Assuming nothing changes—which is starting to feel like a big assumption—Shang-Chi is set for release in one month. As such, Marvel is ramping up the publicity machine, bringing us a new featurette titled “Destiny”. It shows off more of the action of the film, and features Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Kevin Fiege, and director Destin Daniel Cretton talking up the film. “Destiny” is a reference that works three ways. It’s a film about fathers and sons and children recognizing their parents for who they really are, literally it’s Shang-Chi facing his destiny as the Mandarin’s son and heir. But as Feige points out, it’s also a film that loops back to the beginning of the MCU and finally fulfills the promise of the “Ten Rings” mentioned in Iron Man. And as Simu Liu says, in a way it’s his own destiny, since he basically willed this role into being for himself.
I have heard good things about Shang-Chi, things that, in a normal year, could lead to it being the biggest movie of the year. But this is not a normal year. And it is very clear that we are not going back to “normal” any time soon, so the future of Shang-Chi is uncertain. One good thing about Marvel is that the way the MCU works pretty much guarantees no one’s box office result will be held against them. After all, Ant-Man didn’t blow the doors down but we’re still getting the third movie in that franchise in 2023. So if Shang-Chi underperforms, which it could given the pandemic, it shouldn’t hinder Simu Liu’s chances at a sequel. The big question is whether or not Disney delays their releases again, or if they shunt Shang-Chi onto Disney+.
Black Widow has demonstrated Marvel can make money for them there, but it has also turned into a legal and public relations nightmare with Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit. Liu doesn’t have the kind of profile or pull ScarJo has, so he might not have things like exclusivity clauses and back-end participation in his contract, which would make it easier to make Shang-Chi a hybrid release and hedge bits against a skittish, ever-reducing audience in theaters. Or, Disney, being raked over the coals by an irate Fiege, as the rumor goes, might want to mend fences with their wonder boy producer and let him keep his movies in theaters only, even if it means more delays. I am rooting for Simu Liu and Shang-Chi. I want the best for him and the movie. I just don’t know what that looks like anymore, when the situation with movie theaters remains so dicey.