Saturday, 4 September 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Movie Review)

Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was meant to kick off with Black Widow. But as anyone who had seen my review of that film would remember, I hadn't been too pleased with how it turned out. My main gripe stemmed from the fact that it didn't really move the MCU forward in any meaningful way, nor did it manage to do more than attempt to fill the gap between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.

So we've basically had to rely on Disney+ shows like Loki and WandaVision to set the stage for the current phase of the MCU, which they have to varying degrees. Loki in particular looks like it might have long-reaching ramifications for films like Spider-Man: No Way Home as well as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But out of everything we've gotten in Phase Four thus far, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like its first true springboard for what's to come.

Set in the post-Blip portion of the MCU timeline, the film stars Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, a trained warrior who has long since turned his back on his family and their ways. He now spends his days working in LA as a valet with his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina). But after his father (Tony Leung) and leader of the Ten Rings criminal organization sends a number of his foot soldiers to hunt him down, he finds himself drawn back into the life he thought he'd already left behind.

As far as MCU origin stories go, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of the best ones yet. It was certainly leagues above Black Widow, which didn't even feel like an origin story in the strictest of terms. This one introduces its title character and his particular corner of the MCU, without feeling like it was merely treading the same ground that past MCU origin films had, most of which is due to its talented cast, and the chemistry between them.
 
Simi Liu shines as Shang-Chi, delivering a performance that was strong enough to carry the movie. But he was of course helped along by Awkafina, who provided much of the comic relief. It was easy to buy into their friendship because both actors manage to make it look so pure and effortless. And Tony Leung plays what is now another top-tier MCU villain in the form of Wenwu, aka. the real Mandarin. There were several nods to the earlier iteration of the character throughout the film, none of which I will spoil here. 

But by far the biggest facet of the movie that I enjoyed was the fight choreography. The movie boasts some of the best action scenes in the MCU, borrowing heavily from Chinese cinema to create some truly jaw-dropping wire stunts that immediately call to mind films like Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Fans of such films and Chinese mythology in general would definitely have plenty to ogle at, especially since it fully embraces their more fantastical side, unlike the recent Mulan live-action adaptation.

This is incidentally the one area of the movie that I found didn't always live up to that same high quality. I'm of course talking about the special effects, which were definitely special and spectacularly so for the most part. Some of it was convincing enough, while others were borderline cartoonish. This was especially true during the climax, where these MCU films typically tend to get CGI heavy. But all of that is par for the course, so it shouldn't really work to pull you out of the experience that much.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is proof that Kevin Feige and his team of writers still have a few tricks up their sleeves. They've crafted a world that feels just as integral to the overall MCU as everything that came before it. That they've done that while telling a story that was both heartwarming and awe-inspiring bodes well for the future of the franchise. And if this is any indication of what we can expect from these movies post-Avengers: Endgame, then fans still have a lot to look forward to.

2 comments:

  1. I found it completely refreshing. Plenty of connections to the MC universe but the film stands on its own without it. Great action and a lot of heart. Michelle Yeoh was really impressive - late fifties and she still has the moves! Looking forward to seeing this one again.

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    1. Same here. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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