Following the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of The Ten Rings, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become home to yet another fictitious location, Ta Lo. With Namor scheduled to make his MCU debut as early as next year in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, it’s likely that audiences will get to see yet another mythical location, the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. While little is known regarding how the studio will introduce Atlantis on the big screen, it’s fair to assume that its upcoming introduction may take some hints from Shang-Chi. Like with Ta Lo, Atlantis will need to touch on how it’s imprinted with its cultures’ mythology, how it has managed to stay hidden up until now and even its access points.
With over a decade of movies under its belt, Marvel Studios will need to take a new approach when introducing fantastical new locations in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Part of Marvel’s problem is that, after twenty-five films, audiences may be confused as to why a location is only recently being referenced. And even though there are locations that could have only gained relevance due to The Blip, not all can fit those criteria. Due to this, many, especially ones that have been around for millennia, need a more careful approach regarding their MCU debut, and Ta Lo is a perfect example of that.
What is Ta Lo?
In the comics, Ta Lo was a small “pocket” dimension adjacent to Earth, and it appears to be something quite similar in the MCU. It is described as a mystical dimension, inhabited by Chinese mythological creatures, that have managed to stay hidden not only by being difficult to access but especially by making it unclear to the outside world if it’s even a real place or not.
It can be accessed from Earth through a portal located in China, which is shielded by an enchanted bamboo forest, that only allows safe passage on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar, the first day of the traditional Qingming Festival. Besides The Great Protector, its giant guardian dragon, several other Chinese mythological creatures are shown to live inside Ta Lo. From Dijiangs (Morris’ kind) to several Phoenix and Nine-tailed Foxes, Guardian Lions and Qilins.
The way Marvel Studios managed to enrich the movie by embedding it with the spirit of such a vivid concept of what Chinese mythology should be about, managed to take the project to a whole new level. By intertwining these ideas with a real-world setting, they became a more credible concept within the MCU, contributing to the world-building Phase 4 seems to be all about. And this is where one is left to wonder if, knowing what Marvel Studios might be hinting at by casting Tenoch Huerta as Namor, and Mabel Cadena as Namora, Kevin Feige and his team are preparing to do something similar in its approach towards Atlantis.
How does it relate to Atlantis?
Following Ta Lo’s example, Marvel could treat Atlantis as a place beyond earth’s dimension. Doing so would allow for an easy explanation as to why it hasn’t been addressed previously. The founders of Atlantis, as some write, were half-god and half-human, so it wouldn’t be unheard of to make it a mythological place of its own, almost inaccessible, rooted in the mythology of a civilization. With both Huerta and Cadena both having distinct central American heritage, that seems to be playing a part in the uniqueness Marvel should want for its take on Atlantis, something like the Aztec Empire serving as the grounded real-world connection to a fictional lost underwater city sounds like a possibility.
When diving into Aztec history, one learns of their ancestors’ (the Olmecs) presence in the Yucatan Peninsula. Lying between the Gulf of Mexico to the west and north and the Caribbean Sea to the east, it’s a place said to have a profound connection with the Aztec water Gods, who ruled over a paradise world called Tlālōcān. This world is said to be the home of those who died through drowning or lightning, ruled over by the rain deity Tlāloc. In the present day, it’s more of a concept embracing the subterranean world and its denizens. Aztec shamans were supposedly able to access this otherworldly realm through whirlpools, something very similar to the way Ta Lo was accessible to Shang-Chi.
To understand how those whirlpools might come into play, we should remember that the Yucatan Peninsula is, amongst other things, famous for its cenotes, a.k.a. sinkholes. These were likely to have been formed several million years ago through the impact of an incredibly large meteor in the region. As a result, they are filled with shocked quartz, a byproduct of the extreme impact. One of the characteristics of this type of pressurized quartz is that it can convert Earth’s natural electrical vibrations into a form of energy, and it’s been theorized that it could be used in the creation of wormholes, through an electromagnetic reaction called the Casimir effect.
A modern take on Atlantis
We now have the idea of a mysterious location, deeply rooted in Aztec mythology, much like Ta Lo. We also have clearly defined access points. These access points prevent accidental outside access, defined by the geomorphology of the region. By taking a realistic approach to Atlantis, Marvel Studios can introduce its own fresh take on the world. More importantly, though, it also allows Marvel to preserve the verisimilitude of its universe by grounding it in real-world cultural concepts going back generations.
Could we have found or Atlantis in Tlālōcān? Going back to Shang-Chi and the Legend of The Ten Rings, Michelle Yeoh’s character, Ying Nan, suggests that there might be other cities in pocket dimensions. Will this be how audiences come to meet the kingdom of Namor the Sub-Mariner?
Shang-Chi and the Legend of The Ten Rings is in theaters now, while Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is in production and expected to hit theaters on July 8, 2022.