Shang-Chi may seem like a deep-cut character for Marvel to include in Phase 4, but a movie based on the Kung Fu warrior has been in development since before the studio regained the rights to Iron Man. Rumored months in advance, Marvel Studios confirmed that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings would form part of their Phase 4 release slate, with Simu Liu taking on the lead role. Introduced in 1973 from the minds of Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart, Shang-Chi is a hand-to-hand combat expert in the comic books and has been a member of the Avengers, however, the character has also remained largely unknown in the wider mainstream consciousness.
Although it may seem a ridiculous concept now, Marvel were financially struggling in the latter part of the 20th century and were forced to sell the movie rights to their most popular characters in order to survive. This led to the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies at Sony and Fox's X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises. Elsewhere, studios bought the rights to certain characters, but struggled to get a project off the ground, and this is what ultimately happened with regards to Iron Man.
Once Marvel was enjoying a more stable financial state in the new millennium, and had witnessed the money their characters were bringing in for other studios, the company began looking at producing their own big screen franchise. Unfortunately, with all of the major Marvel comic heroes sold off, the potential line-up for this new project was far from star-studded. Alongside the likes of Ant-Man and Doctor Strange were lesser-known heroes such as Power Pack, Cloak & Dagger and a certain Shang-Chi.
Eventually, this draft roster was dramatically altered after Marvel managed to reacquire the rights to a number of key characters, including Iron Man, and cinematic history was made. It's interesting to ponder whether the MCU would've gone on to achieve the same level of success if it had been spearheaded by that original selection of available heroes, with Shang-Chi taking the place of Tony Stark or Thor in the debut class of Avengers. Certainly, there's a lack of mainstream star power among those early MCU heroes, but it could also be argued that Iron Man wasn't anywhere near as famous as the likes of Hulk and Spider-Man before Robery Downey Jr. got his hands on the character. Maybe Shang-Chi would've surprised the world and also become a cultural cinematic icon.
When news regarding the possibility of an MCU Shang-Chi movie reemerged in 2018, some fans were skeptical about the choice to adapt a seemingly fringe hero, claiming that specific targeting of international markets may have been a factor. However, Shang-Chi's presence in Marvel's original MCU design disproves such a theory, instead demonstrating that the company have always had faith in the character, even if bigger-name superheroes were prioritized initially. Instead of having to reach deeper into their catalog for fresh faces to adapt, as some may interpret Marvel's new Phase 4 additions, the studio are actually revisiting the franchise's origins, and finally bringing to life ideas that are as old as the MCU itself.
- Black Widow (2020) release date: May 01, 2020
- Eternals (2020) release date: Nov 06, 2020
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) release date: Feb 12, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021) release date: May 07, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2021) release date: Nov 05, 2021