June 2024

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

First reactions to Marvel Movie 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings':  Is it

DIRECTOR: Destin Daniel Cretton

CAST: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong



With the Infinity War phase ended, the Marvel Cinematic Universe must now turn its focus toward the next era of its superheroes, including replacing some of its long-running mainstays who’ve left us (Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow) with the next generation. To that end, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an engaging origin story that manages touches of an epic feel and does things different from what we expect from the Marvel formula and whose first half feels like an old-school martial arts action flick and whose second half feels like a mythological fantasy epic with shades of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Mulan.

The movie begins by relating the titular legend of the Ten Rings which grant its bearer great power. In this case, they’ve fallen into the hands of the power-hungry warlord Wenwu (Tony Leung), who uses them for the usual world conquest and domination purposes, except he eventually falls in love with the only woman to defeat him (Fala Chen), who bears him two children, his son Shang-Chi and his daughter Xialing. When tragedy befalls the family, the vengeful Wenwu goes back to old habits and trains Shang-Chi to be an assassin, but the boy instead runs away. Ten years later, the adult Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) works as a valet in San Francisco with his best friend Kate (Awkwafina) and has left his old life firmly behind. But just because Shang-Chi is done with his father doesn’t mean his father is done with him, as evidenced when he’s ambushed by a gang of henchmen on a bus. Soon, Shang-Chi and Kate are jetting off to Macau for a reunion with Shang-Chi’s long-lost sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and the inevitable reunion/confrontation with Wenwu himself, who’s on a determined mission for which he hopes to recruit his estranged children’s help…but doesn’t intend on letting them stand in his way.

Like Doctor Strange and Black Panther, Shang-Chi is a mostly stand-alone story that does its own thing and feels far removed from most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Apart from a couple brief references to “The Blip”, this is a rare installment that casual viewers could watch without familiarity with the larger MCU being a prerequisite, although there’s a couple characters to provide some connective tissue, with Ben Kingsley reprising his role as the fake “Mandarin” Trevor Slattery and a drop-in by Benedict Wong’s Wong and Abomination, whom we haven’t seen since all the way back in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk back in the fledgling days of the MCU (Tim Roth returned to provide some voicework, although he doesn’t appear onscreen). Viewers who stick around for the obligatory mid-credits scene will also get cameos by a couple bigger MCU stars, Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner and Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel. Director Destin Daniel Cretton, previously best-known for the very different fact-based legal drama Just Mercy, handles himself adeptly in the Marvel formula, both choreographing the various elaborate action sequences deftly and showing a flair for visuals. Ta Lo, another dimension populated with magical creatures, supplies some Avatar-esque eye candy late in the proceedings. Shang-Chi has been said to be doing the same for Asians as Black Panther did for black superheroes, taking a large step toward adding greater diversity and representation to the MCU. The Asian characters and settings (we start in San Francisco but soon jet off to Macau) and fight scenes with a heavy injection of martial arts gives things a markedly different feel than what we’re used to in a comic book superhero movie, and when that’s such an overcrowded field in recent years, it’s welcome to find an installment that freshens things up by doing something different. While the climactic battle is special effects-heavy with characters clashing with magical powers and a real-life Chinese dragon , fans of more old-school martial arts can appreciate two earlier fight scenes, one onboard a bus in San Francisco and one a fight/chase sequence while balancing precariously on scaffolding in Macau. The father-son dynamic and the complicated and conflicted relationships are well-established. In fact, if there’s a significant drawback, it’s that the interpersonal conflicts eventually take a backseat in an eleventh hour concession to blockbuster tropes with a special effects extravaganza climax, and a dragon fighting a giant CGI monster isn’t as compelling as the father versus son battle which precedes it, but the rest of Shang-Chi is so strong that it’s not derailed—although it’s slightly reduced—by its climactic surrender to formula.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' Review: House of Hidden Dragons  - The New York Times

Near-unknown stuntman/martial artist and actor Simu Liu handles himself capably in his first “big break”. Not only does he get plenty of opportunity to show off his nimble physicality and fight moves, he also shows some screen presence and charisma and while this isn’t a particularly challenging acting role, he doesn’t stumble over delivering dialogue convincingly or show any of the awkwardness that sometimes results from stuntmen/martial artists-turned-actors. As his sidekick, Awkwafina provides plenty of comic relief one-liners as well as the occasional more serious moment, and the best friend/sidekick angle gives Shang-Chi and Kate a different dynamic than the usual love interest formula, although one can easily predict this being a divisive character between those who find her funny and those who find her “too much”, similarly to Kat Dennings’ Darcy in the Thor movies (personally I mostly landed in the “funny” camp but occasionally straying into “too much”). Meng’er Zhang is suitably bad-ass as Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing, who has some moves of her own.Tony Leung, a veteran Chinese movie star who might be less familiar to American audiences, in his first English-language role, brings a suitably authoritative presence to Wenwu. Leung’s gravitas and a humanizing script makes Wenwu feel deeper and more dimensional than your standard-issue comic book villain. Like Thanos, he has more complex motivations than just a megalomaniac on a power trip. The gravitas of Leung’s presence is matched by fellow long-established Asian film industry icon Michelle Yeoh, although she doesn’t show up until late in the proceedings and basically serves to deliver some exposition (although she does get to show that, at age 59, she’s still got a few moves). The only other “name” in the cast, Ben Kingsley, is onhand primarily for comic relief and to wrap up a loose end from Iron Man 3, while German-Romanian actor and former heavyweight boxer Florian Munteanu, who played Viktor “son of Ivan” Drago in Creed 2, fills the standard-issue role of the generic henchman.

As a stand-alone comic book superhero origin movie with few connections to the wider MCU, Shang-Chi is engaging and far enough off the beaten path to feel a little fresher than more standard-issue Marvel installments. It remains to be seen how the newest superhero on the block will fit into a more conventional Avengers-style superhero team-up (assuming he’ll eventually take part in one). But as one of the first Marvel films of the post-Endgame era, Shang-Chi makes a strong case for there still being new and fresh places to go in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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