Shang-Chi, the master of unarmed weaponry-based Kung Fu, is forced to confront his past after being drawn into the Ten Rings organization. (from IMDB)
The second of four Marvel feature films to release in 2021 is here with the next entry in "Phase 4," Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. With this being the first new character story since the release of 2019's chapter-ending Avengers: Endgame, many fans have been wondering what the future of Marvel might look like. Thankfully, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a welcomed new entry that does nod to things that have come before, while paving the way for what lies ahead.
There's a lot to unpack with Shang-Chi, so I'll try not to spoil too much. First off, the whole "Ten Rings" legend involves none other than the villain "The Mandarin," who was introduced as a smoke-and-mirrors disguise for a different villain in Iron Man 3 (something that angered many diehard Marvel comics fans). Shang-Chi makes good on setting the record straight regarding The Mandarin and the Ten Rings, all while moving things in a new direction. It's also nice to see the Marvel universe diving headlong into Asian culture (something Disney has been immersing themselves in a lot lately, with the release of their live action Mulan remake, Raya and the Last Dragon, and now Shang-Chi), and it definitely brings a new flavor to Marvel. While Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings carries with it a pretty serious tone from the start, when it introduces the grown Shang-Chi, played wonderfully by Simu Liu, the lighter humor you've come to expect from Marvel returns. This will, unfortunately, be a polarizing thing for some fans; it seems as though, ever since Joss Whedon's formula of inserting random humor into any given scene in 2012's Avengers was established, this has become the norm for the MCU. It's been something that has divided the fanbase ever since, too, and Shang-Chi does continue that trend. It actually works beautifully in many scenes, but later in the movie, it's far more jarring and less organic as a familiar face from a previous Marvel film is reintroduced and is here just for comic relief. (It often feels as out-of-place as C-3PO's goofy comedy in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, as tough as that is to say.) Still, the formula mostly works for Shang-Chi, and especially when a mid-credits scene brilliantly utilizes some of the surprise humor from earlier in the movie, it ends up leaving the viewer on an especially warm note. Marvel has ensured that Shang-Chi is a good time at the movies.
The cast is really solid for Shang-Chi as well. Joining Simu Liu is comedienne Awkwafina, who I have to say is a bit of an acquired taste (reminding me of Kat Dennings' Darcy from the Thor movies, unfortunately), but her character Katy ends up growing as the story progresses and Awkwafina turns in a surprisingly endearing performance. I wasn't sure she was a good match for Liu at first, but she actually helps ground Shang-Chi's "Shaun" as just a normal guy trying to make it working as a valet in San Francisco. Tony Chiu-Wai Leung is excellent as Shang-Chi's father, Xu Wenwu, who is sort of the villain, but is a far more complex character than that. Fala Chen is so sweet as Shang-Chi's mother, Li, and Meng'er Zhang plays his sister Xialing with just the right amount of mystery and ferocity.
The story often feels like a good Asian fantasy film that mixes fact with myths and legends, with some truly beautifully choreographed fight scenes in the mix. The bus fight sequence is a fantastic blend of martial arts and Marvel mayhem, and the first real hint that this movie has what it takes. Later, as the story progresses and the mythos of The Ten Rings and Shang-Chi's heritage unfolds, there's a greater leaning on fantasy that is certainly far removed from the grounded reality that the first Iron Man established, but perhaps not so crazy anymore after the movies that have since followed, like Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War. The only thing that nearly derails the movie, for me at least, was the aforementioned surprise cameo that connects the movie with another movie in the MCU. It's great to see that story continued and resolved, but it sadly feels forced and rather jarring. It brings a different brand of humor to the story, but without it, due to the intensity of the story at this point in the movie, there would be very little comic relief otherwise (which might not be a bad thing). The disruption it brings to the flow of the movie, however, is noticeable.
The content for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is definitely PG-13, with plenty of martial arts-based action and a little language. With all of the fighting, however, there's very little blood or graphic content, though a climactic battle does leave a battlefield littered with dead bodies. The plot also involves a beast that is dubbed a "soul eater," and it pulls the soul out of a person's body, killing them while it consumes it, with the process showing as bright light leaving the body. Language is sparse, but there are several uses of the "S" word, mostly from Awkwafina and a couple from Liu (and some are paired with "Holy" before it), while there are a few other cuss words thrown in, including a use of "g*dd*mn" (and a use of the middle finger). Again, there's very little blood, with the bloodiest image actually probably being a scene of young Shang-Chi repeatedly punching a wooden post during training which leaves his knuckles pretty raw and caked with blood. Otherwise, much of the violence is martial arts-driven with a great deal of hand-to-hand combat, knives, punching, kicking, flipping, etc.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings may not be the best Marvel movie, but it's probably my favorite since the release of Avengers: Endgame (although I suppose there has only been Spider-Man: Far From Home and Black Widow released since then). It's a solid sci-fi flavored martial arts action movie with relevance to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more from Shang-Chi.
As far as end credits scenes go, there is a mid-credits scene you will NOT want to miss, and a post-credits scene that teases the future for a character from the movie.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 9/4/21)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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