RELEASED: September 3rd 2021
DISTRIBUTED BY: Walt Disney Studios
DIRECTED BY: Destin Daniel Cretton
WRITTEN BY: Destin Daniel Cretton, Dave Callaham & Andrew Lanham
PRODUCED BY: Kevin Feige & Jonathan Schwartz
MUSIC BY: Joel P. West
STARRING: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh & Tony Leung
REVIEW: Ever since Marvel announced their ‘Phase Four’ of films, there’s been a lot to look forward to. Thor: Love and Thunder, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Spider-Man: No Way Home obviously stood out to me due to the fact they star my favourite characters, but it was the unknown element of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings that intrigued me the most.
Sure, I’ve read comics featuring the character before, but he’s hardly a big name. Fortunately, after what director Destin Daniel Cretton and his crew have done with him in Marvel’s latest blockbuster, I feel that’s about to change.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings finds the eponymous hero ten years after he has absconded from his father’s villainous organisation, the titular Ten Rings (previously seen in the Iron Man movies). But when his past catches up with him, Shang-Chi must drop the facade that is his life as a San Franciscan valet and embrace his skills as master martial artist, as he and his best friend Katy go on a quest to stop his father from awakening an unspeakable evil.
The thing that stood out the most to me about this film are it’s differences from other Marvel movies. I feel like that sentiment gets thrown around a lot in recent years (‘Winter Soldier‘s a political thriller’, ‘Black Widow is a spy movie’, ‘Ragnarok is a full-on comedy’, etc), and I’m certainly guilty of that, but here it feels more true than ever.
It’s more magical than Doctor Strange, more mythical than Thor. It leans into Chinese culture and mythology to conjure up awe-inspiring visuals and instill in viewers a sense of wonder in a way a lot of its peers don’t quite manage. It’s an enchanting experience that’s tethered to reality by a touching and somewhat relatable story of family, and is at its best when it’s distancing itself from the more formulaic Marvel elements in favour of those Chinese influences.
Sometimes, that’s through the use of an array of beautiful locales and fascinating mythical creatures (Chinese Guardian Lions, Dragons, Dijiang, Kitsune, Phoenixes), brought to life in some stunning visual sequences, that are complimented quite nicely by the classical Chinese-influenced score.
And other times, as you might expect from a comic book character dubbed ‘the Master of Kung-Fu’, that’s through the action. Shang-Chi‘s action choreography is a step above anything else Marvel has put out. At times, it’s hard-hitting and visceral, at others it’s beautifully elegant. Even better, unlike many other Marvel movies, the action is framed and shot clearly, allowing you easily follow what’s going on. No quick cuts or shaky cam here. The actors (/stunt crews) dance across the screen with an amazing level of grace and skill, making every action sequence a stand-out performance in and of itself.
Speaking of performances, the cast of this film do a fantastic job. The charismatic star Simu Liu gives a great turn as Shang-Chi, as he sells the character as vulnerable, yet highly capable. He’s written and performed in a way that makes him more relatable than many other Marvel heroes, as he remains incredibly grounded even after we’ve seen him flying around the screen or dispatching squads of villainous goons. His chemistry with co-star Awkwafina is undeniable, and the pair’s on-screen friendship is consistently entertaining. Meng’er Zhang, Michelle Yeoh and Fala Chen also do a fantastic job of bringing Shang-Chi’s family to life, making them fascinating and kick-ass characters in their own right.
But it is perhaps acclaimed Chinese actor Tony Leung who steals the show as Shang-Chi’s father, Xu Wenwu. A departure from the comic characters he’s based on (Mandarin and Fu Manchu/Zheng Zu), Leung imbues Wenwu with a great deal of emotion. While he presents as a threatening adversary for the title character, it’s clear that he’s not really a villain. Instead, he’s more of a tragic character – an overbearing father, a broken-hearted husband, a tired, beaten man yearning for what he’s lost. It’s a phenomenal performance, and Leung quickly secures himself a spot among Marvel’s greatest
As I said, it’s a film that is full of wonder. It’s fun. It’s heartfelt. And it’s a section of the Marvel world I’d love to see more of. The ground it treads makes me think they could perhaps redeem the Iron Fist property in future installments, which I’d love to see, but I have enough faith in the creators that I’d be down for whatever path they choose to go.
All-in-all, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a blast. It’s probably one of the (if not the) best origin movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to the extent that even my girlfriend (who likes these films but isn’t a die-hard fan like myself) came out saying it was one of her favourite installments in the MCU, period.
As such, I give it…
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