s Josh Brolin.
In the comics, Fin Fang Foom and Wenwu are fairly tight. That relationship will not be present in a Shang–Chi sequel. The Mandarin is dead…well…
The Fate of the Ten Rings
As we witness in the post-credits scene of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the Ten Rings terrorist organization is back up and running. They may not have the Ten Rings themselves, but they have Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). She will not only maintain her father’s devastating grip on the globe, but she will also maintain the push/pull familial tension with Shang-Chi. Her rule will not make him any more comfortable than their father’s criminal dominance.
Shang–Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ends with a promise. Not that Shang-Chi will return, but that “The Ten Rings Will Return.” Xialing is a force to be reckoned with, and a partnership with Fin Fang Foom might be all she needs to go up against Shang-Chi’s magical MacGuffins.
Shang-Chi has seemingly 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 is causing havoc throughout the planet? The familial war continues. Now, with even more space dragons.