Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Here are all the plot holes and unanswered questions in Shang-Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings. The Ten Rings have existed in the MCU since it first began, because the terrorist group were the ones who captured Tony Stark all those years ago in the first Iron Man film – unwisely giving him the opportunity to build his prototype. The MCU has come a long way since its inception, though, and as a result Shang-Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings serves as an introduction to a whole new hero – with Marvel now calling Shang-Chi a “new Avenger.“
This is an origin story like no other in the MCU to date, with Marvel attempting to honor and embrace Chinese culture to an unprecedented degree. By the time Shang-Chi is done, viewers have been welcomed into a whole new universe that’s now become part of the MCU, the mysterious realm known as Ta Lo – a seriously deep cut from comic book lore, because Ta Lo appears in literally one issue, and has been detailed more in handbooks than in the comics themselves. And Shang-Chi‘s mid- and post-credits scenes assure viewers the mysteries of the Ten Rings have barely begun to be unlocked.
Still, no film is perfect, not even a Marvel blockbuster. By the time of Shang-Chi‘s ending, it has several unanswered questions and plot holes – some of the former being deliberate, some a little more awkward and uncomfortable for Marvel Studios. Here are all the biggest ones.
Let’s start with the most obvious question: just what are the Ten Rings, and how do they work? In the comics, the Mandarin’s Ten Rings are alien artifacts that were found in the remains of a crashed starship; each possesses a different power. The MCU has drastically rewritten the Ten Rings, right down to their origin story, because apparently there are only legends about how they were found by Wenwu; some say they were discovered in a tomb, others in a crater presumably having just fallen to Earth. The MCU’s Ten Rings clearly manipulate some unknown form of energy, powerful enough to destroy the Dweller-in-Darkness, although Shang-Chi‘s post-credits scene reveals they’re unlike anything Earth’s various heroes have ever seen before; they aren’t Vibranium, and Captain Marvel doesn’t recognize the technology. Intriguingly, from the moment Shang-Chi took possession of the Ten Rings they began sending out some sort of beacon, for an unknown reason. This signal was powerful enough to travel from the universe of Ta Lo to Kamar-Taj on Earth.
Wenwu has apparently been using the Ten Rings for a thousand years, and yet oddly there’s no indication the Masters of the Mystic Arts ever crossed his path. This is most curious, especially given the Ancient One used the Eye of Agamotto to scour the globe looking for potential threats, pre-emptively striking against them. It’s possible she saw far enough into the future to believe the threat of Wenwu would fade when he fell in love (she could not, of course, see beyond her own death in Doctor Strange). Alternatively, it may be that the Eye of Agamotto is somehow blind to the power of the Ten Rings.
Shang-Chi‘s timeline doesn’t quite make sense. The opening scenes suggest Shang-Chi was born shortly after his parents met in 1996, and the film’s events take place in 2021 – specifically in late March and early April, around the Chinese festival Qingming Jie, when the gate to Ta Lo opened. However, Shang-Chi is set post-Avengers: Endgame, meaning it must be in late March and early April 2024 instead – and Shang-Chi must have been born a little later. This confusion is likely simply a mistake on Marvel’s part, with the studio presumably forgetting to factor in Endgame‘s five-year time jump.
Apparently the teenage Shang-Chi completed his first mission on behalf of his father, killing the man responsible for his mother’s death, and then went rogue. It’s amusing to imagine a lone teenager arriving in San Francisco and building a fake identity for himself – Shang-Chi calls himself “Shaun,” rather unimaginatively – but presumably as an assassin for the Ten Rings Shang-Chi was sent with money and some false identity documentation. Still, if Shang-Chi was indeed drawing on resources his father had given him before he went on the mission, he was rather naïve to believe Wenwu had no idea where he was.
Shang-Chi’s mother had given Shang-Chi and his sister Xialing two dragon’s eye pendants to guard; putting them together in the dragon statue in Hunan would trigger a magical map to tell them how to get to Ta Lo. There’s a beautiful degree of symbolism in this, because their mother was effectively telling her children she valued them both equally – a statement their father could never make, influenced by the ancient Chinese chengyu of hong nan qing nü (“heavy male light female”) which refers to the unequal treatment of the two genders. But just where did the dragon’s eye pendants come from, and how did they retain their magic away from Ta Lo when Shang-Chi’s mother lost her powers? It’s possible the gulf between Shang-Chi’s mother and the people of Ta Lo wasn’t quite so vast as the film implies, that they gave her a means of returning with her children; certainly they seem to have been aware of his death, establishing a shrine to her memory.
Shang-Chi is an undisputed master of martial arts, but his skills are actually quite curious; according to the timeline, he has spent a decade building a life in San Francisco, and there’s no evidence he has done any real sparring to maintain his skill level. He is shown doing press-ups in his own home before heading out for his day job as a valet, but that appears to be the limit of his training in the United States. And yet, for all that’s the case, the moment he’s threatened by Ten Rings agents Shang-Chi breaks out the moves as though he’s been practicing every day. This is one area where the film’s realism breaks down, but it can be forgiven as a convenient trope.
The Dweller-in-Darkness was successfully imprisoned by the combined powers of the Great Protector and the residents of Ta Lo. Their triumph untold ages ago seems quite remarkable given how powerful a malnourished Dweller-in-Darkness proves to be when the creature emerges; it literally takes the combined power of the Ten Rings and the Great Protector to destroy it, even though it should be weaker having just awoken from its slumber. It’s possible there were other forces involved in imprisoning the Dweller-in-Darkness, and that the citizens of Ta Lo were simply left behind as defenders to prevent the Great Seal ever being breached. There may even be a historic connection – one long forgotten – between Ta Lo and the city of Kamar-Taj, where the Masters of the Mystic Arts are trained.
Although restrained, the Dweller-in-Darkness has been reaching out across the ages, continually finding people of power and tricking them into trying to free the creature by offering them their heart’s desire. It’s unclear how the Dweller-in-Darkness’ abilities actually work, particularly given it was technically imprisoned and yet somehow still had the power to reach out across the universes. It’s also difficult to say why it took the Dweller-in-Darkness so long to fix its attention on Wenwu, given he possessed the Ten Rings for a thousand years.
The Masters of the Mystic Arts really don’t come out of Shang-Chi looking especially competent; apparently they’ve been blissfully unaware of a demonic entity reaching into our universe for thousands of years, choosing agents and pawns to transport into another universe in an attempt to free it. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to miss one powerful interdimensional threat may be regarded as a misfortune, to miss two looks like carelessness. This raises the disturbing question of just how many other mystical villains are acting with impunity in spite of the Masters of the Mystic Arts.
If the Dweller-in-Darkness has been seeking out powerful beings for years, why didn’t the creature ever fix its gaze upon the Avengers? Some of them would have easily been strong enough to break the Great Seal, and they’ve had vulnerable moments where the monster could easily have twisted them. It’s easy to imagine the depressed Thor of Avengers: Endgame being visited by the Dweller-in-Darkness, tricked into believing he could restore Asgard if he just broke the Great Seal. Mjolnir or Stormbreaker would certainly have done the job and freed the Dweller-in-Darkness.
The portal to Ta Lo is guarded behind an ever-shifting forest that can only be safely navigated on Qingming Jie, or with the help of mystical creatures from Ta Lo who sense the forest’s fluctuations. But that kind of defense really shouldn’t work in the 21st century, and it certainly shouldn’t have held back as powerful and wealthy a man as Wenwu; he should have been able to simply fly over the forest in a helicopter. From an out-of-universe perspective, Marvel is simply honoring an ancient trope. In Shang-Chi‘s universe, it’s possible Wenwu simply never thought of this, too caught up in the myths and legends to apply modern-day science – or else that there are other magics guarding the portal, meaning the waterfall area can’t be seen by satellite, and navigational equipment is disrupted.
Shang-Chi’s desperate attempts to stop Wenwu breaking the Great Seal initially appear doomed to failure, simply because his father wields the power of the Ten Rings – until the Rings begin to respond to Shang-Chi instead, switching color to a beautiful gold as though demonstrating their new allegiance. The film doesn’t really explain what is going on in this scene, but presumably the Ten Rings respond to Shang-Chi‘s inner balance by choosing him over Wenwu. This may well explain why they finally begin generating a signal when they chose Shang-Chi; because they had finally found a worthy bearer.
Technically it isn’t really Shang-Chi who saves the day; it is his best friend Katy, who has swiftly become a good enough archer to hit the Dweller-in-Darkness’ throat with an arrow at a crucial moment. This is thematically appropriate, because for the first time Katy is actually aiming at something in life, but it’s more than a little convenient; she’s only been training with a bow and arrow for a day, and yet she pulls off a high-pressure shot at a moving target.
As he prepares to deal a death-blow to the Dweller-in-Darkness, Shang-Chi hovers in place above the monster, his power building to a climax. It’s a stunning scene, but again it doesn’t quite make sense, because previously the Ten Rings had only propelled people in something like flight by releasing bursts of kinetic energy. The scene implies even Wenwu had barely begun to tap into the power of the Ten Rings, and that Shang-Chi has done something his father could not have dreamed of. He really is worthy of the Ten Rings.