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Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings Review: The Big Marvel Event Movie you’ve been waiting for

Kung-Fu comedy meets superhero family drama….

Marvel’s Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings is seen by many as “Black Panther, but for the Asian Community”, being an introduction of a brand new hero to the MCU with a new corner of the universe to explore and a lot of plot points tied into the characters heritage. However, it’s much more than just that. Shang-Chi is an incredibly entertaining and engaging story carried by great protagonists, complex yet relatable plot points about family and culture, awesome action set pieces, and arguably the best villain in the MCU since Thanos himself. Simply put, if you’ve been looking for the “Big Marvel Event” movie to gather your friends for and go have a great time at the cinema, this is the movie to go watch.

Starring Simu Liu as the titular hero, the movie sees Shang-Chi grow up as the son to a century spanning terrorist and tyrant, having been trained to be an assassin and would-be successor to his father since his childhood. He eventually escapes and hides out in America, changing his name to Sean and essentially living an unremarkable life as a valet with his best friend Katy played by Akwafina. But of course, Shang-Chi’s past eventually catches up with him, with his father concocting a plot that involves his sister, ancient Asian communities and deceased mother. What then transpires is a globe-trotting adventure which develops all the protagonists as well as their villain in a way that few MCU movies have. Director Daniel Day Cretton pulls off an amazing job of developing Shang-Chi as someone who develops the persona of “witty-unfocused-millennial” not just as a cover for his past, but as an expression of who he would want to be as well. Simu Liu portrays the character perfectly as he’s shown to be purely content living a seemingly unflattering life, yet secretly knowing he is the king to an empire. The way him and Katy bounce off each other when confronted with responsibility is perfect comedic timing, and Akwafina does an amazing job bring Katy to life as someone who’s not just close to Shang and possibly knows him best, but also shows a personal journey in finding purpose in her own way as well. If Gweneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts went from supporting character to Iron Man to becoming a wielder of an Iron Man Suit in her own right, I wouldn’t be surprised if Katy grows in importance in the MCU as well.

Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing is another standout, having a story very much determined by her determine to earn her place at the table, both from her male contemporaries and from everyone else. She has a slightly dark, clearly dangerous energy to her that shows she might be an unpredictable player in the marvel universe as it continues, even if she’s mostly on the side of good in this specific movie. Her specific ambition as well, which some could wave away as typical pandering to female audiences, gains more relevance as well when tied with Asian, more specifically Chinese culture in the modern world, where women have essentially been redefining themselves in cultures that were dominated by patriarchy.

Culture and history pay a key part in this film too. In the same way Black Panther used a mix of African languages, had legitimate African actors and even used small nods such as T’Challa’s leather rafters, Shang-Chi references multiple nods to Asian culture, especially in a diverse and modern world where Asian immigrants in the west is a common thing, and the duality of growing up in a foreign society juxtaposed with your own culture resonates not only with Asian immigrants but likely anyone who grows up as a child of an immigrant in any foreign country. The biggest embodiment of culture in this film as well is by far Tony Leung’s Wen Wu , the movie’s villain and technically, the MCU’s real Mandarin with his ten rings.  Presented as a near-immortal tyrant who has been running an order of terrorists for almost 1000 years, Wen Wu is also an embodiment of where cultures begin, how they change, and what must be kept versus what must be adopted. He is a representative of parents stuck within their traditions and history, unable to understand their children who grew up in a different world or unable to understand their needs despite truly loving them. He is also by far one of Marvel’s best villains to date, easily rivaling the likes of Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger or Josh Brolin’s Thanos. While many other villains are driven by big ideas or institutional change, Wen Wu is driven by, ironically, love. That and the guilt that comes with being a man who loses his wife and blames himself for it, turning away from his children in the process and feeding his vendetta. It’s an enchanting performance by Leung which actually often steals the spotlight from our heroes, but in the best way possible and in one that shows why the mostly Asian-based cinema actor deserves many more roles in Hollywood.

 

Then there’s the fight scenes. Well, action scenes in general really. After all it’s a movie about a character whose main perk in the comics is being Marvel’s best martial artist, so you know kung-fu had to be a big part of it. And well it is, to mostly stunning results. The pickiest of kung-fu cinema fans might nitpick how the fights tend to cut a lot in order to not show the less trained actors’ weaker performances, but otherwise almost every fight scene in this flick will have you jumping in your seat. The best ones tend to call back to iconic action movies as well, including Skyfall, Speed and Rush Hour 2. It shows Cretton’s devotion to great action cinema, while his hiring of actors such as Michelle Yeoh and the aforementioned Leung made his devotion to martial arts cinema was represented as well.

Since this is an MCU film, there’s of course also connections to the wider MCU and Marvel films before it too. However, it could be argued this is one of the easiest movies in the franchise to jump into, and a good starting point even for non-marvel fans. The references that are there tend to feel necessary or at least fit the general narrative, while the best one fixes what many considered to be the biggest fail of Iron Man 3 with it’s twist on The Mandarin. We won’t spoil much but we’ll just say it’s done in the best way possible, honoring the original comic villain, as well as the spoof version Iron Man 3 came up with. Add in some much-needed love to Benedict Wong’s Wong from Dr Strange, and you have a great set up to the future of Shang-Chi in the MCU.

The only area where the movie perhaps doesn’t quite hit it out the park is in its supporting villains. While the Ten Rings terrorist organization is hinted at being feared and revered in the movie and having it’s debut in the first Iron Man movie, it’s generals in the movie, Razorfist and Death Dealer leave more to be desired. Razorfist especially is hinted at having a more complex relationship with Wenwu , perhaps being stepson of sorts to him, however this is barely ever seen or acknowledged in the film and may as well have been scrapped. Death Dealer follows suit, being intimidating as a physical foe and reminder of Shang-Chi’s past, but having no character of his own. The movie also teases a lot of unanswered concepts about the lore behind the actual ten ring weapons as well as their history, but it’s likely that’s all set up for future Shang-Chi and other MCU projects.

All in all, Shang-Chi is arguably one of the best movies we’ve reviewed this year, rivaled only by the likes of The Suicide Squad in executing it’s core concepts and arguably unrivaled in how well it utilizes it’s characters and cast. It’s an amazing watch with both Marvel and non-Marvel fans and  worth checking out if you have any love for the cinema at all. Now go watch it!

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