Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

With Marvel rebuilding its Cinematic Universe following Avengers: Endgame, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings proves to be an unexpected delight (especially for a studio who steadfastly refused to create a female-driven movie for a decade). We're given an Asian cast and director (Destin Daniel Cretton), and a focus in a new direction. Based on the lesser-known character Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings isn't an origin story nor does it feel forcibly tied down to the rest of the MCU in any way. Instead, the film feels like a breath of fresh air where anything is possible.

Simu Liu stars as Shang-Chi, hiding his martial arts prowess from his best-friend Katy (Awkwafina) while living under the radar. But his past comes calling which will force him to confront his father Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), AKA the Mandarin. The movie doesn't shy away from the version of the Mandarin from Iron Man 3, in fact it finds a rather clever way to deal with it.

As expected, the movie's effects are first rate with some impressive production design befitting a big-budget Marvel film. The choice to make the Mandarin's rings into bracelets allows for them to be more visually appealing on the big screen, and the film is filled with some terrific action scenes (my favorite of which takes place on the side of a building). Liu proves to be a likable leading man, and Awkwafina works in the role of comic relief sidekick (although I was pleased when the film began to use Katy for more than just this purpose). We don't get to spend as much time with Xialing, but Meng'er Zhang is memorable as Shang-Chi's sister who, of everyone presented here, feels like she has a larger story still to be developed.

Given its fresh take, its Asian influences, and its large creatures saved for the final act, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like a Marvel film mashed up with Godzilla. The result turns out to be a hell of a lot of fun. If I have a complaint about the final act, it's that after waiting more than a decade we finally get a dragon in the MCU but he's not wearing purple underpants. If there was ever a time to bring Fin Fang Foom to life, this certainly feels like the right place. Maybe in the sequel? Because it feels largely disconnected, I don't know that the film is a must-see as a stepping stone to what Marvel is building to in Phase 4. However, as an entertaining stand alone film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is definitely worth your time.

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