It’s theorizing time! I’m not always an expert at this sort of thing (I tend to have flashes of what I think could be an interesting idea, but…well, we’ll get to that), but I’m mainly writing this post so you – and I – can understand better one of the more intriguing developments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the unveiling of the long-anticipated villain, The Mandarin, and his shadowy terrorist organization; the Ten Rings.
Well, them too – mainly we’ll be talking about the literal ten rings, what they are, what they can do, whether we’ll see them used as frequent plot devices like the Infinity Stones were (the proper term for an object in a film/book that is used as a plot device, such as Marvel’s Tesseract, is a MacGuffin: bear that in mind).
Let’s start with a recap of what we know: The Mandarin, one of Marvel’s most enigmatic villains, will finally appear in the upcoming film Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, probably filling the role of Shang-Chi’s villainous father from the comics: Fu Manchu. The Mandarin is traditionally an Iron Man villain, and has indeed already been connected with Iron Man in the MCU – members of his terrorist organization kidnapped Tony Stark all the way back in the very first Marvel Studios film. But Stark never actually got a showdown with the mastermind himself – instead, he was surprised to learn that the man he had believed to be The Mandarin was actually just a regular guy (well, if you can call Ben Kingsley a regular guy) who had rather inadvertently had to adopt the moniker before becoming a puppet for an entirely different terrorist group. Needless to say, the Mandarin’s followers weren’t too happy with this guy pretending to be their criminal warlord, so they broke him out of prison after the events of Iron Man 3 and brought him face to face with the real Mandarin, someone we’ve never actually seen onscreen. And that was the last we’ve heard from The Mandarin or the Ten Rings, except for one brief encounter in the first Ant-Man movie, where Scott Lang battled a mercenary working for the organization. Since then, the group has apparently gone underground. But someone (or something…) is going to bring them back to the forefront of the MCU in 2021, clearly, so what can it be?
Well, to explain that, we have to look at the Ten Rings themselves – and I’m not talking about the terrorists anymore, I’m talking about the ten rings; like, rings you wear on your fingers, those kinds of rings. The Ten Rings (the terrorists) will probably be very important to the story of Shang-Chi’s solo movie, but I highly doubt they’re the Ten Rings being referenced in the film’s title – because the Ten Rings, while very mysterious, aren’t exactly legendary: the ten rings, on the other hand…well, those are.
I feel like this post is going to get very confusing. Warning to all future Marvel criminal masterminds: please don’t name your business after your jewelry – it just makes things a lot more complicated than they need to be. Thanks.
Anyway, the Mandarin’s ten rings are almost mythical, and very nearly divine. In the comics, these ten devices were created by a race of aliens known as the Makluans: they are weapons, endowed with the incorporeal spirits of ancient cosmic warriors and heroes, and each also possesses the ability to think and operate on its own, without even needing a wearer to use it. The ten rings are named Remaker, Influence, Spectral, Spin, Incandescence, Nightbringer, Daimonic, Zero, Lightning, and The Liar. They each have specific powers, but if you’re interested I’ll direct you to a place where you can learn more about those. For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to go into the subtle differences between “manipulating the atomic and molecular structures of matter” and “destroying the bonds between the atoms and the molecules”. Let’s put it this way: these things are powerful. Maybe not on quite the same level as, say, the One Ring of Power, but they’re up there.
Now, at first, upon reading all this, I had a crazy idea that somehow the Infinity Stones themselves would be used to explain the ten rings: that, somehow, when Thanos destroyed the seven stones, their broken fragments wandered across the universe and ended up in/on the hands of The Mandarin. Then I kind of realized that The Mandarin has been established to have had these ten rings since at least the 1950s. In the comics, he just happened to be the one guy around when a Makluan spaceship carrying the ten rings crash-landed in China: being a quick-thinking, practical sort of guy, The Mandarin killed the alien pilot and stole the rings. Much of the rest of his story has already been adapted in a slightly different fashion: he kidnapped Tony Stark (been there, done that), and then one of his rings ended up with Malekith the Dark Elf (he’s already dead in the MCU timeline). But that doesn’t mean there still aren’t interesting stories to be told.
For instance, the story of Tony Stark being kidnapped might have been adapted to the big screen already, but the Titanomechs which he built for the Mandarin in the comics haven’t: interestingly, these cyborg killers were later defeated by a swarm of Stark’s nanobots – and in the MCU, one of Stark’s last actions was to bequeath a similar swarm of nanobots to his friend, Peter Parker. There’s also the question of whether or not the rings will have their sentient abilities in the movies: if so, they could easily escape before The Mandarin is (possibly) defeated by Shang-Chi, and might find ten willing hosts for themselves. In the comics, when this happened, none of the hosts were really extraordinary, big-name characters – Malekith was by far the most important of them, and the MCU has already reduced him to a cut-and-dry one-off bad guy. The people that did end up with the rings were all rather pathetic, in fact: a disgruntled Broadway director who named himself “Lightning Conductor”, and a French neo-Nazi, for instance. But this time around, wouldn’t it be much more exciting if the rings actually went looking for the most powerful villains and criminals in the world – especially at this critical time, when there have been reports going around that Marvel wants to produce a villain team-up movie such as Thunderbolts, which could unite characters like Baron Zemo, Justin Hammer, Red Hulk and Ghost.
What do you think? How would you like to see the Ten Rings and the ten rings implemented into the MCU, and what sort of future could they have? Will the Mandarin be a one-and-done villain, or could he make multiple appearances in the next phase of Marvel films? Share your own theories in the comments below!