To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a superhero wuxia fantasy film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. It’s the 25th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the second film in their Phase Four slate. The film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and stars Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung. Set sometime after the events of Avengers: Endgame, the film follows Shang-Chi, a skilled martial artist who was trained at a young age to be an assassin by his father, secretly living a normal life in San Francisco with his best friend Katy. After being attacked by the mysterious Ten Rings organization Shang-Chi must confront his past and stop his father from releasing a great evil upon the world.
While Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like an MCU film, it comes at it from fresh eyes almost from the perspective of a spectator. Connections to other films are minimal with the main thread being the Ten Rings organization that appeared in the Iron Man Trilogy. We also come to find out that the Ten Rings organization we see in those films is a copycat of the true Ten Rings organization which was effectively underground while Wen Wu was taking care of his family. This film has some of the best fight choreography seen in the MCU harkening back to the fights from The Legend of the Drunken Master or better yet Jackie Chan Adventures. This movie is very different than previous MCU films due to the use of true martial arts as opposed to the mixed martial arts seen throughout the MCU so far. The fighting is shown to have more nuance and grace. This fresh style of fighting is a treat for the eyes that feels natural and needed. The cinematography presented in the film is beautiful showing the fight scenes vividly amongst a variety of backgrounds. William Pope makes use of grand locations that are glorious to look at. There are large sweeping shots showing the scope of the locale where the scenes take place. Pope previously worked on The Matrix Trilogy and used what he learned from those films and others to create the spectacle present in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It is a feast for the eyes to see these mythical sets brought to you in real life. This is the first Marvel film to open up to the grandeur of nature coupled with the mythological animals.
At its core, this is a story about family, friendship, and accepting your past to pave the way for a better future. What truly shines in this film is the relationship between Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Kati (Awkwafina). They are a rarely seen in film platonic friendship between members of the opposite sex. They are not coupled together at the end nor does a love story form throughout. We are just shown their genuine friendship as the story unfolds and it is wonderful to see. It is a great break away from the traditional MCU films where the female companion eventually falls in love with the male character, i.e. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Ant-Man, etc. This is helped by Simu Liu being a relative newcomer. Therefore most audience members wont connect him with any prior characters and Awkwafina plays the part of a lovable silly friend perfectly. I can’t wait to see these two interact with the other characters in the MCU.
The film includes some of the traditional Marvel cinematic universe humor that can turn fans off. When it works it works and when it doesn’t it hurts. There are jokes made in this film that feel out of place. I do feel that once again Marvel drop the ball on creating a truly menacing Mandarin. In the film, Wen Wu (Tony Leung) is less of a villain and more of a troubled soul. Very similar to how Dracula was presented in Netflix’s Castlevania adaptation. We are shown vignettes of his criminal past and how ruthless he was, but eventually, he was tamed by a strong-willed woman, settled down, and started a family. Once this is taken from him he reverts to his old ways but is never truly the man he once was. Due to this story arc, they add in a final villain which is a throwaway “monster of the week.” This took away from the Mandarin getting to be the true villain of the film. Other villains such as Razor Fist and Death Dealer also appear to be one-note. Either comically switching sides at the drop of a dime or dying unceremoniously for a less interesting villain. There are also a few leaps of logic within the plot that you have to accept to have the film make sense. And while the cinematography is mostly great, some of the scenes in the film are shot a bit darker with the addition of mist and fog making it hard to see the action.
The film isn’t too set apart from the MCU and has small Easter eggs throughout that connect to the greater universe. Some connecting to past films i.e. Trevor Slattery, while others plant seeds for the future, such as the implication of the Abomination being out of prison and a Black Widow fighting in a cage match among other powerful people.
Overall Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is heartfelt and hilarious with enough action to please any Marvel fan. I love all the new characters this film added to the universe and the friendship between Shang-Chi and Katy. While it’s not a top-tier Marvel, it feels fresh, different than anything we’ve had before. I give Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings a Decent 8/10. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes a trilogy because it’d be great to see Shang-Chi interact with another Marvel martial artist who we all know as The Iron Fist.