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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review

Origin stories might be difficult to tell. It gets trickier when you don’t simply have to stand on your own, but also have to play a part in a larger picture. The MCU has officially entered a new era, and being the 25th installment in the canon places Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings squarely in the crosshairs. It doesn’t help that the trailer for our new hero wasn’t particularly intriguing. This simply makes me more excited to say that the picture, in all of its generic brilliance, is a riot.

Following the Infinity Saga, the MCU has really honed in on its character-focused storylines. The Black Widow picture felt so far removed from reality that director Cate Shortland had to force her hand to wrap up loose ends in what has to be Marvel movie history’s most dismal post-credit sequence.

The television adaptations, minus WandaVision, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and Loki, leveraged their well-developed and adored characters to construct a web of weird and uninteresting plot that even the most devoted fans had to abandon. Thankfully, filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) is on hand to repair some of the harm done by these superficially appealing but entirely unneeded distractions.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, as the MCU’s next stride into the future, exudes novelty from the start. Unlike previous installments, this one begins with a mother telling a story to her child. Director Cretton takes care not to dumb down his plot for the average moviegoer, and the entire 15-minute opening sequence is shot in Chinese, with subtitles to the rescue. Everything, including the voice-over and our first meeting with Wenwu (played by Tony Leung), forces the audience to sit up and pay attention.

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The masterfully staged and photographed sequence immerses us in Wenwu’s dual character. The deft planning hints at both his dark history and his gentler and more intimate family-man worldview. It also introduces us to the tale of the ten rings and its power, while simultaneously showing Wenwu as the apparently wicked, power-hungry guy he once was. The beginning also helps us comprehend Cretton’s perspective of this story, which primarily mixes ongoing action with a balanced view into the past.

While the film’s concern with past may be off-putting to some, I didn’t mind being taken into these individuals. It helped me understand them, their themes, and their way of life a little better. The first time we meet our hero, he is not Shang-Chi but Shaun, and he is working low-paying jobs in San Francisco. He is accompanied by his amusing, bumbling, but endearing pal Katy (Awkwafina). They’re both slackers until they’re cornered on their way to work on a bus by a squad lead by Razor Fist (Munteanu).

Shaun is obliged to take drastic action by informing his best friend Katy of his true identity and the reason for the attack. He also warns her that the whole thing may happen to his now-estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and that he needs to start moving before things get out of hand. Katy, who isn’t quite ready to grow up, decides to stick around as a true friend. The two of them end up in increasingly perilous circumstances, and heated pranks ensue.

Now, the picture adheres to a number of formulaic MCU baits. Aside from the globe-trotting, internal intrigue, and daddy issues, Shang-Chi subverts the basic drive for power for a more personal and intimate fight. Shang-Chi and his sibling Xialing have both fled Wenwu and his army (dubbed the Ten Rings). The domineering, docile personality of their father Wenwu, along with his grief-stricken disillusionment, is far more dangerous and interesting than the storytelling beats we’ve come to expect from the MCU.

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While this doesn’t make Shang-character Chi’s any more engaging, these subversive approaches help us comprehend the arc that filmmaker Cretton is aiming for. Because this genesis story is inevitably a coming-of-age story, we may expect to witness more dimensions of his personality in what follows. The fact that Cretton is able to debunk racial preconceptions offers spectators ample tolerance to embrace this fully-developed story as a vital offering in the MCU.

When it comes to the action, the martial-arts sequences are simply magnificent. The two events in the first act of the film (particularly the bus battle) are so well-executed that it’s difficult to tear your gaze away from the screen. The fistfights owe a lot to Hong Kong martial arts cinema from the 1980s, as well as fight coordinators Andy Cheng and the late Brad Allan. They make these set-pieces exhilarating, intense, and enjoyable all at the same time. Unfortunately, the same cannot be true for the climactic combat, which responds to a shitload of CGI (most of which is actually rather nasty), invariably sucking away the fun that one had with it initially.

When it comes to performances, Tony Leung is the clear standout. He is terrifying as the immortal ring-bearer and as a father who is unsure what he needs to do to keep his family together. Simu Liu isn’t especially good in his role, but his friendship with Awkwafina helps a lot. There’s no one who can equal Awkwafina’s dialogue delivery, and after her starring role in A24’s The Farewell, it’s easy to see why she’s a perfect fit in Marvel’s formula of funny sidekicks.

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Overall, Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings is a strong introduction in the MCU’s new age. It’s more entertaining, fast-paced, and emotionally appealing than one might expect. Few blunders, such as its fixation with righting the wrongs of previous MCU films, and delving in Chinese mythology, feel extraneous. When the disputes are this personal, though, one is compelled to become invested.

Duration: 132 min

Release:

IMDb: 7.5

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

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