When Marvel Studios first used the "universe is expanding" tagline, it was paired with the franchise's official announcement on in-universe streaming content on Disney+. That mantra was first applicable to shows like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, although it has since morphed into many different meanings in the time since.
"The universe is expanding" with one-off streaming specials.
"The universe is expanding" towards canonical animated content.
"The universe is expanding" into mature audience projects.
That last one received a significant boost earlier this year, as Disney+ acquired the streaming rights for Marvel Netflix programs like Daredevil, Luke Cage, and The Punisher. These TV-MA programs have not been officially confirmed as MCU canon, but the utilization of Charlie Cox's Matt Murdock and Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Hawkeye, respectively, puts their in-universe status in a good spot.
While Cox and D'Onofrio made the leap from Netflix to Marvel Studios, their MCU debuts far from guarantee that fellow The Defenders actors will make the seamless streaming switch.
Regardless of who Marvel Studios elects to reprise and who they recast, fans should expect to see these popular street-level heroes within the MCU soon enough. Some will get rebooted solo projects, while others will factor into existing franchises. Fortunately for one of Netflix's heroes lost in the shuffle characters, there's a theatrical titan that's calling his name.
Could Iron Fist Join Shang-Chi 2?
You think you're the only martial artist in the world? Mr. Xu, you've become part of a bigger universe, you just don't know it yet.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings introduced fans to Simu Liu's titular hero, and it's safe to say they embraced the Kung-Fu master. Shang-Chi raked in an impressive $432 million during an extremely volatile box office season, while Liu himself beat out action icons like Daniel Craig and Vin Diesel for Action Movie Star of 2021 at the People's Choice Awards.
A sequel to Legend of the Ten Rings remains unconfirmed, but based on its accolades, Shang-Chi 2 feels like it's only a matter of time. Plot details will remain a mystery for a while, but the MCU's sequel patterns indicate Shang-Chi 2 will look to expand the franchise's roster. If Liu gets his wishes, Shang-Chi 2 will spare no expense with its universe building.
"In what way does Shaun fit in with the rest of the MCU? Who are you going to see? What kind of crazy team-ups? What kinda tie-ins, Easter eggs? I’m just as much in the dark and everyone else, so I don’t know anything, but I’m excited to dive into that process."
Just as Captain America got Falcon and Iron Man got War Machine in their solo sequels, Shang-Chi could get Iron Fist for that "crazy team-up" in his second installment.
Marvel's Martial Artists
Not only are these two skilled in hand-to-hand combat, but they both follow a similar trajectory on the page.
In the comics, Danny Rand becomes Iron Fist by discovering K'un-Lun, a mystical city that only appears on Earth once every decade. From there, Rand masters martial arts, defeats a dragon, and becomes imbued with ancient energy that completes his transformation into his green and yellow alter ego.
Their similarities would bring them together, as both Shang-Chi and Iron Fist are regularly featured in the anthology series The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. When the two would eventually meet in Master of Kung Fu Annual #1, they established an immediate mutual respect for one another.
This admiration is far from artificial too, as Iron Fist often praises Shang-Chi as "the best" behind his back.
The template for how to bring Iron Fist into the Shang-Chi franchise already exists. Or it will soon.
Similar to how Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is welcoming Namor and the Atlanteans into the ensemble, Shang-Chi 2 can adopt a similar expansion of locations with Danny Rand and K'un-Lun. While much of Shang-Chi's Ta Lo is inspired by K'un-Lun, the mystical city is unique enough that it can still make its way into a sequel and stand on its own.
In the comics, K'un-Lun is one of the Seven Capital Cities of the Heavens, a collection of magical realms that are akin to one another. The MCU could establish Ta Lo as one of those cities in the sequel, while also introducing K'un-Lun and its champion, Iron Fist. Not only would this expand the Shang-Chi lore tenfold, but it would allow Danny Rand to jump right into the MCU without needing a retelling of his origin.
Considering Black Panther 2 will likely explore the tension between Wakanda and Atlantis, Shang-Chi 2 could stand on its own by immediately establishing Ta Lo and K'un-Lun as allies. Just as the comics go, Shang-Chi and Iron Fist would establish a friendship without needing a "Shakespeare in the park" fight first, and then take the fight to those threatening their sacred kingdoms.
Reprisal or Recasting?
Given the poor critical reception to Netflix's Iron Fist and Disney+'s dismissal of the series, it's unlikely the Danny Rand fans see in the MCU would be the same iteration that Finn Jones portrayed.
That said, Jones could still return to the role but as a fresh version, just as JK Simmons did with J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man: No Way Home. While hope exists for fans of Jones' portrayal, there's significantly less buzz about the former Games of Thrones star donning the dragon tattoo again compared to his Defenders co-stars.
With that in mind, a complete clean slate for the MCU's Iron Fist feels like the most likely option. This would give Marvel Studios the opportunity to design not only Iron Fist but the entirety of K'un-Lun exactly how they want, which is not an option if they continue the Iron Fist lore. Most importantly, starting fresh gives Iron Fist the chance to rock his comic-accurate green and yellow, which were only hinted at briefly in the Netflix show.
For now, Finn Jones' take on Danny Rand in Iron Fist is streaming its full series on Disney+.