Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings is the next big screen chapter in the ongoing saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s the 25th MCU movie and it’s a major installment of Marvel’s Phase Four. The film stars Simu Liu as the title character, Awkwafina as Katy, Tony Leung as The Mandarin and Benedict Wong reprising his role as Wong.

But the film is already receiving some serious apprehension from moviegoers. However, that reaction has little to do with the movie itself. The reason for the controversy has to do with the fact that the film will not be initially available on the Disney Plus streaming service. Shang-Chi will only see a theatrical release on Labor Day weekend, September 3. So what does this mean for the film?

 

Marvel and Disney’s Decision

Many Marvel fans are obviously upset at the decision to keep Shang-Chi in theaters and with good reason. The COVID-19 Delta Variant is a serious cause for concern right now in the United States and all over the world. The variant is causing many people to once again remain at home. They’re fearful of venturing to a busy movie theater and that’s understandable.

The decision itself was revealed on August 12 during a financial results conference call with company CEO Bob Chapek. Deadline details the call, with Chapek saying that Shang-Chi will open with a 45 day theatrical release and will not be available on Disney+ until after that run is over. 

“We value flexibility in being able to make last-minute calls,” Chapek said. “Certainly when we planned we didn’t anticipate the resurgence of Covid.”

The fact that Disney’s planning apparently isn’t changing, even after the Delta Variant situation, is indeed curious. Why wouldn’t the studio simply alter its original idea and include the film on Disney+, as it did with June 29’s Black Widow? Perhaps the answer to that is a bit more obvious.

 

Disney vs Marvel?

Black Widow star Scarlett Johannson is suing Disney for breach of contract. Johannson claims that Black Widow, like Shang-Chi, is only for theater release initially. Apparently, the decision to offer the film on Disney+ reportedly deprives her of potential earnings. While that case is still open, it’s reasonable to assume that Disney doesn’t want a repeat of this situation in the future. 

Ironically enough however, Chapek is defending the studio’s simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ release of the movie. This comes just two months after Disney’s initial reaction to the lawsuit. That reaction consists of a company spokesperson with plenty to say on the matter.

“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.”

It definitely appears that Disney executives want it both ways. Johannson is criticized for not understanding how dangerous the pandemic is. The company paints her as a greedy and shallow Hollywood star. But then the entertainment giant moves ahead with Shang-Chi’s theater exclusive release. Doesn’t that make them guilty of the exact same thing?

 

Shang-Chi’s Future

The biggest problem with this situation is that Shang-Chi is already at a disadvantage with the mainstream moviegoing audience as it is. The majority of non-comic book fans likely have no idea who any of the characters are in the film, nor do they have any idea about the Shang-Chi story itself.

The same was true of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy of course, yet that movie went on to earn nearly three quarters of a billion dollars at the box office. Mainstream fans couldn’t get enough of the characters and it struck a chord with fans of all ages. So why the concern over Shang-Chi?

The difference between the two films is that GOTG connects to the ongoing MCU in many intricate ways. Indeed, the franchise is an important part of the MCU’s fabric. But Shang-Chi appears to have very few clear connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It seems to be on an island alone. There’s also the fact that films opening on Labor Day weekend typically do not perform well. Does all of this mean that a serious financial problem is on the horizon?

The fact is that many casual moviegoers need a reason to invest their time and money in this film. Diehard comic book fans are surely dialed in already. They’re anxious to see how it all unfolds on September 3. But to believe that a good portion of either audience will not choose to stay home because of the pandemic, seems to be more than a little tone deaf on Disney’s part. MCU fans can only wait to see what will happen next.