After losing touch with his past, Shang-Chi is pulled back into the Ten Rings organization after his father sends members of that group after him. Once he returns to the birthplace of his mother, Shang-Chi must find the strength to fight back against one very personal foe, and a supernatural foe which will test him to his limits.
To be honest, I wasn’t all that sure where Marvel would take its long running MCU after the Infinity Saga was done. Sure, there’s more lesser known characters and storylines, but how could they all be weaved together like the previous saga was? Marvel initially started fairly grounded with Iron Man. Then, they started slowly introducing the characters and settings from space and galaxies beyond in films like Thor and, eventually, Guardians of the Galaxy. It was a gamble, betting that audiences were open to more otherworldly characters and storylines. But it paid off big. And the Infinity Saga evolved into the fantastic cinematic universe that we all know and love.
Now that that storyline has been wrapped up, where is there to go? Individual characters can be introduced and continued, but what is the next big thing that Marvel is willing to gamble on, much like its space travel element from the previous films? They started introducing the concept of time travel with Doctor Strange and really dove into it with Endgame and it was awesome. Now, the concept of multiverses and supernatural enemies has been introduced, the latter of which was central for Marvel’s latest film.
I’ve got to say, after seeing this film and after watching Loki and What If… on Disney+, I am completely excited for what this next phase of the MCU has to offer. Shang Chi, in particular, focuses more on Marvel’s supernatural side and introduces us to a whole new type of hero not seen in any of the other films. The Asian roots and the addition (finally) of kung fu and other Far Eastern arts is a welcomed addition to what could otherwise be a fairly familiar storyline of father versus son.
Yes, while the rivalry between Shang-Chi and his father is nothing new, there is something about this story that takes it up a notch. The introduction of the REAL Ten Rings, both the group and the rings themselves (they were hinted at in Iron Man and Iron Man 3, although they were changed quite a bit for the purposes of that storyline) makes for a very interesting origin story. Bringing the art of kung fu to this story just elevates it more. From some fight scenes that are very claustrophobic and brutal, to some that are more of a dance than a fight, there are many different types and feels all throughout this film. And when all of this is combined with the more fantastical elements of the film, what you end up with with some very well choreographed and exciting fight scenes that bring me back to the days of watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers. Visually beautiful, colorful, original, they are all here.
The main characters in Shang-Chi are surprisingly grounded and, more than anyone else in the MCU, are more everyday characters than what we have seen before. The non romantic, best friend chemistry between Simu Liu and the hilarious Awkwafina is a type of relationship that hasn’t been shown in many films. Their banter back and forth with so many of the hilarious lines coming from Awkwafina herself are one of the many highlights of this film. One thing that is often overlooked when casting actors that can bring these characters to life is what they have to bring to the role. The role of Shang-Chi needs to be one that take some great acting chops but also needs a great degree of martial arts training. A big problem with most movies is that actors are cast in the roles of martial artists, rather than actually finding someone who can act and is a formally trained martial artist. That’s where Simu Liu shines. He handles the dramatic and comedic turns great and, as a stuntman and martial artist, makes the fight scenes and completely believable and gives the editors a lot to work with since they don’t have to hide behind quick cuts and shaky cams and shooting from behind a character to hide his stunt double. This is how these types of movies should be cast.
While Tony Leung takes on the familiar role of the evil father, he commands a great amount of presence and really does a great job showing his character’s evil and tortured side as well as the side of him that would do anything to have his love back. And speaking of a commanding presence, the awesome Michelle Yeoh makes a late appearance in this film as Shang-Chi’s aunt. I’ve been watching her films all the way back to her earlier days in Hong Kong martial arts classics. She definitely rounds out a great cast along with some other cameos and characters, one of whom viewers may or may not like from earlier MCU films. Once you see it, you’ll know what I’m talking about, so I won’t spoil it.
Overall, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings brings a refreshing element of mysticism and a different type of action to the MCU. And while the villain is still a bit forgettable (something Marvel does tend to struggle with) and, at just over two hours and ten minutes, it does suffer from a few scenes that are dragged out more than they should have been. But those are minor flaws in a film where the positives far outweigh the negatives. Being the 25th film in the Marvel franchise, it still manages to bring an original style and feel and is a fantastic and magical filled story that has me excited for the rest of what phase four and beyond has to offer.
Check out my other reviews and Top 10s over at the Film Corner and stay tuned for more!