See Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is more than a standard superhero story. The triumphant Marvel movie re-creates and reintroduces characters, sets the stage for a sequel, and opens a path toward New Film.
Nearly four weeks after Disney CEO Bob Chapek referred to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as “an interesting experiment” for the company’s nebulous release strategy, Marvel Studios’ first film to feature an Asian lead debuted with a dominant opening weekend. Box office expectations for Shang-Chi were muted by concerns about the spread of the delta variant, the poor performance of DC’s The Suicide Squad, and the steep falloff for Marvel’s Black Widow after its early-July day-and-date opening. But buoyed in part, perhaps, by being the first Marvel movie since 2019 to debut exclusively in theaters, Shang-Chi ended all doubts with a historically hot start.
Although Black Widow made slightly more in its first three days in theaters, Shang-Chi shattered the previous Labor Day record with an estimated $90 million in domestic earnings, adding $56.2 million overseas to exceed all projections with a worldwide.
Beyond its early (and possibly precedent-setting) success at the box office, Shang-Chi has garnered widespread praise from critics and audiences alike. The film successfully blends thrilling action sequences with more gripping performances and nuanced characters than one would typically find in a standard martial arts film or MCU affair, including the breakout appearance of Simu Liu, the Chinese Canadian actor who portrays the titular Chinese American hero. Liu first manifested and then owned a role he staked out more than seven years ago when he tweeted at Marvel, “great job with Cpt America and Thor. Now how about an Asian American hero?”
The success of Shang-Chi, which became only the fourth Hollywood-produced film since 1993 to feature a predominantly Asian cast, is a monumental win for Asian representation in Hollywood. As the first non-prequel film of the MCU’s emergent Phase 4, it’s also a pivotal release for Marvel Studios, which is seeding its interconnected universe with new stories and characters following the conclusion of the decade-long Infinity Saga. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the MCU’s first origin film since Captain Marvel introduced the space-traveling Carol Danvers in 2019, and while the lion’s share of its running time focuses on Shang-Chi’s backstory, it also hints at where Phase 4 may be heading. Here are my biggest takeaways from the film, ranging from why it works so well to where it may fit within the greater scope of the MCU.
Re-creating Shang-Chi’s Father
While Shang-Chi is loaded with strong performances, from Liu’s star-making turn to Awkwafina’s comedic-relief role as Katy, Tony Leung’s portrayal of the grief-stricken and power-hungry Wenwu is one of the film’s biggest highlights. Leung is a legendary Hong Kong cinema actor who built a massive international following through his brilliant collaborations with director Wong Kar-wai (including Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love), as well as John Woo’s Hard Boiled. But even though Leung first signed an American agent back in 2005, it wasn’t until Marvel approached him for Shang-Chi that the superstar finally chose to make his Hollywood debut.
Shang-Chi in Repurposing the Mandarin
Along with the baggage that Wenwu carries from the comics to the film, the character also has some controversial ties that date back to the beginning of the MCU. Although Wenwu’s criminal organization had been around since 2008’s Iron Man, when the Ten Rings kidnapped playboy billionaire Tony Stark, it wasn’t until Shang-Chi that Marvel actually attempted to tackle the character in earnest. Before Shang-Chi, Marvel faked out audiences by appearing to introduce the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 with Sir Ben Kingsley in the role, only to reveal that Kingsley was actually portraying a washed-up actor named Trevor Slattery.
Shang-Chi in The Origins of the Ten Rings and the Future of the MCU
Shang-Chi’s mid-credits scene picks up where the movie ends, with Wong (Benedict Wong), Shang-Chi, and Katy discussing the mysterious origins of the Ten Rings (the artifacts/fashion accessories, not the terrorists). Perhaps more notably, though, they’re also joined by two familiar faces: Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo).
Film Shang-Chi in The Ten Rings Will Return
In the film’s second stinger, we find Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) packing away some of her old belongings from her childhood bedroom. As Shang-Chi explained to his friends in the movie’s final scene, Xialing was supposedly heading back to their home to shut down their father’s operation for good. But the post-credits scene reveals that Xialing had other plans in mind.
Film Shang-Chi, MCU’s First Leading Asian Superhero
More so than where Shang-Chi fits within the history of Marvel Comics and the MCU, the film will be remembered for being not only the first of Marvel Studios’ 25 movies to feature an Asian lead, but also the first big-budget American blockbuster to revolve around an Asian superhero. It’s a milestone that Asian Americans have been awaiting for years, and one that arrives during a pandemic that has coincided with a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. Simu Liu shines with a worthy performance in a momentous role, from going full action hero in the film’s incredible bus fight sequence to landing Shang-Chi’s most vulnerable moments as he comes to terms with the life and family he ran from for years.