Most of us that are superfans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) now tend to forget the origins. When Robert Downey Jr and director Jon Favreau launched the potential of the MCU, Iron Man wasn’t an A List Marvel character.
Certainly, Tony Stark had had some elevation in the Marvel titles but the real world and comic fans are different groups. Most gen pop folks would be able to give you “He wears an iron suit, I think.” when asked about Iron Man.
Since then, the MCU teams have taken minor characters and elevated them in some fun ways, most notably the comedy stylings of Ant-Man and the weird mysticism of Doctor Strange. So to say it is a shock to see Shang-Chi would be a bit of an overstep but not much when Marvel announced Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
So, who is Shang-Chi in the Marvel Comics? Why, he is the Master of Kung-Fu! And saying that means, yes, there are some problematic parts of the character’s history. Clearly launched as a part of the popularity of martial arts in the greater pop culture scene, Shang-Chi has some really interesting parts that do make him stand out.
For starters, the 1972 creation of the character was done in part because Marvel wasn’t able to secure the rights to the television show Kung-Fu. Spurned by that, they turned to a little known author and purchased the rights to Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu. Once those rights were secured, they then inserted Shang-Chi as a forgotten son of Dr. Fu Manchu. In a classic hero’s journey fashion, Shang Chi discovers that his dad is evil, rebels and becomes a hero.
From there, Marvel has used the character in a variety of ways, mainly crossing him over with the martial arts grouping of the Marvel universe, including Iron Fist, the White Tiger, and the Daughters of the Dragon (Colleen Wing and Misty Knight).
Of late, he has been showcased on a weirdo Avengers team, and most recently has emerged as a leader/mentor of Agents of Atlas, a team of Asian or Asian-American heroes.
But the title of the movie is only partially about Shang-Chi. So what of the Legend of the Ten Rings? Clearly, it feels like Marvel realized that what they did with Mandarin in Iron Man 3 was a bit of a waste of a classic, iconic villain, when they turned the Mandarin into a sideshow character being performed by Ben Kingsley.
It was an excellent swerve to people’s expectations and I don’t begrudge them the creative move. But Mandarin is a notorious character and the title seems to be Marvel hinting at Mandarin’s more recent origin stories, where he discovers and collects the 10 very powerful rings that he now wears. (You can read more about the Mandarin here, where we talked about using him as an inspiration for a villain in a Dungeons and Dragons game.)
With all of that said, what can we hope for in a Shang-Chi movie? For starters, healthy, good representation of Asian characters. Marvel seems committed to this process for this film in particular and, quite frankly I don’t care if it is because it is the right thing to do or because of the enormous overseas markets this film could grab even more money from.
Second, the mixing of the mystic and martial arts should be great; if this was a genre movie, it would have to be their first big screen fight focused movie. We have seen some hints of how the mystic and martial arts could work together in how they shifted the way magic fights work in Doctor Strange and subsequent movies.
Third, and I hope this is the closing scene post-credits and not before: a bridge to bring in the Marvel Netflix characters. That cluster that became known as the Defenders just fits Shang-Chi so well that it would be criminal in some way not to draw in at least Iron Fist and the Daughters of the Dragon.
It feels too much like Marvel could abandon those characters and that would be such a waste. There are some amazing, fun compelling stories that would just be abandoned because it didn’t work out on Netflix. Shang-Chi could be a back way to add them into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and move forward!
Are you a diehard Shang-Chi fan? What are you hoping for in the character’s MCU debut? Is there a storyline that you hope they mine for starter ideas other than who the villain is?