Although the problem has been significantly rectified in recent years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s track record for engaging villains is still very hit-or-miss. For the most part, the franchise’s antagonists are either an evil mirror version of the hero, or a former mentor/father figure turned bad.
Ironically, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings‘ Wenwu ticks both of those boxes, but the erstwhile Mandarin is comfortably one of the MCU’s best-ever big bads, instantly ascending to the top tier of villainy alongside Josh Brolin’s Thanos and Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. Obviously, it helps when you’ve got one of the greatest actors of the modern era bringing the role to life, but in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter writer Dave Callaham admitted that it was difficult to strike the balance he had in mind on the page.
“That was a character that was really hard to massage into the final form. Not because of Tony, certainly. It’s just because of the things that he believes and because of the motivations he’s utilizing to get to these more villainous ideas. One step too far in either direction and he’s not scary enough or he’s totally unrelatable and kind of a nonsense villain. We wanted this character to be three-dimensional. He’s motivated, ultimately, by love.
He is this broken man who has made a bit of a mess of his very long life and just wants desperately to believe he can put things back together, and that’s all very human and very relatable. But we did still need him to be the figurehead of a giant terrorist organization who is looking for magical villages and presumably torturing people in his dungeon and all this other stuff. Finding that balance was tricky.”
Wenwu is an immortal conqueror and crime lord with a powerful weapon at his disposal, a grieving widower, an overbearing parent and a man desperate to bring his family back together despite pushing his children away all at once, so it’s lucky Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings convinced Tony Leung to make his Hollywood debut in the comic book blockbuster, because he nails every single aspect of the performance.
The Hong Kong cinema legend keeps one foot rooted firmly in the grounded and mystical aspects of the narrative at all times, but the guy is just so talented that he pulls it off seamlessly to deliver a tragic, flawed and fully three-dimensional figure, albeit one who still gets the literal soul sucked out of him by a demon in the third act.