Whether you love or hate comic book/superhero movies, it’s fair to say that many of them end up feeling a lot alike. Originality in blockbusters can often be in short supply, so when something, especially based on a pre-existing property, does something different, it’s noticeable. Marvel certainly has a formula or template for their films, and it works. The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is proof of that much. However, that’s not to say that a breath of fresh air for the MCU doesn’t go a long way, because it does. Well, we certainly have one with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Initially a potential question mark as a stand-alone character, this is one of Marvel’s best origin stories. Not only is it supremely entertaining, it showcases a superhero we’ve never seen before. I can all but guarantee that you’ll be chomping at the bit for more once this one is over.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has equal amounts of action, heart, and humor. The result is as satisfying an outing as Marvel has had in some time. By moving out of their comfort zone, they’ve found an almost universally appealing tale to tell. Shang-Chi will certainly be one of their prime characters moving forward, and with good reason, too. He’s a winner.
After a prologue that introduces the powerful ten rings, lusted after for centuries and currently worn by crime lord Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), who runs a syndicate named after the rings we meet his son, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu). Despite his upbringing, he’s currently living in San Francisco as Simon, valet parking cars along with his fellow slacker pal in Katy (Awkwafina). Everyone assumes both of them have more to offer the world, but no one realizes just how much he is holding back. Then, when the pair are attacked on a bus, Katy sees Shang-Chi’s martial arts skills in action. Knowing that his dangerous father is after him and hoping to protect his sister, he sets out to save her, with Katy tagging along.
Their quest brings them East, where they find Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) hardly to be a damsel in distress. Before long, Wenwu finds them, reuniting his family. To their surprise, what he wants is to rescue his wife/their mother Jiang Li (Fala Chen) from another realm. His children know she’s passed on, but he’s driven to save her, leading to a conflict with the realm, one that threatens the entire universe. Here, Shang-Chi will truly find his calling and his purpose, becoming a hero the world can unite behind.
Simu Liu is instantly one of Marvel’s biggest new stars. Liu and really the entire cast shine, lending the film with a ton of personality and vibrancy. He’s able to showcase the inner turmoil of Shang-Chi without ever making him a maudlin character. In short order, he’s become an MCU, I can all but guarantee it. In addition to Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, and Michelle Yeoh (in a pivotal supporting role really stand out). Leung and Yeoh have been great before, but this may introduce them to a whole new audience, and that’s wonderful. Supporting players, besides those mentioned above, include Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, and a few cameos I don’t want to spoil. Trust me, one in particular is an absolute riot.
Filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton may not have been the obvious choice here, but he’s the right one. Cretton makes Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are luscious affair, with incredible action sequences and a fully beating heart. Along with cinematographer Bill Pope and composer Joel P. West, the fight scenes are easily among Marvel’s best. Cretton’s screenplay, co-written by Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham, is so full of humor that this is one of the MCU’s funniest flicks. Admittedly, the pacing drags a bit in the third act, which has one CGI fight that’s a bit unnecessary, but by and large, the filmmaking shines here.
It’s the combination of an effective family tale, laugh out loud humor, and vibrant action that lets Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stand out. In fact, it would hardly be an exaggeration to suggest that this movie will fuel younger fans to seek out martial arts films from the past. Not a ton of comic book flicks can boast that, but this one sure can.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will thrill Marvel fans. Martial arts lovers should dig it too. Really, almost anyone can get on board with this superhero film. It’s upper echelon MCU and just a ridiculously good time at the movies. This one comes highly recommended, folks, and not just if you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, either (though it proves by the end to be essential to Phase Four). It’s just plain great.