Marvel’s Newest Releases: “Shang-Chi” and “What If…?”

Monarchs review Marvel’s action-packed “Shang-Chi” and innovative “What If…?”


Shang-Chi: A Welcome Start to Phase Four

By Aadhithan Arivalagan

Welcome, one and all, to the cinematic beginning of Marvel’s Phase Four. Yes, Marvel has come out with their second movie since the space odyssey that was Avengers: Endgame (2019). Compared to Endgame, however, this Asian-led film features a much more down-to-earth plot paired with well-executed action scenes to help make it feel like a true origin story.

Set after the events of Endgame, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings follows Shang-Chi, an Asian-American martial artist, after he is attacked by the mysterious Ten Rings. Along the way, he is forced to confront demons who he thought were long dead.

Shang-Chi deviates from the usual Marvel movie through its use of flashbacks, all of which feel tense, emotional, and captivating. The narration is interwoven with these flashbacks, and as each character opens up, so too do their respective flashbacks. Most notably, Shang-Chi’s backstory is slowly fleshed out throughout the movie as he starts to interact more with the other characters, providing important characterization and adding to the emotional core of the film.

The acting from the entirety of the main cast is also excellent — particularly Simu Liu, who plays Shang-Chi, and the iconic Tony Leung, who plays Wenwu. The complex relationship between the two is captivating, and the longing Wenwu feels for his deceased wife is relatable and powerful. The comedy is fine (if not dry at times), and though I’m not the biggest fan of Awkwafina (Katy) due to her controversial use of AAVE, she and Liu have great chemistry as our two main characters.

Shang-Chi’s fight choreo makes me wish that more Marvel films would follow suit with fights that feel akin to those of old-school kung fu movies.

The highlight of the film, however, is most definitely the fight choreography. Shang-Chi’s fight choreo makes me wish that more Marvel films would follow suit with fights that feel akin to those of old-school kung fu movies. The action was just so fluid and smooth, each blow feeling satisfying and powerful. The fight scenes were also taken in an extended shot, making the viewer feel as though they are traveling along with the fight as it progresses. This made the fights feel more real — something that has been absent in recent MCU movies, with Captain America being able to pick up Mjolnir and other such space shenanigans.

Though the end does contain the obligatory Marvel Big Battle, even that manages to be mostly captivating (except for the CGI dragons, which look good but made the ending feel like something out of How To Train Your Dragon). Overall, Shang-Chi is a strong film with excellent fights and a captivating story — providing justifiable optimism for the rest of Phase Four.

Marvel Meets Endless Possibility & Animation in What If…?

By Andrew Park

Fresh off the heels of Marvel’s successful Disney+ series Loki (2021) in June, Marvel’s latest series delves deeper into the different possible outcomes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The multiverse we thought we knew may or may not be the same, thanks to Disney+’s latest show and Marvel’s first animated series, What If…?, which started streaming on August 11.

The show’s effort to contextualize different possibilities of how the MCU could’ve turned out is impressive. The different approaches to each episode thoroughly dives into the hypothetical question: “What if?” Unlike many other TV shows, each episode is a stand-alone. Uatu the Watcher, a godlike entity, serves as the narrator and guides the viewers through unfamiliar realities where events — such as how Tony Stark became Iron Man — are altered.

What If…?  is a show that lets you forget the raw technicalities of Marvel and the dense storytelling of their cinematic universe.

What If…? should be applauded for its creative work, but it could have definitely been improved on its story development. The series premiere reintroduces us to Steve Rogers’ lover, Peggy Carter, as the famed symbol of the United States: Captain America, or now, Captain Peggy Carter. However, the show’s arbitrary but strict thirty minute time limit rushes and skips through the critical scenes that built the famous Captain America both mentally and physically in the Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Arguably one of the most memorable scenes from the 2011 film is when Steve Rogers selflessly shields a fake grenade with his body during a drill, demonstrating his natural reflex to put other lives before his. On the other hand, spoiler alert: Peggy jumps straight into World War II, where she single-handedly defeats basically all the Nazis in less than ten minutes. In the subsequent episodes, narratives that have the potential of being two hours long are turned into a collection of short plotlines crammed into a mere thirty minutes.

But aside from these critiques, What If…?  is a show that lets you forget the raw technicalities of Marvel and the dense storytelling of their cinematic universe. While watching this show, I was impressed by how well they integrated the live-action MCU with animation, and it definitely puts itself up on the podium alongside its predecessors Loki, WandaVision, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021). After watching the series, I am excited for the next season of What If…?.

Overall, Marvel’s What If…? once again shows off the great creative potential and skill of Marvel Studios. The nod to the late Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther (2018) and the appearances of other characters that we are waiting to see is definitely what we need right now in our wait for the rest of Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.