Katy and Shaun, Shang-Chi’s Real Superpower

Marvel’s recent origin story Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was good enough to pull me out of movie blogging retirement.

I could spend article after article talking about the depth, meaning, and symbolism of this movie. Everything from the costuming to the scenery was full of purpose and interest. The character work was excellent. Shang-Chi carried a balance of sadness, triumph, humor, and potential.

But what actually got me to put words on the page is the relationship between Shaun (Shang-Chi) and his best friend Katy. They are probably one of the best things the MCU has created in a long while. Here’s why – warning, spoilers ahead.

Katy and Shaun are the defining relationship of the movie.

That may sound funny given how many other turbulent and dominating relationships we see Shaun experience throughout this story. But Katy and Shaun’s relationship is the most important one in the entire movie; and every other relationship (good or bad) can be contrasted or compared to it.

His relationship with his father is a twisted one. It’s defined by abuse, sick expectations, deep desire for something genuine, broken heartedness, and whatever true love is left in his father’s heart. It’s turbulent, nauseating, angering, and aggressive.

His relationship with his sister is one of broken promises, a broken heart, bitterness, coldness. At the root is a little girl who lost everything/everyone. It’s sad.

His relationship with his mother is one of remembered sweetness and meaning and beauty that he once had. He can’t reach her, he can’t get her back, and he couldn’t save her. It’s full of guilt and longing. It’s tragic.

Shaun’s new relationship with his aunt brings back some of the light he’s had hidden inside of him from his mother. It helps remind him of who he is, but it’s still much more of a mentor relationship.

And then there’s Katy. Quirky, witty, adorably awkward, forever faithful Katy. Katy is Shaun’s defining relationship throughout this entire movie. He deals with every demon (literally) of his past and present. From the bus fight in San Francisco to a magical valley in China where a dungeon full of soul-eaters exists, Katy is there. She’s Shaun’s reference point, his only constant, the anchor. He orbits around her as he faces everything else.

Unlike his father, Katy isn’t always about what Shaun has to do for her in order to earn her love. Unlike his sister, their friendship has been one of constants. Unlike his mother, Katy is very real and in the present. And unlike his aunt, Katy is facing some of the same struggles he is when it comes to being grounded in her identity and life direction.

We see Shaun experience many relationships in this story. We meet many layers and versions of Shang-Chi/Shaun, but we always return to Katy and Shaun. The way they laugh together, the way they tackle problems, the fears they both have, the way they listen to one another. It’s a healthy, life-on-life kind of relationship that keeps Shaun from jumping off of a character cliff. Katy grounds him even as she helps him fly. For a character with no superpowers, Katy is one of the most powerful characters in this movie.

It’s subtle, well-written, and woven logically and beautifully into the story. It feels real. Katy and Shaun are forever even if other things/people are not.

Katy saved Shaun

No, I’m not just talking about when she jumped in between him and the bully (honestly, she saved that jerk’s life). I’m talking about Shaun. He’d been through horrific things and had no where to land – until Katy showed up. She gave him a home, a family, a friend, and a sense of normal he lost the moment his mother was killed.

We see just how much this one friendship has defined Shaun when we see the contrast between him and his sister – Xialing. Where Shaun is warm, Xialing is cold. Shaun is gentle, Xialing is harsh. Shaun is normal, Xialing is very much abnormal.

You can’t really hold it against her. Shaun got to spend more years nurtured by their mother. Once their beautiful mother was gone, their father didn’t just see Xialing as a neutral presence, he treated her like a negative. She became someone lesser, someone to step over. He looked away from her in pain for something that wasn’t her fault. Even though his relationship with Shaun was perverted and full of abuse, he still affirmed Shaun in a twisted way. Xialing never got any of that. The only place where she found affirmation was in the gross underworld of using force to gain respect and admiration. For how much she hates her father, she has learned to be very much like him.

At the end of the movie, Shaun goes back to his normal life of karaoke and storytelling over drinks and appetizers with Katy – until Wong comes along with what is essentially a gold-lettered invite to the Avengers. Shaun has maintained the ground he’s gained and grown a few sizes larger as well. But he’s still Shaun. He’s a pretty amazing knight-in-shining-armor character.

Xialing isn’t as far along as he is. While at her father’s compound (where Shaun thinks she’s cleaning up the mess) we see Xialing uncovering the wall in her room. It’s full of angry, dark, violent pictures/posters/images. Half of the wall is uncovered, revealing a beautiful painting of a sad little girl. Xialing sits in normal clothes on the floor (the first time we see her this way) clutching a beautiful drawing of her mother. It’s symbolic – half of her heart has been uncovered – but the other half is still caught in darkness.

Her scene ends where we see that she is actually taking over the Ten Rings name and running the thug group on her own. The black leather is back, she’s still chasing affirmation and identity through force. She hasn’t learned as many lessons as her brother has, her future is still more in question.

What’s the difference between the two siblings? Shaun had a Katy, Xialing didn’t. Katy’s tiny family apartment in an old corner of San Francisco represents more genuine wealth than the entire stone compound Xialing possesses. The life that Shaun has where he gets to argue with Katy’s grandma about where the whiskey went, gulp down cereal before taking the bus to their shared valet job is more real, beautiful, and genuine than anything Xialing has. For a movie about the child of a 1000 year old warlord and his magical, soul-sucker fighting wife, Shang-Chi gave a place of great honor and value to the everyday beauty of a normal, loving family.

When Katy stepped in between Shaun and that bully she was saving his life. She was bringing in beauty, truth, life, warmth, hope, and a future. She didn’t know that, she doesn’t overthink it, she’s just herself and that’s what he needs.

Shaun’s mama used to sit at a table with him and make construction paper dragons and tell him stories from her homeland. That kind of beauty is what had literally caused his evil father to put the rings away and act normal for a while. It’s magic – powerful magic woven into ordinary, extraordinary, everyday kind of love. I finally found something worth growing old forXu Wenwu

Shaun lost that life the moment his mama died, but he was given it anew the moment he met Katy. It didn’t matter if his mama was from a magic corner of China with fantastical creatures, and Katy is the self-described “Asian Jeff Gordon”. It’s the same magic presented differently, but the fruit produced is just as good.

Katy and Shaun are a perfect team.

Are they perfect as people? No, they are beautifully flawed and that makes the story that much more enjoyable. But they are a perfect team.

A mistake many people make is they create a normal character like Katy, and a super-character like Shang-Chi, but then they don’t know how to keep the two together throughout a story. The Katy’s of the world get pushed off to the sidelines to ooh and ahh at the wonders of the Shaun character.

Shang-Chi didn’t do that once. Katy was always as relevant and important to the storyline as Shaun was. It isn’t because she is crazy brilliant, superpowered, rich, famous, etc. She’s just a good friend who doesn’t give up, and that’s an overlooked and under-utilized power. Her loyalty and faithfulness to Shaun is what made her the perfect boom to his pow. They need each other and they give to each other.

Shaun gets attacked on the bus and fights back – so Katy drives the bus.

Shaun has to go face his deadly family – Katy buys a plane ticket. So what if we are going to a seedy corner of Macau? Girl’s got a fanny pack, she ready.

They have to escape his father’s compound – Katy drives full speed towards a cement door trusting that Shaun is gonna get a henchman’s bio print on the screen in time to open it.

Shaun admits to murdering someone at the age of 14 – Katy is the first person to point out what a bad situation he was in and how he needs to be kinder to himself.

Shaun is about to lose to the soul-eater as it’s sucking the soul out of the dragon – Katy fires an arrow at the soul-sucker’s throat and causes a pivotal interruption.

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina)

Shaun and Katy are a one-two punch, on and off the battlefield. They fill in each others gaps, listen to each other’s problems, and have each other’s backs. They develop together, something that many movies struggle to portray. Their friendship naturally produces growth in both of them even if they take turns supporting each other. They are a both and kind of relationship, not an either or.

The director of the film (Destin Daniel Cretton) said very clearly that Katy and Shaun are just friends for the majority of this movie. Shang-Chi is going through a lot and Katy’s friendship is what he needs, there isn’t room for anything else….But now? Who knows?

I could easily see (and let’s be real, AM TOTALLY ROOTING FOR) them becoming more in the future. Shaun and Katy are one of those legendary kind of relationships that are quite simply, best friends forever that slide smoothly from one phase of friendship into another. They are never gonna find someone else to connect with at the level they connect with each other, and they don’t need to. What they have is powerful and the world needs more of it.

The friendship of Katy and Shaun created this base rhythm for the rest of the movie to build off of. Their humanity and love for each other gave a heart and soul to a story that without that human base could have felt very bizarre. But with them in the center of it, it was just perfect. The strength and health of their friendship created a measuring mark for every other character interaction. As a writer and a fan who is always looking for character-first stories, I was incredibly pleased.

What did you think of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?

Thor 4, Why I Don’t Want It

Yesterday it was announced that Taika Wahiti (Thor: Ragnarok) would be directing the fourth installment of the Thor movies, starring Chris Hemsworth…

…wait, the fourth installment??? Did we actually ask for a Thor 4?

Without a doubt, there are going to be fans who are excited about this. Not all fans feel negative about the road Thor’s character has taken. Those fans are having a really great day right now, and I do not begrudge them that.

(Y’all, if Captain America 4 were ever announced you would hear me give the squeal heard around the world, so I get it).

I, however, am not at all pleased with where Thor ended up when the credits rolled in Endgame.

Please, stop disrespecting Thor even more than you already have.

I was a fan of the first two Thor movies. His first film was actually my introduction into the MCU and I loved it, I loved him.

angry thor

His transformation from Grade A royal jerk to a compassionate hero was lovely. I liked him and Jane together. I loved how powerful he was. I thoroughly enjoyed his involvement in both The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Ragnarok was a deep disappointment to me. To drastically change the tone of Thor’s storytelling and practically obliterate all ties to his earlier movies on the third installment of his series was awful to me. It felt like someone had accidentally picked up a Guardians of the Galaxy script and a “Thor” movie was made instead.

That being said, even I can admit that Ragnarok was a proper continuation of Thor’s character arc. Ragnarok pushed Thor to a place that 4 previous movies hadn’t been able to get him yet.

Thor became the king.

It was a nice arc and Ragnarok was a vital part of that.

thor background.jpg

Thor: He learns what truly makes a hero, he learns humility and kindness. He uses his might to protect rather than ravage. He begins to have an appreciation for humans. He learns what worthiness actually is as he becomes worthy of the hammer. It’s glorious.

The Avengers: He grows beyond just an almost patronizing appreciation “I must protect these infants” for humans and learns to see them as comrades and equals. He joins a team rather than fighting alone. He chooses what is right over family loyalty.

Thor 2: Again, he chooses what is right over family loyalty. His father is an idiot, Thor goes against his father and commits treason because it is right. He chooses to love someone even though it may devastate him later on. And he chooses to be honest with his father about his lack of desire to be king.

thor and his father

Age of Ultron: Thor sees the beginning pieces of Thanos’ plan as well as the future of Ragnarok. This sets him off on a journey of discovery across the cosmos and sets a lot of things in motion.

thors vision

Ragnorok: Through the exposure of Loki’s deception, Odin’s death, and Hela’s unleashing on Asgard, Thor has to finally step up to the plate to become who he was born to be.

thor gladiator

He loses everything, his father, his hammer, and his dignity as he is reduced to being a gladiator for sport. It’s a lot of hits at once. He feels very low but he refuses to give in to grief as his desire to take care of his people and do right by them is stronger. #hero

Against all odds, Thor makes it back to Asgard where has to fight his sister, the goddess of death, without his hammer. He is mighty but at this moment she is mightier. Until he ends up in a vision where his father reveals the truth, “Are you Thor, the god of hammers? The hammer was only to help you channel your power.” And the final bit of encouragement that we have all known about Odin and Thor, “I’m not as strong as you.” “No, you’re stronger.”

Next up is the most epic takedown and my favorite part of Ragnorok (THIS IS THOR) where the god of Thunder blasts his sister and her armies with his lightning because THAT’S who he is!

Ragnarok ends where Thor has to allow the destruction of Asgard in order to save the true heart of Asgard, his people.

He is down one eye but looks very regal and handsome as he is crowned king and takes his “throne” aboard a borrowed ship among the surviving Asgardians and a ragtag group of friends. His brother is at his side once more and we hear the same coronation music we began this journey with back in 2011. It was really, really nice.

thor in arena.jpg

  • Thor had to gain humility and perspective before he was ready to be king.
  • His knowledge of the greater universe enabled him to be exactly what Asgard needed when they needed him most. Odin could never have been what Thor is.
  • He forgave Loki and paved the way for them to rejoin as brothers and friends.
  • He brought Valkyrie back from her drunken despair and gave her purpose.
  • He saved Bruce and destroyed Hela.
  • He had to grow beyond the hammer and he did an awesome job. And it was THEN and only then, after all of this learning and connecting with other people that he became the king he was born to be.

Infinity War: Enter, Thanos. Thanos never played fair, so, I don’t blame Thor for any of this mess. To me, the Thor of Infinity War was the most glorious Thor I have ever seen. He was the perfect combination of all that he had been and all that he was becoming. He WAS the god of Thunder, his arrival on the field of battle in Wakanda is one of my top 3 moments in that movie.

infinity war thor

Thor still made mistakes (GO FOR THE HEAD) as did all of our heroes. And I knew Thor needed to have a meltdown at some point. You cannot lose literally everything and never break down.

Endgame: Thor tries to defeat Thanos, and while he does kill him, the damage done by that Purple Abomination cannot be undone. So Thor disappears into New Asgard and becomes a drunken pile of a depressed man.

chunky thor

Believe it or not, I was actually pleased with this. I needed Thor to be human enough to fall apart after all of the hellish things he’d been through. I felt that this was appropriate, all the more so for how handsome and grand he is. That beer belly didn’t bother me, the tears in his eyes just made me ache more.

Thor is brought back into the action by his friends who still believe in him. He contributes what he can to the plan, and then he goes back in time with Rocket (love this pairing) to the day his mother died in order to retrieve the Reality Stone.

I loved this part. I felt like it restored some of the first two Thor movies to us.

Thor is totally falling apart, and Rocket has to be the one to save the day. #thisracoongetsitdone

Oh! But that scene with Thor’s beautiful mother, Frigga! I loved, loved, LOVED that scene! I have always felt that she was an underused character, a rich well of untapped potential. Odin was a mostly rotten father, but Frigga? What a mother!

thor and his mother

Thor needs his mama, that great and mighty god of Thunder who has fallen so low just needed his mama to look into his eyes and actually see him.

He needed her to gently brush back his matted hair as if he’s still arrayed in royal robes and love him as only a mother can. She listened. She encouraged. She blessed him, and she told him with so much love and compassion to eat a salad. It was such a gift, that scene.

And that moment gave Thor the courage to face the final conflict against Thanos. He is still worthy, Mjolnir still comes to him. It’s a beautiful moment of encouragement for anyone who has ever faced grief and depression.

thor depression

He fights the battle well and we see once more, the god of Thunder is still with us.

thor endgame battle.gif

Thor is among the victorious Avengers who are still standing when the dust settles *sobs* and he returns to his people in New Asgard to begin a new life as their king. He’s been humbled and is raw, but he is still a worthy hero and he deserves a second chance, what a triumph…

…oh wait, no, he actually decides to become a homeless man and go traipsing around space with the Guardians?!?!

He leaves New Asgard in the hands of Valkyrie whom we have only known for a movie and a half? Didn’t he already give up a chance to be king once before, only to take the throne in Ragnarok because he was finally ready???

You mean to tell me that I just went through 6+ movies of bringing Thor to this incredible place of a complete arc where he actually became his own kind of king despite every obstacle —only to have him be treated like some half-eaten leftovers that the filmmakers wanted to put in the freezer to reheat later???

Thor + Starlord for about 5 minutes = funny.

Thor + Starlord for a long time = disrespecting both characters.

thor and starlord

Starlord was already given a raw deal in both Infinity War and Endgame. He was treated like a laughingstock and idiot. Is he sometimes an idiot? Absolutely. Has he been through horrible things and grown immensely as a character and made grown-up/mature/hard decisions on behalf of other people? YES! WATCH HIS DADGUM MOVIES! He’s saved the Galaxy twice!

And Thor, Thor is funny, but he is NOT a laughingstock! Stop it!

Both of these characters deserve to be worth more than just a laugh.

And as for Thor 4?

If Thor had actually made the harder choice to go back to New Asgard, face his people in humility, and try again, I would actually be looking forward to Thor 4. I am curious about this New Asgard, how the Asgardians and the humans interact.

Thor has almost become a child of two realms, Earth and Asgard, he would make a neat king. Would he find someone new to love? Would some more of those “ancient enemies” that the Asgardians seem to have a cabinetful of show up and we could see an awesome alliance of Asgardians and Norwegian fisherman against Said Ancient Foes? What is living in New Asgard like in 2023?

Thor’s choice in the final moments of Endgame was not only out of character for him, it pretty much stabbed in the back a beautiful character arc that has been in the works for 6+ movies.

I was so, so, so disappointed. Thor is one of the Big 3, both Steve and Tony had stunningly gorgeous arcs that ended appropriately for their characters. And Thor was left as a homeless man.

the big three endgame

Dear Marvel, I don’t know if you are trying to replicate the success of Ragnarok or what, but I sincerely doubt that’s ever going to happen. Too many people are disappointed, too much has happened. Let a dead thing lie, don’t try to stir it up again.

Marvel is more than welcome to prove me wrong, I wish nothing but the best for the people involved in this film. I’m not a crazed jerk who starts uttering death threats just because I don’t want a movie.

I just cannot fathom why Thor 4 would be their first choice when we have so many other, fresher characters to work with. You think Thor (who is a strung-out character) is a good use of your resources when you are literally the top dog right now???

ragnarok is it though.gif

#yesijustwantedtousethisgif #youwouldtoo

I have to wait on another Ant-Man and the Wasp but you have time for Thor 4???

For the first time in my life, I don’t want another Marvel movie.

So, are you #TeamThor4 or are you #NoMoreThor? What do you think the next installment will be about? Were you excited to hear about Thor potentially joining the Guardians? I’d love to hear any and all opinions.

 

 

Endgame: Sam Wilson the New Captain America

…I do what he does, just slower. (Sam Wilson/aka Falcon) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

#foreshadowingmuch

Marvel has me pretty paranoid by now with how intense their line foreshadowing game is. It’s scary on point.

on your left

The meeting of Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers is my favorite introduction of two characters in the entire MCU. The Winter Soldier is my favorite Marvel movie, it’s almost my favorite movie period. Every aspect of that film is absolute perfection.

From the first moment we met Sam Wilson, it felt right. He clicked. He and Steve Rogers were immediately on the same page, walking to the same rhythm. Have you ever met a kindred spirit and just known somewhere inside that you two fit together like puzzle pieces?

I have, and that is what happened when Steve Rogers met Sam Wilson. They clicked and they have never been out of sync since.

steve and sam.png

Sam may not have super serum like Steve does, but they have the same heart. The same resolve. The same courage.

If it had been just Sam still standing in front of Thanos and his horde of invaders in Endgame he would have acted no differently than Steve did. He would have taken a breath, tightened the strap on his shield, and stood his ground against an army, even if he had to do it alone.

When I saw Steve hand the beloved shield over to Sam, I was delighted inside. I know some people were rooting for Bucky to receive that honor, but in truth, that was never supposed to be Bucky’s place.

Bucky Barnes is an incredible character and a good man. He’s been through hell and he’s still standing. I am very much looking forward to getting to see more of his story and his future in Wakanda under the name of White Wolf

Bucky has been a good friend to Steve, but he is not cut out to be Captain America. The differences between Bucky and Steve made them powerful as a team; however, they are not similar in the way Steve and Sam are.

sam and steve 2.png

Since Day 1 of meeting Steve, Sam Wilson has been right by his side. He’s listened, encouraged, and understood Steve when no one else could. Sam fed the poor man breakfast when he showed up looking like an abused golden retriever. Not once did he worry about the threat “Everyone we know is trying to kill us.”.

I can’t ask this of you, Sam, you got out for a good reason.

Dude, Captain America needs my help, there’s no better reason to get back in the fight.

It wasn’t his fight, but he chose to make it his own without complaint or hesitation. From that moment on Sam has never left Steve’s side.

Sam was the one keeping vigil at Steve’s hospital bed waiting for his new friend to wake up.

on your left gif.gif

He signed up to search for Steve’s other best friend, the guy who almost killed them very violently. Why? Because it’s important to Steve, so it’s important to him as well. He was even working on the search when Steve had to be busy tracking down leftover Hydra goons with his cool Avenger friends. Sam wasn’t bitter in the least, he was happy to help.

You’re a good man, Sam.

In Civil War Sam was Steve’s closest ally. He’s right beside him at Peggy’s funeral, he’s got his friend’s back physically and emotionally. Seriously, folks, we need more supportive friendships like this in the world.

sam and steve at funeral

Sam willingly goes into exile with Steve and their other buddy Natasha post Civil War and they do some pretty cool Secret Avenger work up until Infinity War. 

Even after Sam is gone we still see the similarities. Just as Sam was doing with veterans when Steve met him, Steve begins a support group to help people in need. He cares about the individual grief and stories of everyday people, and he’s willing to take the time to help them. The scene is very similar to the one we see in The Winter Soldier where Sam is coaching veterans through their trauma.

Cap, can you hear me? Cap, it’s Sam, can you hear me? On your left.

on your left endgame

Steve has never been so tired or looked more alone than he does right at the moment when Sam’s garbled radio message reaches him in Endgame. He’s gonna face an army alone if he has to because he will never quit. That’s who he’s always gonna be until his last breath. But he’s not alone…

On your left. 

And his faithful friend Sam arrives…along with everyone else the Avengers just fought tooth and nail to bring back.

Sam was ready to follow his friend through time and share the burden of replacing the Infinity Stones, that’s what he’s been doing since Day 1, sharing Steve’s burden regardless of how hard or messy it got.

I think Bucky knew that Steve planned to stay in the past. There is a level of internal understanding between those two that is entirely unique to them. He knew and understood it.

Sam was the more agitated of the two best friends when Steve didn’t immediately return. Unlike Bucky, fighting alongside Steve has been Sam’s entire life for the past few years. When both men look over to see a more elderly (and still very handsome) Steve seated on the bench, Sam looks to Bucky to give him room to approach first, he respects the seniority. #puninteded

Bucky nods and lets Sam go, he knows that this is more important to Sam’s life right now than it is his. He’s giving permission for Sam to get to be the best friend he’s been for the past several years. He’s earned this. He’s proven his worthiness over and over again with no thought of personal gain. He’s just being himself.

falcon captain america

It’s never been the super serum that made Captain America what he is, it’s always been Steve Rogers’ heart.

I am looking for qualities beyond the physical.

Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man. (Dr. Erskine) Captain America: The First Avenger

You’re a good man, Sam.

They’ve been telling us all along, it was always Sam who was destined to take up the shield.

Sam and Steve have the same heart, and that is why Sam is our next Captain America. He will not be Steve Rogers, no one can ever replace that man, but…

I’ll do my best.

We know you will, Sam.

sam cap 2

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Exactly What It Needed to Be