Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is the latest origin story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), becoming the first Marvel movie with a predominantly-Asian cast.
The story follows Shaun (Simu Liu), later revealed to be Shang-Chi, as he reckons with his familial problems brought about by his father, Wenwu (Tony Leung), possessing powerful rings.
The action scenes of the movie were jaw-dropping, jam-packed with epic moves, an amazing soundtrack and really good CGI. The bus scene where Shaun, the seemingly ordinary valet driver, reveals himself to be Shang-Chi is an amazing fight sequence.
A Rutgers student may find themselves wondering what it would be like if assassins attempted to capsize a Rutgers bus. (The bit where Shang-Chi pulls the yellow wire that triggers the “stop requested” sound to alert Katy (Akwafina) to stop the bus feels like it could’ve come straight out of a Rutgers’ student’s mind.)
Yet, despite the inclusion of dragons, the rings themselves, the mythical Ta Lo and “Avatar: The Last Airbender”-esque air-moving, the two least believable plot points were: one, that Jiang Li (Fala Chen) and Wenwu could conceivably fall in love, and two, that Shang-Chi and Katy were supposed to be 24.
Jiang Li and Wenwu meet when the latter attempts to enter Ta Lo with nefarious intent. In an epic battle-turned-dance-slash-seduction-scene, Wenwu appears to recognize that he’s met someone who can best him. Wenwu channels the power of the rings with force and anger (and, to include gender theory, in an overtly masculine way) while Jiang Li channels her breath and her connection to her homeland to defeat him (arguably more feminine).
It’s her sense of self that allows her to beat power-hungry Wenwu during their first encounter. From the little screen-time she gets, and especially from the bursts of her past before she leaves Ta Lo, the viewer gets the sense that she loves her home, her people and herself.
Now why would someone like that ever fall for a brutal killer? If she really had such a strong sense of self, how could she leave everything she knew for a killer who's assumed to be behind the deaths of thousands?
“Love had other plans” is the quick explanation the movie provides to explain this absolutely demented pairing. Even the most optimistic person may have trouble believing that love could change a centuries-old imperialist that harnesses the power of immortality.
And, really? Jiang Li had to die as a result of her husband’s disturbing past? Barf.
Although the point was to complicate the villain and address grief, a consistent theme of Phase Four Marvel, the result was a villain that was far too difficult to relate to. Okay, he misses his wife, so what? He immediately adopted his old ways as soon as his wife died, and thoroughly abused and neglected his children. Hashtag relatable, right?
Generation Z is anyone born between 1996 and the mid-2000s. Katy and Shang-Chi were simply not selling that they were early Gen-Zers, or even late millennials.
One area that the film got right for Gen-Zers was the relationship between Katy and Xialing. Although Xialing is rightfully upset with Shang-Chi for leaving her with their abusive father while he escaped, Xialing holds no ill-feelings toward Katy, and they immediately become friends.
Katy instantly compliments Xialing on the ass-whooping she gave Shang-Chi, which was a super cute moment of actual girl power. (Honestly, there’s an argument to be made that Katy and Xialing are a better romantic pairing than Katy and Shang-Chi.)
There were, of course, still the #girlboss moments that Marvel movies are notorious for that induce a visceral state of cringe. The most notable instance is when Xialing tells Katy that she wasn’t allowed into her father’s empire, so she created her own at 16. Katy responds, with a nod of approval, “Hell yeah.”
So running a grimy fight-club-esque ring of violence is just another “Yas Queen!” aspect of the MCU, instead of the disturbing reality that hmm, maybe a young woman shouldn't be heading an organization that makes its profit from the dark web through intense violence.
Shang-Chi and Katy’s pub crawls and karaoke nights were funny and cute anecdotes of their friendship, and Shang-Chi shouting, “I’ll Venmo you” for the drinks were probably the most Gen Z-esque scenes of the film that could make any Gen-Zer laugh in relatability.
But Awkwafina’s brash typecast is getting boring for movie-lovers (see: “Raya and the Last Dragon”, “Crazy Rich Asians”, etc.). While some see her as a refreshing media figure that dares to exist outside of the model minority stereotype, she’s been accused of appropriating black culture by using a blaccent. Her portrayal of Katy, like almost all of her other characters, felt too forced, and didn’t grant enough nuance to her character.
Shang-Chi also didn’t look or seem 24. He was just so … old. The viewer simply couldn’t imagine Shang-Chi or Katy ever participating in niche Gen Z activities, like screaming “Brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo, gulping down bubble tea or ever having a Justin Bieber and/or One Direction phase.
Picturing Katy or Shang-Chi being in the same grades as people who had middle school scene phases is inconceivable. The two of them, especially paired together, give major early millennial/oldie vibes.
All-in-all, the movie is definitely worth watching for Marvel lovers and makes several moves toward righting some of Marvel’s previous wrongs. For a superhero origin story, the movie did an excellent job of establishing who Shang-Chi is, and certainly advances the timeline of the MCU in a direction that’s exciting for all MCU lovers.