Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Film Review

shang chi

Courtesy of Disney

Shang-Chi may be a lesser-known Marvel comic book character but don’t go thinking that means his origins movie is going to be weak, boring or not worth your time – the Legend of the Ten Rings is another solid instalment in the MCU.

When we first meet Shaun/Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), we think he’s just this regular guy who works as a parking valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) at a San Francisco hotel. His past life is revealed when members of the Ten Rings show up to steal his late mother’s pendant. He realises his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) must be plotting something and tries to track down his estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) so they can stop his plans together.

First things first, the action sequences are unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU so far. The fights are so inventive, exciting and different to the usual combat scenes we see in Marvel films. They were like a breath of fresh air and I couldn’t get enough. I’ve always preferred hand-to-hand combat to gunfights so I adored seeing such spectacularly choreographed and cleanly executed martial arts in a Marvel film. They were edited in a clear and logical way so you could follow what was happening. The standout scenes included the extraordinary bus fight and a jaw-dropping scaffolding setpiece – these both look so freaking cool – and Wenwu and Shang-Chi’s mother Jiang Li (Fala Chen)’s first standoff; it was gorgeous and like a dance.

So it’s a shame that does what almost every other Marvel film does in the final showdown – becomes a huge CGI mess. It was so disappointing as it had been refreshingly different up until that point and I had hoped it wouldn’t fall into that trap. Once the gigantic CGI beasts were introduced, I lost faith in it a little and didn’t care about the outcome of the story as much.

Speaking of story, I liked how the film balanced heartfelt family drama with the superhero sequences; it offered more depth than some other MCU movies while still managing to deliver the goods on the action and comedy fronts, both Marvel pre-requisites. I was also impressed by how much is spoken in Chinese and I know this will mean a lot in terms of representation. However, I thought the pace dipped slightly in the middle and there were perhaps too many flashbacks, even though these were really interesting, informative and helped us gradually understand the family’s history. They just slowed down the main narrative.

This film, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, is designed to be the origins story for Shang-Chi and his introduction into the MCU but I didn’t think the story served him, as an individual, particularly well. I liked the family dynamics, their history and his platonic relationship with Katy but I didn’t get a great sense of who he was on his own. Perhaps further films will address this. This isn’t anything against Liu, who is physically impressive in the role. He is a surefire action star and I loved watching him fight. He has a background in martial arts and gymnastics and you could tell that he did a lot of his own stunts.

He has a great rapport with Awkwafina, who serves as the audience’s eyes into the world of the Ten Rings. She tags along for the ride and provides the comedy, although not as much of her motormouth shtick as usual. Leung grounds Wenwu and gives him humanity and a solid reasoning for his actions so he’s more than your average hammy superhero villain. Zhang is so damn cool and very kickass, while Michelle Yeoh is an action legend and I was delighted to see her onscreen. I didn’t enjoy Ben Kingsley‘s return as Iron Man 3’s Trevor Slattery as much as others seemed to. Besides one laugh-out-loud moment, I found him amusing but a bit too oddball to be truly funny.

With the exception of the disappointing showdown, Shang-Chi is a great Marvel movie with stunning visuals, locations and costumes, beautiful music and the best hand-to-hand combat the MCU has seen so far. Make sure you stay until the very very end.

In cinemas Friday 3rd September

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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