Marvel launches Phase 4 with a fantastic, fresh film
By Diana Beechener
Shaun (Simu Liu: Kim’s Convenience) is an affable slacker living in San Francisco. He can speak multiple languages and is clearly brilliant, but Shaun is content to spend his days as a valet and his nights drinking and singing karaoke with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina: Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens). It’s not a meaningful life, per se, but it’s certainly fun.
When a bunch of toughs show up on a city bus and threaten violence, everyone is surprised when Shaun springs to action, beating the snot out of everyone. Katy, and most of the other commuters, have some questions for their surprising savior.
It turns out Shaun is actually Shang-Chi, son of fearsome warlord Wenwu (Tony Leung: Europe Raiders), who runs the Ten Rings. If you don’t remember, in Iron Man 3 there was a terrorist organization called the Ten Rings, headed by the questionable Mandarin. While that organization turned out to be a sham, the Ten Rings and the man who runs them are very real. The Ten Rings are literal rings that festoon Wenwu’s arms, granting him both immortality and heightened physical powers. He used these gifts to amass an army and influence world events in his quest to gain money and power.
I’ll be honest, your intrepid reviewer was getting pretty sick of superhero movies. Whether it was DC with their overly-serious blue-filtered nonsense, or Marvel’s sky-beam set pieces and predictable beats, it all blurred together into one big CGI mass-market mess. Thankfully Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a much-needed breath of fresh air for the MCU.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy) manages to hit all the typical Marvel beats—the hero’s journey, a CGI monster, a disaster to avert, a magical land—but without it feeling like the same film we’ve been watching since Tony Stark emerged from a cave in the first Iron Man suit.
Cretton clearly drew inspiration from the Wuxia genre, a martial arts storytelling style. The fight scenes are breathtaking. Unlike the weightless CGI battles that viewers may be accustomed to, Shang-Chi features some grounded, beautifully shot, hand-to-hand combat. Think of John Wick-style lickety-split fighting, that requires much more than wire-work and a computer. Liu, a former stunt man, shines when he’s battling throngs of baddies in close quarters. It’s a stunning action movie that pays tribute to classics of the genre like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and The Raid.
But the action isn’t the only exciting bit of Shang-Chi, this is a rare Marvel movie with a truly great villain. Hong Kong film icon Leung brings real pathos and grief to the role of Wenwu. He’s so profoundly lost that it’s easy to sympathize with how far he’s fallen and how deep his grief runs. He’s also dangerously charming, which makes his bursts of violence startling.
While that may sound a little heavy, there’s plenty to laugh about in Shang-Chi. Liu and Awkwafina keep things light with an easy comedic chemistry. Their connection speaks of a deep friendship that has room for both teasing and intense loyalty. Cretton also keeps the comedy from ruining dramatic moments, letting the film feel natural and charming. There is also a brilliant comedic cameo that should be left a surprise, that nearly steals the movie.
Shang-Chi was to be his heir, but the life of a child assassin turned warlord was not appealing for the 15-year-old boy. He ran off to San Francisco and has been ducking his father and his legacy ever since. But now that his father has found him, Shang-Chi must reckon with his past and decide what kind of man he’d like to become.
The real magic of Shang-Chi, however, is that it satisfied the Marvel-fatigued and the Marvel fanatic who accompanied me to the screening. Fantastic action sequences, some truly wonderful performances and enough CGI to keep the magic alive, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a knockout of a superhero movie.
Shang-Chi premieres in theaters exclusively on September 3, but will be available for streaming October 18
Great Action * PG-13 * 132 mins.