Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is unusual for a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, in that very, very little of it is lifted directly from the character’s comic book origin story, and for good reason. But when the movie’s final trailer dropped, that didn’t stop some Marvel fans from speculating wildly.
The trailer revealed one shot of a massive, snake-like Chinese dragon, swimming through blue-green water, and some were hopeful that this was their first look at the cinematic incarnation of the Marvel universe’s most infamous dragon: Fin Fang Foom.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.]
This did not turn out to be the true. Our first confirmation came from merchandising releases that referred to the dragon as the “Great Protector,” and then from Shang-Chi itself, which reveals that outside of the murky waters of its home, the Great Protector definitely doesn’t share Fin Fang Foom’s color scheme.
But you don’t have to take the word of the movie, the toys, or even us. Just listen to Shang-Chi co-writer and director Destin Daniel Cretton.
“The symbolism of the dragon in Chinese culture and mythology was too important, I think, to write off in that way,” he told Polygon. “So yes, there is a very significant water dragon in our movie. I would not name that dragon Fin Fang Foom.”
Wait, who is Fin Fang Foom?
Fin Fang Foom was created at the tail end of Marvel Comics’ superhero-less interregnum between the WW2 heyday of Captain America and the 1960s boom kicked off by the Fantastic Four. In a time when weird science and monster comics were big sellers at Marvel — then “Timely Comics” — Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made a big green dragon-like creature called Fin Fang Foom the central monster of Strange Tales #89.
Foom’s origin story isn’t really pertinent to the discussion, though he was discovered in Taiwan. (The scientist who discovered him attempted to use him to repel an invading communist force.) What’s more relevant is that this big green monster with a fun name has returned again and again throughout Marvel history. Nominally, he’s one of Iron Man’s foes, but he’s really just ready and waiting in the wings for any story that could use a kaiju-sized green dragon who inexplicably wears purple shorts.
This is all to say that Fin Fang Foom is very goofy, but the kind of goofy that endears himself to superhero fans. Maybe a little too much, if they forget that he’s really a 60-year game of telephone that in part began with Stan Lee’s half-remembered inspiration from a filmed version of a spectacularly Orientalist British stage show.
As Cretton himself put it: There really isn’t enough there there to use Fin Fang Foom to represent Chinese iconography. He’s better off waiting for a different Marvel Cinematic debut.