Director Destin Daniel Cretton’s adaptation of the 1973 action comic book is Marvel Studios in its wisest. Their inability to grab top tier superheroes from their stable has enabled them to lend a spotlight to some of the more obscure and less featured superheroes from their universe. Thankfully the focus slides over to “Shang-Chi” one of their most dynamic and down to Earth superheroes who has proven a mainstay since his inception in the seventies and is brought to life in a truly exciting cinematic debut.
Simu Liu as Shaun, an average valet driver who must confront the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization. After a failed assassination attempt on him, Shaun (otherwise known as Shang-Chi) must go back to his sacred home land and re-learn his mystic martial arts as he prepares to wage war alongside his estranged sister, and best friend Katy against his powerful father Wenwu. He is dead set on opening a portal that will resurrect his wife, and as the race begins, Shang must confront his dad and hope to save humanity.
“Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is the realization of Shang Chi’s marvelous world involving mysticism, monsters, and amazing martial arts. It’s also allowed Marvel to use the magic and sorcery behind Shang-Chi’s exhaustive back story as a means of helping them develop the MCU that’s now dipping in to mysticism, magic, and fantasy. It also cleverly delves in to world building, and universal themes about culture, and grief. “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” thankfully never side steps its martial arts origin, staging some excellent hand to hand combat in very unique settings. The choreography is absolutely dazzling often watching like a throwback to classic Kung Fu films.
Simu Liu is a fantastic casting choice for Shang Chi, presenting an average quality to him that makes him the classic Marvel Universe superhero. While the story of Shang Chi follows the “hero’s journey” mold in many respects, I loved how the script subverted the formula in where Shang Chi is less the reluctant hero, and more a hero thrust in to his own fate. Awkwafina is a great supporting player, portraying the friend/ally Katy, who not only manages to help Shang Chi in his quest, but also ends up going down her own path in re-claiming her culture and realizing her own purpose. Xu Wenwu (or Mandarin) is respectfully introduced and given excellent motivation in “Shang-Chi.”
Tony Leung’s performance as Xu Wenwu is absolutely memorable, presenting him a s a cutthroat martial artist whose own motivations to confront his grief makes him ruthless. He even is willing to take down his son Shang and daughter Xialing if it means he is able to fulfill his ultimate quest with his powerful band of rings. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Michelle Yeoh’s emotional take on Jiang Nan, one of the many mentors and strong feminine heroes that help to mold Shang Chi in to a force for good. “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a great film, and a fantastic divergence in to an often ignored corner of the Marvel Universe.
It’s an exciting, surprisingly sweet action fantasy, with a dazzling dynamic superhero who I hope gets implemented as well as Black Panther and Ant Man has been.