|“||We do not cause the destruction of a world. We simply manage it.||„|
|~ Matai Shang, to John Carter|
Matai Shang is the secondary antagonist in the 2012 film John Carter.
Shang is the leader of the Therns. He works hard to make the Barsoomians and other races unaware of his existence, to make them think Therns are a myth. He organizes and feeds off the destruction of planets, manipulating civilizations in order to do so. It is his and the Therns' purpose to do so, however, as Shang mentions at one point that he and the Therns have been doing it for billions of years.
When arriving on Barsoom (Mars), Shang chose Sab Than, the ruthless leader of Zodanga, to rule the planet. Appearing before Sab, he tells him that he was sent by the goddess and that she chose him to rule. He told Sab what to do to rule Barsoom, while in disguise as an armored figure, and gave him the Ninth Ray, a powerful weapon, to use on his enemies.
When John Carter appeared on Barsoom, Shang became interested in him and kept him alive to see what he does. He eventually appeared before him in person, and took him for a walk around Zodanga, telling him about the Therns and their purpose while taking several Zodangan disguises. He told him that Therns were immortal and that Sab is planning for the Helium princess Dejah Thoris to be assassinated during her wedding to him (the wedding was seemingly proposed as peace between the two cities), thus making Sab eternal ruler of Barsoom and causing the planet to be destroyed by Sab's rule, which is what Shang wants to happen. Although Shang had Carter trapped with his power, he was attacked by Woola, allowing Carter to break free and tell him that Therns aren't bulletproof (having shot and killed one on Earth earlier in the film), and escape to foil Sab's plans.
During the battle between Helium and Zodanga, Carter cut off Sab's arm and demanded to know about the Therns. Shang used his power to turn Sab into crystal, thus killing him, but was prevented from doing the same to Carter. After telling him that Dejah will live but will fail to prove her misguided theory of the Ninth Ray (which she was trying to do in the beginning of the film), Shang barely escaped the battle by teleporting away.
After Carter threw away his medallion, which teleported him to Barsoom and would teleport him back to Earth, Shang appeared, disguised as a guard, and revealed his true identity before sending Carter back to Earth, before Shang himself left Mars forever to continue his and the Therns' purpose elsewhere in the universe.
Shang is not seen again in the film after that scene, but his deed of sending Carter back to Earth would soon be forgotten and foiled, as ten years later, Carter seemingly found another medallion and was placed in a tomb, thought to be dead. When his nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Ned), ran to his tomb to protect him, another Thern followed, disguised as a man with a bowler hat. When Ned opened the tomb to find it empty, the Thern was about to kill him when Carter shot him in the back, killing him.