Has the next Best Picture emerged?
And don't miss Will Smith this November
What to know
Variety says Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast could be a Best Picture contender… Reporter Clayton Davis is calling the “touching and moving portrait of childhood and family” a career-topper for Branagh and lauds its ensemble and technical achievements. But I’m most excited about the 97-minute runtime. Remember when all movies weren’t 2.5 hours? 🕰
Will Smith and Beyoncé are also building Oscar speculation… Elsewhere in festival season, the former Fresh Prince is turning heads with his moving portrayal of Richard Williams (father of Venus and Serena) in King Richard. And Beyoncé’s new song over the credits could put her back in the pursuit of an EGOT. Thankfully, King Richard will be available on HBO Max in November. 🏆
Shang-Chi breaks records with $75.5M three-day total and $90M four-day… Proving that a Marvel movie can open whenever, Shang-Chi more than doubled the previous Labor Day weekend record, became the 2nd highest pandemic opening (behind Black Widow natch), and far exceeded its $50M expectations. This is huge for Asian representation in Hollywood and the return of movie theaters 👏
The Russo Brothers were in talks to direct another Marvel movie… Key word being “were” as the Disney-Scarlett Johansson skirmish has apparently turned the Russos off of coming back to the Mouse. I wonder what they would have been returning to direct! How do you top yourselves after Infinity War and Endgame? It must be a really exciting project for them to even consider toying with that legacy. 🎥
Phoebe Waller-Bridge departs Amazon’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith… over “creative differences” with Donald Glover. This is a bummer, but if it wasn’t the right fit, it wasn’t the right fit — and those two are too talented to go ahead with something that wasn’t going to work 💔
For more pop culture news, discussion, and what-to-watch recommendations subscribe to my pals over on the Kickball Friends podcast. 🎙
Dropping this week:
Impeachment: American Crime Story premiere — Sept 7 FX/Hulu drama series | 🍅 72%
Doogie Kamealoha MD premiere— Sept 8 Disney+ family series | 🍅
Come From Away — Sept 10 Apple TV+ filmed stage musical | 🍅
Scenes From a Marriage premiere — Sept 12 HBO drama series | 🍅
What to watch
Let’s talk Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. As with Black Widow, Shang-Chi isn’t exactly under the radar, so consider this more of a reflection.
By now we know the hallmarks of a standalone MCU movie. Ordinary, flawed people are called upon to do extraordinary things, there’s a mix of humor, action, and heart, it might make some cross-franchise connections, and in the end—if all the other elements work—there’s a satisfying CGI slug-out. The best of Marvel balances these touchstones while still forging a singular identity and vision.
If you were hoping for Shang-Chi to break this mold, you might be disappointed. For better or worse, this is still a Marvel movie — but what Shang-Chi does so brilliantly is marry its influences and its singularity with the Marvel structure. It trojan horses Hong Kong cinema, Chinese culture, and important Asian representation into the comic book studio’s mega successful framework.
We’ve seen many a Marvel character start on the street level and evolve to the cosmic (Peter Parker goes from Queens to space for example). Shang-Chi follows a similar trajectory within his own movie. This allows director Destin Daniel Cretton to give us a sampler platter of martial arts movie hallmarks. We go from the hand-to-hand street conflict of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, to high-flying balletic wuxia fights, and even large scale Kurosawa-style military conflicts. None of these have really been seen in the MCU before, but we can follow the progression because we know the rules of the universe.
We then land, where almost all Marvel projects do, in a CGI-heavy third act. It would be easy to ding Shang-Chi for falling into this trope and yet I found it to be spectacular. Not just because of the eye-popping, imaginative visuals, but because the third act conflict is directly tied to the movie’s themes and emotional core. Spoilers here: Shang-Chi is really about a family torn apart by grief after losing their matriarch. The big soul-sucking dragon at the end is the literal embodiment of father Wenwu’s inability to grieve and the ruin he inflicted on his children after losing their mother. All of the outstanding emotional work from legendary Chinese actor Tony Leung as Wenwu pays off dividends in what otherwise could have been a hollow climax.
Thirteen years in and Marvel is still Marvel. If you’re on board, you’re on board and if you’re not, it might be daunting to jump in. Shang-Chi is a pretty effortless starting point that exemplifies what this franchise does so well and shows how it continues to steadily and confidently expand into to new fantastical and more inclusive worlds.