Yes, today’s title is another musical reference.
Apropos because I can’t resist the temptation to open my big mouth yet again regarding the MCU.
About a week ago, the new Shang-Chi movie was brought up in a thread on Back Issue’s Facebook page, and while the original poster had good things to say about the movie after having seen it, he also lamented not getting to see “a glorious mash-up of Milton Caniff, 30s pulp, 60s James Bond and 70s Kung Fu flick, with a visual design inspired by the dynamic stylized art of Paul Gulacy.” In other words, he would have liked to see the character from the classic comics brought to life on screen, as opposed to this entirely different character that happened to be going by the same name. He concluded by saying that “it irritated me that they seemed to feel the need to turn Shang-Chi into some kind of super-hero fantasy character, instead of the Master of Kung Fu he should be. I don’t go to a Batman movie to see him shooting power rays out of his arms.”
Obviously, I agree with such feelings, as anyone that read my MOKF post from over two years back would already know. I chimed in on the thread and posed the question, “why can’t they just create new characters, as opposed to completely changing pre-existing characters?” Someone responded that many of the changes in the film were taken from changes made to the character in more modern comics—but such a response is fairly irrelevant. Regardless of whether we’re talking about films or comics, the question remains: why do you need to completely change pre-existing characters? If you want to make huge, sweeping changes to such characters, wouldn’t it be easier (and certainly more honest) to just create a new character altogether, rather than present us with some impostor who’s usurped their name from its rightful owner?
Aside from the frustrating bait-and-switch nature of doing this, there are also other reasons why they should have hewed closer to the original source material with this latest film. Such reasons bring us back to some classic comics history. (See? It’s not all MCU here today—I try to always circle back to classic comics somehow, someway, whenever possible, even when I do take the blog off track like this.)
We all know Marvel Comics were hot when they first popped up on the racks in the sixties, a.k.a. the Silver Age. Most of us here probably also know that comics sales began to cool in the seventies. During this time, the heart of the Bronze Age, there were several key titles that managed to buoy Marvel’s profit margins: Master of Kung Fu, Tomb of Dracula, Conan the Barbarian, and their adaptation of Star Wars. Among a veritable avalanche of cancelled books from this era, these titles sold well throughout the end of the decade and, in a couple of cases, well beyond. One thing that these four titles all had in common was that none of them were superhero books, which hardly feels like a coincidence. In fact, I’m fairly certain that a big part of the reason for their success is that they were offering readers something different. After ten years of telling superhero stories, all of a similar formula and flavor, Marvel needed to start exploring new territory, and when they did so they were rewarded.
Which brings us back to the present. Today, it strikes me that the MCU stands at a similar crossroads. It was twelve years between the start of Marvel Comics with the publication of Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961) to Shang-Chi’s first appearance in Special Marvel Edition #15 (Dec. 1973). Now it’s been thirteen years since the beginning of the MCU with Iron Man (2008) and the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)—a nearly identical timeframe.
The MCU’s films have a long-established formula at this stage, one that always involves some kind of hero’s journey capped off with a big climactic fight scene at the end, and by all accounts (full disclosure: I have yet to see the film myself), Ten Rings does not deviate from this formula. While the comic-book Shang helped keep Marvel Comics afloat by offering a different flavor from their typical superhero fare, the MCU Shang would appear to offer the same flavor as nearly every other MCU flick.
DECEMBER 2021 EDIT: I have now seen the film. It’s not actively bad, it’s just nothing new. As I suspected, it’s just another formulaic Marvel movie, which depresses the hell out of me, because had they more faithfully adapted the original Master of Kung Fu comics, it could have been something truly fresh and exciting for a Marvel film. END EDIT
I’m not naïve about the business end of this circumstance. I realize the film is doing great box office, particularly when one considers the state of the movie business (and our larger world) right now. No matter what the MCU does at the moment, I don’t think the bottom line is going to be hurt much by any of it in the short term. But it’s still a bad direction. Ten Rings was an opportunity to make a different kind of film, an opportunity that’s now been squandered.
Do Not Open ‘Til Xmas
As long as we’re here, I may as well touch upon that other guy that’s been causing a commotion recently, the guy with the webs. Yes, I’m talking about the trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home that dropped one month ago.
As one can see in the video above, people are really excited by the prospect of not only seeing these classic villains return, but seeing said roles performed by their classic actors. I’ll admit I’m also rather excited by it, but I also can’t help but wonder how they’re going to make a coherent story out of all this. I’ll be figuratively keeping my fingers crossed until a week before Christmas. While I never saw Far From Home in theaters when it came out (the first Spidey film I ever skipped), I plan on seeing this one when it drops—assuming we’re all still here then. Again, figurative fingers crossed.