Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review: Marvel Film Hits Hard, but Lacks Focus
Over the past decade, Marvel Comics has become a major player in movies. Between the Avengers assembling or the Guardians of the Galaxy becoming fan favorites, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown into a massive franchise that continues to expand. Now, after Endgame and Black Widow, Marvel is ready to begin a new chapter and it starts with a hero by name of Shang-Chi. The renowned martial artists made his debut in Marvel Comics in the 70’s and has become a vital hero in the comic universe ever since. For some time now, the character has been in consideration to star in his own movie with development going as far back as 2001. Now at long last, this film has finally come to fruition in the next movie in the MCU: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the movie centers on Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) who must confront his past and face his father (Tony Leung) before his plan can lead to a destructive path. The movie was meant to be released last summer, but like most films it was delayed and would eventually make its way to theaters in last stretch of the summer. I have had my reservation with Marvel for various reasons, but Shang-Chi looked be something refreshing and could easily expand on a new aspect in the MCU. After going on this super powered journey, I can say that Shang-Chi got the moves, but ultimately loses focus due to complacency.
The journey of Shang-Chi was filled with excitement, but it also a perplexing tale to say the least. The plot had a sense of adventure that kept things engaging-though the story dragged in certain places. Yet despite its thrilling nature, the plot lacked in its storytelling. While aspects like Shang-Chi's past was handled decently other elements such as the Ten Rings (both the organization and the rings themselves) had little impact on the overall plot. Furthermore, the inclusion of the mystical world To Lo was an intriguing development when it came to the movie’s world building, but its execution was poorly handled as it felt out of place with the story’s concepts and themes. When it came down to it the plot offered little to no surprises as even the craziest reveals felt lacking, and what could have been a refreshing tale for Marvel ended up being just another hero’s journey that’s been told time and again.
The cast to this movie was fitting for any MCU ensemble, but it was not without its faults. In the case of the title character, Shang-Chi was a was a solid protagonist. Shang-Chi's progression could be inconsistent but he made for it with his likeable personality and captivating resolve, and these attributes were thanks to Simu Liu’s energetic performance. Along with Shang-Chi on this journey was his good friend Katy (Awkwafina) who ended up being a stronger addition to the cast than I expected. Katy could be off-putting as she was not thoroughly developed, but she was able to keep Shang-Chi grounded and the chemistry between these two heroes felt natural. When it came to other characters, the supporting cast was lacking to say the least. While additions such as Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh) was decent, other characters like Shang’s sister Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) was problematic to say the least. What could have been a standout character ended up being an unnecessary addition Xialing’s personality and development did little to add to both the cast and the movie. Last and not least was the Mandarin himself: Wenwu. As antagonists go, Wen Wu was formidable in both presence and performance. Between his grounded direction and understandable conflict, Wenwu was a captivating adversary for Shang-Chi and is easily among the better villains in the MCU. The movie also featured some of the MCU alumni but their relevance was questionable at best and, when it came down to it, had little impression to an otherwise decent cast.
If there is one area that Shang-Chi strived in it was undoubtedly the action. The action was a solid meld of thrilling sequences and cunning fight scenes. The fight scenes were particularly impressive by blending stellar martial arts with the fantastical elements of the superhero genre. However, when it came to the humor, the movie was no so keen in its execution. Some moments between Shang-Chi and Katy were good, but most of the jokes fell flat and highlighted a growing issue in the MCU. Fortunately, the conflicting comedy did not contrast with the movie’s serious moments, nor did it completely divulge from the movie’s exhilarating tone. Rounding things out for the movie was the music by Joel P.West. The music did not leave the strongest of impression (especially when compared to the soundtracks in the MCU) but it was effective in the capturing the themes behind this action-packed blockbuster.
There is a good movie in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Between its decent principal cast and exciting action, this film had elements that was worthy of the MCU; and any blockbuster for that matter. Yet its faulty delivery really hinder this movie, especially when it came to areas such as storytelling, to the point where it made the film infuriating to sit through. Shang-Chi is by no means the worse superhero movie out there, nor is it even the worse entry in the MCU, but it is a mundane blockbuster to say the least and, in my opinion, not the best way to start this new phase of Marvel movies.