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Avengers: Endgame wraps up the looming threat of Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) quest for the Infinity Stones and serves as a farewell for several key heroes. But Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe promises to inject some new ones into the mix. Two of the most pivotal characters, as it turns out, nearly appeared as early as 2012’s The Avengers.  

The Marvel Studios panel at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con
The Marvel Studios panel at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Marvel Studios has gradually expanded the MCU roster of heroes

Looking back on more than a decade of storytelling, Marvel Studios truly did build the MCU piece by piece. Phase 1, for instance, focused on establishing the original six Avengers. The four marquee heroes each got at least one solo movie apiece before their big team-up. 

Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow had a supporting role in Iron Man 2. And Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye made a cameo appearance in Thor. So, by the time The Avengers started, MCU fans were already in the know about all the key players, even the villainous Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

Phases 2 and 3 then expanded the MCU to include the cosmic and mystical sides of the Marvel universe. Along with that came heroes like Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), and the Guardians of the Galaxy. But Phase 1 nearly jumped the gun.

‘The Avengers’ almost teased a villain who debuted in ‘Iron Man 3’

According to Bleeding Cool, producer Chris Fenton’s new book reveals Marvel nearly included Shang-Chi or The Mandarin in The Avengers. As president of the Chinese-based DMG Entertainment Motion Picture Group, Fenton worked to get American movies released in China. The nation is a huge market. In fact, 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron featured additional footage in the Chinese version of the movie to cater to that audience.

At one point, DMG was in talks to co-produce The Avengers with Marvel. And the plan would have included a special teaser at the end of the movie exclusively for the Chinese market. The discussion leaned toward Shang-Chi, due to concerns over stereotypes tied to The Mandarin. However, the deal fell through. Ironically, The Mandarin — or, at least, some version of him — did appear in the very next MCU film, Iron Man 3.


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‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ will feature both

The Mandarin played by Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3 is ultimately revealed to be a fabrication. But the MCU has since established the real villain does exist and is still at large. And now, with Phase 4 about to begin, fans will finally meet the true Mandarin for the very first time. And he’s set to face off against none other than Shang-Chi himself.

The first Asian lead in the MCU, Simu Liu stars in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. In that movie, Tony Leung will also debut as The Mandarin nearly a decade after the character talks of including him in The Avengers. Director Destin Daniel Cretton’s film — a key part of Marvel’s Phase 4 plan — is currently set for a May 2021 release.