When you are 25 movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it becomes increasingly challenging to create unique and worthwhile experiences. With Shang-Chi being the first newcomer in a while, there has been considerable pressure on the release of this movie. However, this movie does succeed at offering some twists on the standard Marvel experience.
Shang-Chi is the son of Wenwu, keeper of the all-powerful Ten Rings, and leader of the ruthless Ten Rings army. Shang-Chi has long since fled from that life, but when circumstances rope him back into the fight, he is forced to confront his father, reconcile with his past and choose who he wants to be. This conflict between father and son is the driving factor of the story.
The famous Tony Leung as Wenwu is a standout in the movie. He is both an intimidating and tragic villain, making him one of the more memorable recent MCU antagonists. Meanwhile, Simu Liu is quite charismatic as Shang-Chi, serving as both a relatable everyman and a highly skilled fighter. I also appreciated Shang-Chi’s best friend Katy (played by Aquafina), as their platonic relationship is refreshing to see in a superhero movie, and their comedic banter is hilarious.
During the battle sequences, the martial arts are superb, diverging away from standard MCU quick-cut fight scenes. The choreography and cinematography of each fight are able to shine – so much so that I frankly preferred the more grounded action scenes than the fantastical fights that would come later. However, that’s getting too close to spoiler territory (but the third act is indeed an interesting spectacle).
Good acting and awesome choreography are all well and good, but what about the story? A highlight of Shang-Chi’s story is the theme of identity, as he continually runs away from his past and attempts to separate himself from the legacy of his brutal father. The contrast of these characters is intriguing, but this grounded familial could have been explored a little further. Supporting characters are often underutilized, and with such a talented cast that can be disappointing. Along with questionable pacing and common superhero-finale pitfalls, the film’s own emotional identity can feel occasionally muddied.
Still, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” does indeed have an identity. In celebrating Chinese culture and pushing for Asian representation in Hollywood, the movie successfully gives a voice to a population generally ignored or trivialized in blockbusters. Combined with beautiful fight sequences and likable characters, there’s no denying that this movie is a good time. Ultimately, I can’t wait to see more of Shang-Chi in future Marvel projects.