As the release date of “Shang Chi” inched closer and closer, many Marvel fans were starting to realize that the Marvel Cinematic Universe had, for almost the last decade, produced movies that were largely centered around white men and their stories. Some of the only P.O.C. representation was introduced as side characters; and details such as Hawkeye's hearing disability were excluded in many films. Much of the blame is put on former Marvel president and executive Ike Perlmutter, who has said things such as “female [...] superheroes do poorly” and that the replacement of Terrance Howard in Iron Man was justified because “all Black people look the same.”
Although Ike Perlmutter has since been replaced, Marvel's parent company, Disney, was relying on the success of Shang Chi so that they didn’t have to push back Marvel's upcoming movie, Eternals. This pressure was unfair considering it is only the second film of the M.C.U. franchise led by a person of color, and it is the first Marvel movie to be released exclusively in theatres since the pandemic started. Not to mention, fans are starting to notice the lack of promotion this movie received — Simu Liu, who plays Shang Chi in the film, was practically the only person advertising it.
Since the world premiere came out, Shang Chi has gotten a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes, so I had high expectations going into this film. I had heard it was something we haven't seen before in the M.C.U. in regards to action, relationships between characters, and plot style.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is nothing short of action packed. This was expected, but what I did not expect was for the film to have so much heart. The cast was made for their roles and were able to create arguably one of the best Marvel origin stories. Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is a charismatic and fun character to watch on screen, making him a great addition to the M.C.U. Not only is Shang-Chi a well rounded character, but he and his best friend Katy form a good duo without making anything romantic. The M.C.U. tends to add chemistry-less romance into the mix and it essentially adds nothing to the story. Many Marvel fans were tired of this trope being endlessly milked by Marvel, and it was a good refresh to see men and women being just friends. Additionally, Katy is in the same clueless position as the audience for most of the movie, so she almost acts as a guide for us.
Meng’er Zhang played the role of Xialing fantastically, and quickly became one of my favorites. She is a strong, confident character who is not afraid to take initiative. Her character has a lot of depth; being someone you can sympathize with, cheer for, and simultaneously love.
Small spoilers ahead
Another very deep and complex character is Wenwu, otherwise known as “The Mandarin” and the owner of the Ten Rings. Wenwu is able to make audiences sympathize with him even as he is at his most villainous state. However, he isn’t a character we can always sympathize with, being the cause of a lot of his childrens’ problems, which makes him a balanced, compelling character. I definitely can’t wait to see their characters in more M.C.U. projects.
In regards to pacing, the movie excellently balances backstory, action, and humor without making it seem like one big joke. Speaking of action, the fighting scenes are largely unmatched by any Marvel project I have ever seen. Not only in skill, but also in style: the choreography is beautiful and perfectly matches the tone for this movie. Not only that, but the more artistic elements of this film are also incredibly detailed. The costumes, cinematography, and the cultural aspects of the film are all extraordinary.
The responses to this film are definitely going to vary based on the person. Personally, I feel the two most common reactions to the film will be from those who are excited for something new in the M.C.U., and those who are upset that it differs from what they are used to. I will agree, this project does not feel like any other Marvel movie, but whether that is a good thing or not is completely up to the audience. I and many others are excited for this new phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and what Shang Chi has brought to it, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Impact of the Movie on the Actors
In a recent interview with the main cast, many actors revealed how much this movie means to them. Awkwafina, who plays Katy in the film, said: “If I was a kid and I saw him as a superhero, it would affect me and impact me so I'm happy to be a part of it as an adult.” Supporting cast member Ronny Chieng commented that “This isn’t diversity for the sake of diversity, this is diversity for sake of authenticity. They’re trying to tell a cool story, this is the demographic that affects society right now.”
“It's just massively important that people are able to see Asian faces on screen and the big screen in a major way alongside a Captain America, a Tony Stark, it sounds like a minor thing I know to a lot of people who haven’t sort of lived the life of not growing up with any Asian superhero on screen,” Screenwriter David Callaham states. In an article written by Jeff Yang, he explains that a lot of Asian Americans can relate to the struggle of Shang Chi, saying that, “They encouraged us to blend in, to adopt cultural camouflage, to avoid standing out in ways that might make us vulnerable to the racial targeting that they may have experienced themselves.”
He then goes on to explain the impact that Shang-Chi will have on movies and the Asian community: “In his wake will come more Asian heroes: Gemma Chan and Kumail Nanjiani as Sersi and Kingo in ‘Eternals,’ Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel in ‘The Marvels.’ Their casting ensures that a generation of young Asian Americans will, for the first time, see themselves front and center, larger than life, on the biggest of screens.”