Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings marks the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie I’ve seen from Phase 4, the first I saw theatrically since Spider-Man: Far From Home, and the first I watched on an IMAX screen since Guardians of the Galaxy. When 2018 brought word that Marvel Studios would give Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu, his own movie, it designated the fourth known attempt to bring him to the big screen. Previous attempts included aborted projects from the 1980s and 2000s, followed by a deleted cameo from The Avengers. (The first project, in particular, would’ve starred Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon Lee.) The timing for this latest try seemed mainly like Marvel wanting to cash-in on the public’s growing appreciation for films cast either mostly or entirely with Asian-descended performers, especially after Marvel roped in Crazy Rich Asians cast members. Major Shang-Chi comic appearances I read prior to The Legend‘s release include Master of Kung-Fu Epic Collection Vol. 1: Weapon of the Soul (1973-77, by Steve Englehart and Doug Moench), five storylines teaming him up with other Asian crimefighters (2017-20, by Greg Pak), and Shang-Chi Vol. 1: Brothers and Sisters (2020-21, by Gene Luen Yang).
With the fluctuating quality of Marvel Studios’ Infinity Saga in mind, Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings intrigued me mainly because it could give additional exposure to Asian-descended filmmakers, and inspire additional, potentially better movies about Asian superheroes. Non-Marvel films I would watch from director/writer Destin Daniel Cretton before the premiere included the compelling Short Term 12 and the evocative Just Mercy, which demonstrated his skills at intimately and emotionally presenting character dramas of varying scales. When the 2020s rolled around, the need for empowering media portrayals of Asians and Asian-Americans grew even more apparent, as the COVID-19 pandemic sparked an alarming increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans. Since The Legend began filming before the pandemic, looks like I’ll have to wait for either a sequel or a spin-off to address this crisis. (It would probably only do so indirectly.) Regardless, even if Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings doesn’t mark my favorite Marvel movie, sometimes it feels too good for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.