At first glance, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings seems to firmly occupy its own corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s not long before some surprising connections are made. Many of these first show up when the film’s heroes leave the familiar streets of San Francisco to the underworld of Macau, China, and unwittingly enter the Golden Daggers fight club — where one big MCU surprise is already in the ring.
[Ed. note: Spoilers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings follow.]
Like the Collector’s lair in Guardians of the Galaxy, the Golden Daggers fight club is full of Easter eggs for sharp-eyed fans in the background, with two big cameos right in the center of its arena. The first is Wong (Benedict Wong), partner to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a powerful sorcerer in his own right. The other is his opponent, Emil Blonsky — better known in Marvel comics as the Abomination — whom we have not seen since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk.
And we haven’t seen him quite like we do in Shang-Chi. The character — who is still played by Incredible Hulk star Tim Roth — has roughly the same massive, bony design he was given in his first appearance. However, Shang-Chi changes the notorious Hulk villain’s facial features, giving him a squarer mug with fin-like ears, bringing him much closer to how he looks in the comics.
Blonsky’s return as the Abomination — a name he hasn’t yet been given in the MCU — is a bit of a surprise given the way the MCU has essentially swept aside The Incredible Hulk after recasting star Ed Norton for Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers. His MCU origin, however, is deeply steeped in Marvel film continuity, as his transformation was spurred by a failed attempt to replicate the super soldier serum that created Captain America. (A process that scientists seem to have gotten better at by the time The Falcon and the Winter Soldier comes around.)
But this might be a little more than your typical Easter egg. In a conversation with Polygon, director Destin Daniel Cretton suggested that there’s more in store for Blonsky’s monstrous alter-ego.
“There’s only so much much I can say about what we wanted to do with that scene,” Cretton said. “It is setting up a lot of exciting things for the future, not only for the Shang-Chi and the characters of our particular movie, but a lot of exciting things that are happening in the MCU in the future.”
Cretton is likely alluding to Blonsky’s return in the forthcoming She-Hulk Disney Plus series alongside Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk, the details of which are still under wraps beyond its cast, featuring Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany in the title role.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is currently playing in theaters, and She-Hulk is slated to premiere on Disney Plus in 2022.