Minor spoilers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Xialing; the estranged sister of Shang-Chi
With the recent release of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (what a mouthful) being both a critical and commercial success, it would be safe to say that the studio that once brought us such memorable films over the past decade have finally managed to offer fans a satisfying entry into its ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe after its highly problematic Black Widow movie. While it may have been a little rough around the edges and featured the exhaustingly formulaic storytelling that the franchise is commonly known for, the movie was still an entertaining 130-minute offering and a certified indication that the MCU is back on track.
That being said, despite how much we enjoyed this film, we believe there is still a glaringly obvious issue with the Shang-Chi movie that warrants further inquiry, one that, if it were to continue, could possibly jeopardize the MCU’s storytelling potential; the problem with Xialing’s characterization, or more broadly, the problem with the portrayal of Marvel’s recent female characters in general.
The Just Like Riding A Bike issue with recent Marvel characters
It has become noticeably more prominent that there has been an increasing amount of unrealistic characterizations associated with the studio’s female superheroes. While it is certainly admirable to witness female characters given greater focus over the years, as they very well should be, the way in which these characters are written results in a quandary where organic storytelling is concerned.
Do not get us wrong: Xialing’s character is good – but unrealistically too good at what she does. In what is conspicuously similar to the portrayal of Sylvie in the recent Loki series, Xialing is said to have successfully mastered an astronomically complex artform all on her own. The same way Sylvie mastered magic unassisted in a way that made her far superior to Loki, Xialing ostensibly mastered Kung-Fu in a way that is portrayed to be far better than Shang-Chi himself. Of course, this is not to claim that learning a skill by oneself is absolutely impossible, but not all skills can be equated to the just like riding a bike scenario.
While noble in its efforts, this preposterously weak writing threatens the aspect of verisimilitude in storytelling, which indirectly reduces audiences’ ability to empathize and relate to a character’s plausibility. As a film is a visual medium, the best way to lend credibility to these characters’ ability in achieving such a monumental task, regardless of their gender, is to allocate a significant amount of screen time that showcases their rise to the top and not by simply explaining this crucial element away in a throwaway line or through a 60-second montage.
Therefore, it is only through the showcase of a rigidly justified character arc that we, as audiences, can comfortably hop aboard the concept of a character achieving complete control of a highly laborious skill, for anything less than that is undeniably tantamount to poorly executed writing explicitly constructed to pander to an agenda as a form of virtue signaling in lieu of simply telling an authentic and believable story – or perhaps the writers just really love riding their bikes.
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