Movie Review: Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings
Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (2021)
Starring: Simu Liu, Awkafina, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung
Directed By: Destin Daniel Cretton
It’s no secret that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in desperate need of some more diverse faces. As the first Marvel movie with an Asian lead, Shang-Chi and The Legend Of The Ten Rings already has a lot of eyes on it. Sure it’s a Marvel movie, but will it reach the heights of a film like Black Panther? That movie had the benefit of introducing T’Challa in a prior film (Civil War), and that character has a higher profile than Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu who debuted in the 70’s. Add in the fact that the pandemic is still a major factor in the box office (for the love of God please get vaccinated so I don’t have to keep adding this to my reviews), and that Shang-Chi is not getting a simultaneous Disney+ “premiere access” debut like Black Widow did, and suddenly a whole lot is riding on Mr. Chi and his cinematic debut. If this film goes the way of current box office releases, it could effect not only the rest of the MCU releases for 2021, but it could also spell doom for other major studio releases this year too. Legend of the Ten Rings is an interesting film in a lot of ways, and has a lot to do. But it also stands out because this is first time there’s been an MCU film based on a character that I know pretty much nothing about.
Thankfully, that little knowledge didn’t hurt my enjoyment of this film at all. In fact, it was pretty refreshing coming into this movie without the baggage that I have with most comic book movies. Focusing on Shang-Chi (played by Simu Liu), a young Chinese man with a hidden family history, this latest installment in the branching Marvel Cinematic Universe adds another interesting element to a world that already includes magic, Asgardian space gods, and a super advanced society. And it works extremely well.
Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings focuses on the titular character, who we meet as a valet in San Francisco. Alongside his friend Katy (Awkafina), he’s content to get up, do his job, and stay up too late performing karaoke at his favorite bar. But when he and Katy are attacked by a mysterious group on their bus ride to work, Shang-Chi’s past catches up to him, and he must face his father, the villainous and mysterious Wenwu, also known as The Mandarin (Tony Chu-Wai Leung).
Known to me only from his role on Kim’s Convenience, Simu Liu was a really welcome surprise to me. He’s got a lot of charm, and at no point does he feel out of place or nervous in the role of Marvel’s latest superhero. In fact, it felt more like he was in a sequel to this movie than the first one for the character, that ‘s how good of job he does inhabiting Shang-Chi. Bouncing between being a badass martial arts master and being able to deliver some genuinely funny lines, Liu’s definitely going to be in demand after this, provided his MCU schedule allows him to be.
Awkafina’s Katy also has a surprisingly substantial role, and while she’s easily the film’s “comic relief”, she also gets some pretty cool things to do, and helps to ground Ten Rings when it gets a little TOO out there in the third act. Meng’er Zhang also has a great supporting role as Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing, who helps serve as the launching point for the plot, and has some pretty fantastic fight scenes as well. Watching her whip around her rope dart weapon is easily one of the coolest aspects of the movie, and she adds a neat dynamic between her “good guy” brother.
Perhaps the biggest piece of this film in the overall MCU saga is the use of the Mandarin, here played by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung. While never directly calling himself the Mandarin (he mainly goes by Wenwu in this), he’s clearly that long established (and previously attempted) version of the, um, problematic Iron Man villain, and the spin on him is something that is truly unique and very cool. In fact, it’s my favorite thing about Shang-Chi. After decades of the character being a very thinly veiled racist caricature in comics and TV (look him up in the 90’s Iron Man cartoon and cringe), it was very cool to see the character’s backstory and look not only revamped, but in my opinion vastly improved upon. The new take on his “rings” was something I wasn’t entirely expecting (even though I’ve seen the trailers), and I ended up really enjoying it, so much so that I hope it makes its way into the source material.
The other big piece of the film are the fight scenes, and after the less than stellar ones from Iron Fist, that’s a valid concern for fans of the MCU to have. But I’m happy to say that the fights in Shang-Chi definitely live up to the ones you would expect from a character known as the “Master of Kung Fu”. While the third act does fall into a bit of a CGI trap like most (or all) of the MCU films, the one on one (and one on three) fights in this film’s first and second acts are truly stellar, and are easily the highlights of the film. Even the fact that a good chunk of the fights have been seen in the promotional material for this film didn’t lessen their impact, and a lot of the credit should go to director Destin Daniel Cretton. Even in the final battle of the movie, Cretton keeps the action pretty fluid and easy to follow, and he also keeps the overall pace of the film moving quickly, which is pretty impressive when you consider all that this movie has to introduce in its just over two hour run time. Shang-Chi has to cover a lot of ground, but at no points does it feel like an info dump or homework for a future film.
While Shang-Chi won’t sit at the top of the Marvel Studio heap, it’s still a really great installment in the overall franchise, and adds some much needed new material as well. There will be a lot of comparisons to Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, and while it doesn’t quite hit that high bar, it comes very close, and another great example of how wide and vast the Marvel Comics universe is. After watching this, I am totally on board for more Shang-Chi adventures, and I can’t wait to see him interact with other veteran members of the MCU.
Posted on September 3, 2021, in Comic Books, Movie Reviews and tagged Awkafina, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios, MCU, Shang-Chi, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Simu Liu, The Mandarin, Tony Chiu. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.