After such a big ending to Phase 3 with Avengers: Endgame, it’s hard to think how Marvel will top itself. Black Widow was the first film to drop for this new phase, but Shang-Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like a true start. This exciting new component helps energize the universe, such as new mythology that’s incredible to the lore. This is certainly the first Asian-led superhero film for the MCU. Audiences seem to be excited for this movie as it’s breaking box office records this weekend. It’s a fantastic picture that combines charm and amazing fighting into an exciting watch.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is now playing in theatres.
Story: Newfound Origins
It’s always great to see a hero’s journey progress and see where they came from. Shang-Chi abandoned everything when he was young and started anew to escape from his past. The theme of family is played amazingly in the story that really elevates the emotional core. The internal scars that he carries from the days are well played out. Flashbacks showing the grueling training and the horrors he witnessed hit home how much he went through. Although, during one crucial reveal, they do a lot of telling instead of showing, which would have been shocking and a huge risk but would have been well worth it.
The movie also does a good job of introducing a whole new side to this vast world with the Ten Rings and Ta Lo. While The Ten Rings have been featured in the Iron Man series, this movie makes them feel like a legitimate threat. They’re ruthless warriors led by someone who’s had thousands of years of combat. It’s interesting to see the impact that this organization has going forward. On the flip side, we get this mysticism with Ta Lo that feels like a new iconic landmark for this series. We’ll talk about Ta Lo in a similar vein to Wakanda from Black Panther. How their culture works and their weapons made out of dragon scales are exceptional.
Characters & Performance: A Fresh New Ensemble
Simu Liu makes a huge impression in his first movie in the MCU, and his presence fits in naturally. He does a good job of making Shang-Chi someone who’s relatable and lets his flaws shine. This isn’t a person who’s perfect in every way but is struggling to find his path in life. There’s also this charm to him that makes you want to root for him and join along on the journey. Even though it’s his first movie, the possibilities of Simu Liu in the MCU will make any fan excited. To see where Shang-Chi heads next and thinking about his future encounters with other heroes will have the mind racing.
His chemistry with Awkwafina, who plays Shang-Chi’s best friend Katy, is off the charts, and I’m so pleasantly surprised that they’re portrayed as platonic friends. It’s a route that you don’t see in movies as usually, the main leads end up in a romantic plot. Even movies in the MCU are guilty of this, like Doctor Strange, which features our two leads getting together even though they didn’t spend much time on-screen building this. Here, we get two best friends who are confined to each other and have each other’s back. The banter that they have is easily some of the best laughs in the movie.
In a sea of great performances, Tony Cheung gives the strongest one. I still can’t believe Marvel actually got such a legend in Hong Kong cinema on board for this movie. It’s interesting how he plays him as a man who’s seen a lot over the centuries. There’s this calm presence from a warrior who’s seen it all and is more like an older man. Yet, that makes him more imitating as he can strike you at any time. While not number one, Xu Wenwu should be considered one of the top MCU villains.
Cinematography & Sound: Show Off Your Action
These fight scenes are absolutely incredible to watch. The smart aspect that they mail is not cutting away too quickly. A good chunk of modern action movies features a lot of cuts in a pretty quick manner that you can’t make out what’s really going on. Here, we get sequences that have long, uninterrupted shots that really relish into the fights. It’s movies like this that love to relish how great their choreography is and let the audience marvel in its glory. The best sequence is right in the first act with the bus scene. We get very few cuts that show off why Shang-Chi is one of the best. There’s also a huge Jackie Chan influence during this clip as it combines action with comedy.
It fits with the MCU style of humor and really elevates Simu Liu’s charm to new heights. Another great highlight is the musical score from Joel P. West. Shang-Chi’s main theme, “Xu Shang-Chi,” is prominent throughout the movie and is pretty catchy. When you hear those strings play eloquently, there’s something that is about to go down. Interestingly, his theme is taking many notes from two other tracks, “Your Mother” and “Your Father.” We get those beautiful string notes from “Your Mother” representing the light in him, while the sinister darkness from “Your Father” also plays a big part. It’s a great sense of duality that we hear from this motif.
Editing & Pacing: Mostly Smooth
It’s tricky dealing with an origin story and trying to bring everything together. Despite a hefty task, they do a respectful job of navigating Shang-Chi’s journey. They carefully edit in flashbacks that show the ups and downs of his childhood. When you think you get the big picture, they carefully reveal more layers and depth to this character.
Everything goes smoothly until the third act. It’s one of those final battles that you think will end at some point but then drags on. Doing that once is fine, but it happened three times in a span of 20 minutes. That and there’s some last-minute exposition that gets rushed in to explain the battle. You start not paying attention, and you’re introduced to new pivotal information.