Shang-Chi’s Ten Rings – What Are They?

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.

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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!

“1917” First Trailer!

It’s shaping up to be a good year for World War I dramas – between this grim, harrowing account of two men racing against time to prevent a massacre on the battlefield, to The King’s Man, which seems to present a more romanticized view of British spies and assassins weaving through early 20th Century politics, pretty much all your bases are covered. So let’s talk about the first trailer for Sam Mendes’ 1917, which has just dropped today.

First up, the fact that it’s a joint Universal Studios/DreamWorks Pictures release stunned me right off the bat – I’m just not used to seeing the DreamWorks logo before a trailer filled with mustard gas, military chaos and the horrors of war: but here we are, and that’s what we’ve got. The trailer is masterfully edited to reflect the claustrophobia of the trenches on the front lines: it opens with a man running across an open field, being peppered with bullets and bombs, but the camera frame shrinks tighter and tighter around him, quickly becoming the second 1 in 1917, while the man himself is lost in a cloud of smoke. That’s quickly followed by darkly-lit shots of soldiers creeping through an abandoned building, guns at the ready – the shadows encroach around them oppressively before being abruptly shredded by a bomb exploding in their midst. As the air rings around the survivors, their voices are muffled and distant, their figures merely dark silhouettes in a fog. There are haunting shots of men wading through rivers clogged with dead bodies, or staring into the ever more rapidly shrinking title cards as if they’re caught in the enemy’s crosshairs, while the music beats in time to their gunfire.

And then, of course, there’s Benedict Cumberbatch: no decent British historical fiction would feel right without him. The cast also includes Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Richard Madden – as of right now, the film looks very (as in, entirely) male-driven: there’s only a single female character credited on IMDb, and since she doesn’t have a name except for “Mother”, I’ll bet she’s very unimportant to the story. That’s not necessarily a mark against the film, but plenty of war dramas can and do find enough time for at least one named female character to appear: though they’re typically little more than plot devices who inspire the soldiers to invoke their name as they charge into battle, or who can cry over said soldiers when their dead bodies are returned home for burial.

All in all, though, the film looks very good: with the market currently wanting more war dramas, I hope 1917 has enough appeal to win out over bigger, more mainstream releases like Roland Emmerich’s Midway, or The King’s Man.

Trailer Rating: 5/10

LGBTQ Diversity In Marvel Phase 4!

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe gears up for Phase 4, a variety of things have been revealed about the upcoming slate of movies and streaming shows they’ll be offering in the next two years: so far, we’ve got a general idea of what to expect from the fourth phase – it’s going to be absolutely insane, it’s going to be cosmic in scale, and it will be very diverse. Diverse in this case can mean two things: a general diversity of storytelling styles ranging from raw psychological thrillers (Black Widow) to absurdist comedies (Thor: Love And Thunder) – and a diversity of cast and crew, with an incredible number of minority groups being represented in mainstream superhero films. While a discussion about the diversity of filmmaking styles being used in Phase 4 would be very interesting and engrossing (Eternals will be shot on 16mm Ektachrome??), we’re going to focus on the latter meaning of the word for today’s post.

According to multiple outlets, Marvel may soon add a transgender superhero to its Phase 4 roster: an impressive roster already, one that includes at least three female directors, two or more female-led projects, Marvel’s first Asian-led film and Asian-American director, first deaf superheroine, and two or more LGBTQ characters.

While this new superhero’s name has not yet been revealed, it seems Marvel is looking for a transwoman actress to play her, under the code name “Jessica”. The rumors don’t even begin to suggest what film she might appear in, whether it’s one in Phase 4 or possibly Phase 5, which kicks off in 2022. Interestingly, though, this news story comes hard on the heels of speculation about one of Marvel’s other characters who might be on the LGBTQ spectrum – Ikaris.

Now, technically, in the comics, Ikaris is actually a straight cisgender male: but it seems that Marvel is looking to change that and possibly announce that Ikaris is a gay character – while, at the same time, Richard Madden, who will portray Ikaris in Eternals, will publicly come out as gay (there’s been lots of rumors about Madden himself in recent years). Talk about a publicity stunt! There’s just one thing that’s been nagging people about this: in the comics, Ikaris is probably most notable for his romance with the female sorceress Sersi, who has not yet been cast for Eternals: people have already begun to speculate that, since Ikaris might be gay, Sersi could be genderbent to be a male. This probably doesn’t have anything to do with the rumors about a transgender superhero, but it’s worth noting as another step forward for LGBTQ diversity (or is that a step forward? I can only imagine the controversy that would ensue if Sersi was genderbent to be a male).

As for who “Jessica” might be, it seems from the reports that she might be one of Marvel Comics’ only transgender characters – Sera, a supporting character in the Thor mythos: Sera started life as a male angel trapped within the Tenth Realm of Yggdrasil, but she identified as female; she was eventually rescued from her imprisonment by Thor’s sister Angela, who then became her love interest for a time. There’s a whole bunch of interesting stuff that could be done with the Tenth Realm, Heven, and the characters of Sera and Angela – not least of which is the possibility of Sera becoming the “queen” that bisexual heroine Valkyrie is apparently searching for in Thor: Love And Thunder. Unless that’s Angela? Or Jane Foster Thor? Jamie Alexander announced on Twitter last night that she wants to be Valkyrie’s queen, but, let’s face it, Lady Sif isn’t coming back.

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With so many possible LGBTQ storylines to choose from, which do you want Marvel to prioritize – and who else should come out in future movies? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

“Indiana Jones 5” Begins Filming Next Year!

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All the way back in 2008, it seemed like Harrison Ford was finally going to pass on the mantle (or, rather, fedora) of Indiana Jones to Shia LaBeouf, who played Indy’s long-lost son, “Mutt” Williams, in Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Eleven years later, the fifth and presumably final installment in the franchise has yet to be released, and continues to get pushed further and further back, while Ford himself continues to get older and older, and…well, nobody even knows what Shia LaBeouf is up to these days, but most sources agree that he’s not planning on returning for the fifth film (which is fine, because he was one of the worst things about Crystal Skull), leaving the door open for a newer, fresher actor (or actress?) to enter the franchise at this late stage, and possibly even continue after Ford has exited. Then again, Ford himself is understandably upset with the idea that anyone could replace him: “When I’m gone, he’s gone”, the actor proclaimed in a recent interview, before telling Chris Pratt that, as long as he has any say in the matter, the franchise will die with him.

The possibility of the franchise ever having a satisfying “death”, however, is seemingly almost unlikely at this point, though. Indiana Jones 5 was originally set to release…a week ago. Obviously, that didn’t pan out, and the film is currently suspected to be aiming for a 2021 release date. News has just broken today that Harrison Ford will start filming in London, in April of 2020, giving the movie just enough time to become a summer blockbuster the year after. But the film’s success largely depends on how good a movie it is, and right now we simply don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes: Steven Spielberg will direct, but he’s been vague about whether or not George Lucas will be helping him in bringing almost forty years of tomb-raiding and whip-cracking to an end. Meanwhile, writers on the project have come and gone, with Jon Kasdan’s original script (which apparently brought the story back to its roots of Nazi-defying adventures in a late thirties environment) being scrapped in favor of a new, completely mysterious one by Dan Fogelman.

Personally, I’d love to see Indy go back to fighting Nazis, as much as I loved Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of a Soviet psychic in Crystal Skull (though she never actually got to show off said psychic powers, so that was a bit of a letdown). But the franchise definitely needs to change its tune – the aliens and atom bombs from the last installment felt very out of place in a series that’s supposed to be rather old-fashioned (though, we could probably do without some of the original films’ old-fashioned racism and sexism). But with Harrison Ford nearing eighty, it perhaps makes sense to have him in a slightly more modernistic setting – probably the late sixties or early seventies: in which case, we could still have him fight Nazis, but they would have to be rogue former scientists or generals living in hiding. There could be a pretty interesting story there, actually, if it was done well.

Since I just recently binge-watched all four movies and still loved them (Last Crusade is the best of the franchise; prove me wrong), I’m very excited to see what Spielberg and Ford have to offer for Indy’s final adventure. And if the fedora absolutely has to be passed on, I hope it’s to someone worthy of that honor (i.e, not Shia LaBeouf).

“Gemini Man” Second Trailer!

Nobody’s changed the boring sci-fi logo for this film, which is a real shame – but at least this time around they’ve made it glow, so that’s something. Seriously, I give them three months to swap that logo out for something even remotely interesting, and they give me the exact same thing but in neon blue?

As for the trailer itself, its content has gotten more convoluted than last time, but at least they’ve extracted some of the cringey dialogue like “You made a person out of another person”. But just wait; I’m sure that memorable line is still somewhere in the movie itself, they’ll just trick you into thinking they’ve changed so they can get you into the theater. Who would do such a thing?, you might ask. David Benioff, I might answer in this hypothetical scenario. Benioff, one of the two Game of Thrones screenwriters now literally synonymous with “bad writers” in Google’s database,  is undoubtedly going through a hard time – but that honestly doesn’t excuse the fact that he apparently wrote this film: and besides, he’s getting a job with Disney writing a Star Wars trilogy, so I’m sure he’ll be fine.

Will Smith still seems to be trying really hard to sell this story about an assassin trying to rescue his young clone from a life of brainwashing and manipulation: granted, Gemini Man is able to get to that premise before the upcoming Marvel film Black Widow, which looks like it might include that element as well. But take a wild guess which one will succeed. Anyway, one problem with the trailer is that Will Smith – obviously – plays both himself and his younger-looking clone, and it’s very difficult to figure out when he’s talking or his clone is; leaving aside the fact that they look similar enough that it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart. And to top it off, Will Smith is the film’s only selling point, so he has to be the brunt of really bad title-card puns, like “Who WILL Save You?”

One thing this trailer improves is its action: apparently you can do quite a lot with a bicycle – though said bicycle scene seems to be the film’s crown jewel of action scenes so far, which makes me a little nervous. We’ve got a fight in a hardware store with young Will Smith riding a tank into battle – I think it’s young Will Smith, could be the random dude in the suit who shows up occasionally to look evil, though. There’s one cool sequence where our Will Smith throws a grenade at young Will Smith, only to have young Will Smith hit it with a bullet in mid-air and send it ricocheting back. Honestly, I’m having a very hard time finding anything interesting here at all. And having Will Smith (our Will Smith, not young Will Smith) tell the other Will Smith ominously at the end of the trailer that “This has to be stopped, because what if somebody knew what we really are?” – well, that doesn’t cut it either. Because I don’t frankly care what they really are: they’re Will Smith and a CGI construct of Will Smith – the trailers haven’t given me any reason to want to see what happens to them, or what secrets about their past might be uncovered.

Trailer Rating: 4/10