“Shang-Chi” 2nd Trailer Has A Dragon, And I’m Obsessed

Simu Liu was apparently either playing coy or choosing his words very carefully when he told NBC News that Marvel’s Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings would not feature one of the character’s iconic opponents from the comics, the dragon known to most fans as “Fin Fang Foom” – a name which Liu cited as being among the original comics’ more “questionable elements”. And I believe that Liu was telling the truth about Fin Fang Foom not being in the new movie…but he never said there wouldn’t be a dragon. In fact, Funko Pop leaks from a few months ago basically already revealed that there would be a dragon in Shang-Chi, but the new trailer confirms it outright.

Shang-Chi
The Ten Rings | ign.com

Most fans are still referring to the dragon as Fin Fang Foom, but I’m pretty certain that name will never be used in the film, and I can understand why. The dragon doesn’t seem to have a new name just yet, but like the original character they’re an underwater leviathan, probably located under the island of Madripoor as in the comics. Luckily, audiences were just introduced to Madripoor in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, and I think most of us will jump at the chance to return to the island and dip into its treasure trove of obscure references and Easter eggs, this time with a movie-sized budget to support bigger action sequences. One has to hope we’ll see the dragon rise from the ocean and wreak havoc in the capital of Madripoor, but I may be getting ahead of myself.

Another big reveal, which completely overshadowed the literal dragon for reasons unbeknownst to me, was the long-awaited return of Abomination – a character last seen in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, a movie most consider to be on the fringes of MCU canon. Abomination was expected to return, with Tim Roth reprising the role, in next year’s She-Hulk Disney+ series, but apparently we’ll catch up with him a lot sooner, given that he most definitely shows up in the stinger of this Shang-Chi trailer, with a slight but significant refinement of his original look that finally gives him his comic-accurate fins. Personally, I couldn’t care less about Abomination, except insofar as the explanation for his reappearance could finally decide the fate of the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. canon.

You see, Abomination’s first and last onscreen appearance may have been in The Incredible Hulk, but the last time he was namedropped was actually in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. season one, when Coulson mentioned that he was being kept in a cryo-cell in a S.H.I.E.L.D. base in Barrow, Alaska. All I need is for Abomination to mention being locked up in Alaska at one point, and I’ll be ecstatic. It would be so simple, so incredibly easy, for the MCU to at the very least acknowledge that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s first and second seasons existed with a single offhand comment, that if they don’t, I’ll be deeply disappointed. Not bringing back the S.H.I.E.L.D. team would also be a missed opportunity, given that Shang-Chi‘s Simu Liu and S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Chloe Bennet already have an adorable friendship, and that Ming-Na Wen has arguably never been more popular, while the character she originated on S.H.I.E.L.D., Melinda May, recently returned to the pages of Marvel Comics.

Shang-Chi
Abomination | comicbook.com

Sorry for the rant. While we might not see either of those awesome Asian-American women or their incredible characters interact with Shang-Chi, there’s a decent chance we’ll see Benedict Wong reprise his role as Wong, the powerful sorcerer whom we’ve only seen up to this point assisting Doctor Strange. The Shang-Chi trailer reveals at least one sorcerer battling Abomination in some kind of cage-fight, and, well, everyone on Twitter has decided it’s Wong. It could also be a totally random sorcerer, given that pretty much anyone is capable of mastering the mystic arts in the MCU (it’s one of the few superpowers you don’t have to inherit or be abducted by aliens to obtain).

On that note, a huge reveal that a lot of MCU stans just totally ignored was the appearance of legendary actress Michelle Yeoh, who is playing a mentor figure to Shang-Chi by the name of Jiang Nan – and who tells Shang-Chi that, whether he likes it or not, he is “the legacy” of his family; including his notorious father, the criminal mastermind Wenwu (another character better known to comic readers by an outdated nickname, The Mandarin). I expect much of this film to revolve around themes of legacy and choosing one’s own destiny, hopefully with a found-family trope thrown in for good measure. You know I love a found-family, and can it please involve Razor-Fist? I know he’s trying to kill Shang-Chi, but he’s just so wonderfully ridiculous.

And honestly, anything is better than Shang-Chi’s biological family, based on what we learn from this trailer about Wenwu’s atrocious parenting skills. Little is being said of Shang-Chi’s mother, who is presumably either dead or in hiding, but Wenwu is the film’s primary antagonist – and I hope for Shang-Chi’s sake that Jiang Nan is right, and that he isn’t defined by his father’s cruelty and malice. Wenwu is a great warrior, certainly, but being gifted with immortal life and a set of ancient alien artifacts – the titular Ten Rings – has made him ruthless and possessive. Shang-Chi going after the Rings will be the breaking-point in their already tenuous relationship, leading Wenwu to turn on his son and challenge him to a classic Third Act CGI Showdown™.

Okay, that’s a little harsh. I happen to like quite a few of the MCU’s Third Act CGI Showdowns™, and this one seems to revolve around a clever manipulation of the Ten Rings, which levitate eerily between the two characters as they harness the Rings’ energy like rope in a game of tug-of-war. I just kind of wish the energy was…I don’t know, invisible or something, so the battle could be a bit more visually interesting than characters throwing multi-colored CGI at each other, especially after that was one of the main criticisms of WandaVision‘s finale. But who knows? This might not even be the final fight between the two, and we are only seeing a fraction of it anyway. As long as there are proper martial arts fight scenes in a movie about Marvel Comics’ greatest martial artist, I’ll take whatever this is.

Shang-Chi
Xialing, Shang-Chi, and Katy | vitalthrills.com

To be honest, this trailer felt more like a teaser than the actual teaser put out back in April, but it still makes me very excited for Shang-Chi, largely because the visuals and cinematography look stunningly beautiful, the cast is excellent, the fight choreography is promising, and there’s a dragon now. How could I not be excited, when there’s a dragon?

Trailer Rating: 7.9/10

“Raya And The Last Dragon” Review

There was a time when Disney had me convinced that Raya And The Last Dragon would be heavily rooted not only in Southeast Asian culture but in the region’s various unique mythologies…and while to some extent that is true and Raya does pull from many sources (too many, some have argued), the final product is to the best of my knowledge an almost wholly original story, having no basis in any specific myth or legend, and inventing more monsters and mythical creatures than it borrows from local folklore. Does that disappoint the mythology buff in me? Well, yeah, but also no – because what we get instead is an ingenious, beautiful, and almost eerily timely story of division and human failing in a time of unprecedented chaos. Sound familiar?

Raya And The Last Dragon
Raya And The Last Dragon | awn.com

Disney’s darkest animated movie in years, Raya wastes no time setting up its tragic tale. Set in a sparsely-inhabited dystopian world named Kumandra, where most humans have been transformed into stone by a swarm of unearthly black tumbleweed called Druun, the film never sugarcoats the feelings of fear and confusion that keep most of Kumandra’s survivors locked up in their individual castles and kingdoms, protected by shards of the magical Dragon-Gem – the only thing, besides water, that can repel the onslaught of the Druun, which have ravaged most of the land’s forests, deserts, and mountains. Splintered into factions representing parts of the Last Dragon (Fang, Heart, Talon, Spine, and Tail), Kumandra has been trapped in this unsustainable status quo for six years, since a clash between Princess Raya of Heart (voiced by Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran) and Princess Namaari of Fang (Gemma Chan) led to the breaking of the Dragon-Gem and the ensuing power struggle over its fragments.

But Raya And The Last Dragon is the rare dystopian epic that doesn’t aim for a gritty or grungy aesthetic – in fact, it’s a vivid, colorful masterpiece of animation, a particularly admirable feat given how much of it was created at home during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every detail, from the diverse and unique character designs down to the food they eat (be warned, this film will make you hungry) looks lovingly crafted and real. Even the parts of Kumandra that have been overrun by Druun are hauntingly beautiful, dotted by rows upon rows of eroding statues.

Visual splendor was never the chief selling-point for Raya, which perhaps misleadingly billed itself as an intense action film. There are fight sequences, all very fast-paced, well-choreographed, and intensely violent without so much as a single drop of blood being spilled (give us the R-rated cut, Disney!), but they’re not exactly frequent. That being said, they’re elevated by the distractingly beautiful settings in which they take place, and the array of unique weapons being used. For instance, what I thought was a dragon-mace in the first trailer was actually a glimpse of Raya’s sword, which transforms into a significantly cooler bladed whip. Namaari, her main opponent throughout the film, rides into every battle on a giant cat.

Speaking of which…am I the only one getting Catradora vibes from the occasionally flirtatious banter between the two women every time they clash, or the dynamic at play in their complicated relationship? I mean, even Kelly Marie Tran wants us to know her Disney Princess is unofficially gay. Raya And The Last Dragon is arguably Disney Animation’s gayest movie yet, which of course means that every interaction between the protagonist and antagonist is technically platonic, in the same way Elsa and Honeymaren’s interactions were technically platonic in Frozen II. But there’s something about their relationship still being the real thematic core of the entire movie (not to mention a myriad of “JUST KISS ALREADY!” moments, and every time they refer to each other as “dep la”, which roughly translates to “strangely beautiful” in Vietnamese) that makes me feel like Raya might have been more overtly queer in the writing process. It’s worth noting that, while there are several metaphors for broken trust throughout the film, including the shattered Dragon-Gem, it’s Namaari’s dragon-pendant – a gift to Raya – which ultimately best symbolizes that theme, representing not just Kumandra itself, but the most painful betrayal in Raya’s life.

Raya And The Last Dragon
Raya and Namaari | forbes.com

The pendant is but one of many small details incorporated into the film – separate from the incredible level of detail in the animation I mentioned earlier – which flesh out Kumandra’s extraordinary world, although loosely borrowing/blending bits and pieces of various Southeast Asian cultures is not a strategy without its faults, particularly since the film didn’t put in the work when it came to representing Southeast Asian voice talent. Each region of Kumandra is at once unique and different (I’d love to explore more of Talon’s colorful floating markets in a Disney+ series), but the people and their cultures clearly influence each other across borders: particularly through their food, and through a shared reverence for the Dragons of ancient lore, still visible in their most common greeting – forming the shape of the Dragon-Gem with one’s hands and lifting it above one’s head to denote respect. Little things like this subtly make Kumandra one of the most realistic worlds in Disney Animation.

The titular Dragon, however, is probably the film’s most controversial element – since Awkwafina’s shapeshifting Nāga Sisu doesn’t fit entirely comfortably within the otherwise somber story, and she’s never actually treated with much reverence, either by the characters in the film or by the film itself, which uses her as the butt of some fairly lazy jokes. Her design is also a rare misfire: with a disheveled feather-boa mane and a head that looks far too large for her serpentine body, Sisu looks awkward rather than awe-inspiring, only vaguely capturing the majesty of Southeast Asian water dragons as depicted in art and folklore for centuries.

Raya And The Last Dragon
Sisu | epicstream.com

But considering that its only other major misstep is a pacing issue and a blurriness between acts that makes the story feel rather more episodic than epic, I believe Raya And The Last Dragon is strong enough to kick off a new age of Disney Animation movies marked by more complex and mature storylines, and a lack of music I never once missed (until now, because I suddenly wish Namaari had a Disney Villain song gradually transitioning into a poignant romantic ballad).

Rating: 8.5/10

“Raya And The Last Dragon” 2nd Trailer!

The first trailer for Disney’s Raya didn’t make that big an impact when it dropped several months ago, despite its stunning animation, stellar voice-cast headlined by Kelly Marie Tran, and beautiful Southeast Asian setting. It caused plenty of heated discourse, though: as many fans understandably felt cheated by the way the film blends several vastly different Southeast Asian cultures, traditions, and myths; and others drew unfavorable comparisons to Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend Of Korra, saying Disney had blatantly ripped off the popular Nickelodeon series’.

Raya
Raya And The Last Dragon | collider.com

The second trailer – released today, completely out of the blue as far as I can tell – is bound to be a shock for anyone who genuinely loved the first trailer for its maturity, somber tone, and grandeur. We’re about two months out from Raya‘s release, and suddenly Disney has decided to market the film as Lord Of The Rings by way of…Fast And Furious, I guess? I’m not complaining, because this movie still looks ridiculously awesome (emphasis on the ridiculous), but Disney’s misleadingly epic teaser trailers are becoming a bit much at this point. Then again, anyone who actually thought Frozen II was going to be a dark fantasy about the impending dangers of climate-change based on one scene of Elsa running over water was probably setting themselves up for failure.

But the key difference between Raya And The Last Dragon and other Disney animated family films is that Raya actually does have the stunning, gravity-defying action sequences its trailers promise. According to directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, a cut exists of the movie that could have landed it an R-rating for violence. That may be exaggeration, but their insistence that the film’s fight scenes are inspired by those of franchises like John Wick certainly gives me hope that we’re in for something spectacular when Raya leaps onto our screens in March, armed with her iconic wavy-bladed kalis, whip, and magic powers.

Raya
Raya | slashfilm.com

Thankfully, Disney Animation has broken recent tradition and given Raya an actual villain to bounce off of, and to fight. Although I appreciated Frozen II‘s villain twist (“the crimes and misdeeds of previous generations, if left unaddressed, are the greatest evils of our time” was a clever and brilliant message, albeit completely undermined in the film’s third act), I’ve been missing real Disney villains lately: their unapologetic campiness, their swagger, and their braggadocio. Raya’s nemesis, named Namaari and voiced by Gemma Chan, might not have a campy bone in her body, but she’s got the swagger, she’s got the braggadocio, and most importantly, she’s got back muscles that most Disney villains would kill for. I don’t know whether to ask for her workout regimen or her hand in marriage.

There’s always a chance that Namaari and Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, who recently made her triumphant comeback to social media after years of relentless harassment from embittered Star Wars fanboys) will join forces by the end of the movie to defeat some greater evil, but before that happens we’ll get plenty of duels between the two, as they both hunt for the last dragon – the only creature capable of saving the land of Kumandra from an ancient evil. Set to modern epic music, the trailer invites us on a globe-trotting quest around Kumandra’s warring regions alongside a fellowship of anti-heroic misfits, including a con-baby with a troop of monkey minions. Each region seems to reflect a different part of Southeast Asia, from the forests of Indonesia and the Philippines, to the river-delta villages of Bangladesh. The new trailer showcases more of the area’s diversity than the teaser, while memorable sequences from the teaser are noticeably absent: the sequences that had viewers comparing Raya and Korra’s blue outfits and similarly-styled ponytails.

Raya
Raya | etonline.com

But the new trailer does confirm that the mysterious masked man seen battling Raya in the teaser was, in fact, her father – and the ritual guardian of Kumandra’s dragon gem, as I guessed at the time. Daniel Dae Kim will voice the role, which will surely be brief: he barely gets to speak a single line in the trailer before we cut to Raya placing flowers at a shrine with a statue of him. It’s somehow comforting that, with the world as unpredictable and chaotic as it is, you can always rely on Disney Animation to kill their protagonists’ parents. Some things never change.

But what about you? How excited are you based on this new trailer? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

Sam Raimi To Direct “Doctor Strange 2”!

In a shocking turn of events, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has hired director Sam Raimi to pick up the pieces that were left scattered about in the wake of Scott Derrickson’s abrupt departure from the production of Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, fulfilling a lifelong dream for Raimi and allowing him to return to the superhero genre that he, in large part, helped to define with his iconic, and hugely successful, Spider-Man trilogy.

Sam Raimi To Direct "Doctor Strange 2"! 1
hollywoodreporter.com

The process of finding a new director for the long-awaited Doctor Strange sequel began last month, after Scott Derrickson, who directed the Sorcerer Supreme’s first solo movie, suddenly parted ways with Marvel Studios, citing “creative differences”. Later, unconfirmed, reports suggested that Derrickson wanted the film to push its (presumably) PG-13 rating and tap into the horror genre, but Marvel was reluctant to follow him down that path: others have hinted that he was upset about having to structure much of the film around the events of the WandaVision Disney+ series. We don’t know for certain why he left – but for a while after his departure, all we knew was that the film was rushing towards a production start date in Spring without a director. It was a bad look for Marvel, and many wondered if Doctor Strange 2 would be pushed back from its 2021 release date.

However, things were still going smoothly behind the scenes, by all accounts: recent reports have suggested that a number of Marvel characters will be introduced in the sequel, including America Chavez, Brother Voodoo, Clea, and a host of alternate-versions of established MCU characters (which, for whatever reason, enraged fans who hadn’t noticed the word “Multiverse” literally in the film’s title), and the first film’s antihero Karl Mordo was also confirmed to return, with Chiwetel Ejiofor reprising the role. So it should come as no surprise that Marvel has had their eye on someone to replace Derrickson, and that that someone is quite possibly already onboard the project and getting comfortable in the director’s seat. It’s not the fact that a director has been chosen, but the identity of that director, that’s so shocking, relieving, and exciting all at once.

Sam Raimi, who worked closely with current Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige to craft his own Spider-Man trilogy between 2002 and 2007, is in talks to helm Doctor Strange 2. Raimi is a fantastic choice for many reasons – not only is he the most successful and recognizable director to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe since their early days, but he’s also a huge fan of Doctor Strange (there’s even a reference to the character all the way back in Spider-Man 2), and arguably the man who made Marvel Studios’ huge success possible. Both before and since the Spider-Man franchise’s controversial final installment, Raimi has made a name for himself in the horror genre, making him an ideal substitute for Derrickson, who had hoped to explore a darker, creepier corner of the MCU with his movie. Raimi won’t have much time to rewrite the Doctor Strange scripts if he wants to meet the release date, but he’s also the sort of director who will want to leave his mark in other ways – despite claims from Marvel’s critics that their films are made by committee, using generic formulas and disregarding directors.

It’ll be interesting to see what’s left over from Derrickson’s brief tenure as director, and what Raimi will salvage, or throw out. Two of the strangest (no pun intended) elements rumored to feature in Derrickson’s script were the violent deaths of Strange’s constant companion Wong, and former girlfriend Christine Palmer, early in the film. While Benedict Wong (who plays Wong) will return for the sequel, it was revealed tonight, almost casually, that Rachel McAdams will not be coming back to portray Palmer, making me think those damning rumors were accurate, and McAdams left the project rather than become a victim of Derrickson’s killing spree. If Raimi does have time to rework the script, this could be something he addresses – on the other hand, the character of Christine Palmer is not one that audiences are deeply attached to, and so much else is going to be happening in the film that adding her into the mix seems unnecessary.

And then, of course, there’s the question of Spider-Man. While it’s unlikely that Peter Parker will feature into Doctor Strange 2 in any way, it would also be fittingly poetic if Raimi were able to do something with Tom Holland’s iteration of the beloved character. Funnily enough, theorists have long felt that an interaction between the web-slinging superhero and the Sorcerer Supreme would be able to clear up some of the problems presented by the awkward joint-custody arrangement between Sony and Marvel, that has kept either studio from fully enjoying all the benefits the character has to offer: for instance, if there comes a day when Spider-Man has to leave the MCU, what better way to manage that in-universe than by having him exit through the Multiverse, with a little help from Strange? To be clear, I don’t think this will happen in Doctor Strange 2, as a third Marvel/Sony Spider-Man movie has already been greenlit, but it’s still something I wanted to mention.

All in all, this is exactly the type of shocking news that Marvel excels at dropping as if it’s no big deal. Not content with simply finding a replacement for their first directorial misfire in years, they went out of their way to enlist one of the biggest names in the superhero business.

What do you think? Were you a fan of Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and what do you feel about him joining the MCU? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!