SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS Review: “A Genuine Triumph For Marvel Studios”

Next Friday, get ready to meet a brand new hero as Marvel Studios opens Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Check out our review to learn more about what we thought of the film!

For the first time since Captain Marvel, we’re getting a Marvel Studios origin story which introduces an instantly likable new hero played by Simu Liu, while exploring an exciting new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that opens the door for a whole new world of possibilities.

**This review contains mild spoilers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings**

While we’ve had plenty of new adventures in the MCU throughout the course of this past year, Shang-Chi is Marvel Studios’ first theatrical-only release since Spider-Man: Far From Home in 2019, which makes its upcoming September 3 launch one of the most anticipated in recent memory. Thankfully, due to expert direction from Destin Daniel Cretton and brilliant performances from the entire cast, the movie full on delivers the Marvel theatrical experience you’ve been jonesing for.

The film kicks off several thousand years in the past as we meet Wenwu (Tony Leung) and the Ten Rings - the name of his magical rings as well as his evil organization - and learn more about his conquest to rule the world. His plan, of course, takes an unexpected detour when he meets a woman named Jiang Li (Fala Chen), who is protecting her hidden village from any outsiders with ill intentions. Following a quick but stunning fight, Wenwu finds himself bested for the first time in his long life, which results in him falling in love and giving up his sociopathic ways to build a family.

Flash forward to the present, where we meet the progeny of his sacrifice, his eldest child Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), who, after a tragedy several years prior, has since abandoned his father and is now working as a valet in San Francisco with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). He’s responsible, respectful, charming, and carefree, making him instantly relatable to Asian-Americans across the country as he attempts to forge a new path for himself while struggling to find his true purpose.

As fate would have it, his father eventually comes knocking and Shang finds himself exposed to the world after he goes viral fighting the Ten Rings organization aboard a runaway bus, which is easily one of the MCU’s best hand-to-hand fight sequences ever. He and Katy then embark on an epic journey, racing to find his sister Xialing (Meng'er Zhang), hoping to stop his father, and ultimately unlocking the powerful secret of his mother’s mysterious village - a journey that leaves the two friends forever changed.

Even though trailers are generally designed to be misleading (especially for a Marvel Studios release), it’s become abundantly clear that the teasers for this movie have done it a real disservice. It’s understandably a hard film to sell without giving the BIG surprise away, but thus far, they’ve sold a very different adventure to what this latest MCU entry actually is. It’s less an all-out martial arts extravaganza and more a heartfelt family drama, where the characters take precedent over the relatively straightforward story. It very much uses the Ant-Man model to establish its hero, as it opens in the same location as Scott Lang’s adventures and tells the tale of a hero with a fairly similar personality, with loose MCU references sprinkled throughout until the closing moments kick open a bigger door.

Having never directed big-budget action before, Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12; The Glass Castle; Just Mercy) was always an inspired choice to take the helm of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and he proves once again that Marvel’s eye for talent is unparalleled in this industry. He directs the film with such an infectious energy, always putting his characters first, and making you so invested in their individual journeys that it’s hard not to forgive some of the more predictable plot points.

He also brings a certain level of authenticity that’s been lacking in recent films with Asian leads like Mulan, Mortal Kombat, and Snake Eyes. From minor details like the characters speaking in Mandarin or Shang removing his shoes when he enters Katy’s home to the major themes of an Asian character trying to find his place in a foreign country while remaining true to his culture and history, this film often feels like an actual reflection of the Asian American experience versus an uninspired Hollywood imitation.

The entire cast is perfect, and Simu Liu is a more than welcome addition to the MCU and an extremely capable fighter, which really elevates his performance. Due to the film’s present-day/flashback structure, he does get somewhat overshadowed at times, especially in the first half, but steps up in a major way for the film’s third act, leaving you clamoring for more. Awkwafina (Katy) and Meng'er Zhang (Xialing) leave lasting impressions as well, and emerge as two really great new additions to the MCU that will hopefully be back for more much sooner than later.

While the film may be titled Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it’s as much Wenwu’s film as it is the titular Master of Martial Arts. Tony Leung delivers one of the finest performances we’ve ever seen in the MCU and should go down as one of the franchise’s greatest antagonists, even if his motivations could prove to be slightly divisive. He’s a villain driven by loss, which leads him to bring pain and suffering to everyone, and ultimately make decisions that may doom them all. He and Fala Chan, who plays Shang’s mother, both steal every scene they’re in, giving absolutely outstanding performances. Michelle Yeoh (Jiang Nan) also plays a pivotal role, and is absolutely wonderful.

Spoiler alert: In case you haven’t heard yet, Sir Ben Kingsley is indeed back as Trevor Slattery, and while it seems like Marvel intended for his inclusion to be a surprise, he actually has a much larger role in the film than you might be expecting. Compared to some previous installments, the humor in this film is quite understated overall, but Kinsgley is so perfect in this role, he’ll have you smiling from ear-to-ear every time he shows up.

Shang-Chi takes some liberties with its characterizations, so don’t expect a truly comic-accurate translation of either Shang or Wenwu/The Mandarin, but instead look forward to considerably better and more modern interpretations of these characters that feel far better suited for 2021. The comparisons to Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther are inevitable, especially by the less-informed, but this is a very different film in almost every sense. It’s actually a lot more in line with the first Thor, as it introduces a hero many fans will be unfamiliar with on opening day and allows the filmmakers to develop him and the myriad of other amazing characters however they see fit.

We’ve seen plenty of aliens, robots, and monsters since the MCU’s inception, but the finale of Shang-Chi is truly unlike anything that’s come before. It’s pure unadulterated spectacle, and so fantastical, it’s very much like watching a comic splash page come to life. It’s something that hasn’t even been teased in the trailers yet, so hopefully it stays a secret until next Friday.

There are two post-credit scenes, the first of which possibly teases Shang’s next appearance while the latter presumably sets up a sequel.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a genuine triumph for Marvel Studios, a true family drama with plenty of charm and a myriad of winning performances from the outstanding cast led by Simu Liu and Tony Leung. It opens a whole new world of possibilities for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and will hopefully leaving you dreaming of the countless mystical directions the story could go next…

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