After the Infinity Saga lasted more than a decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs to find a way to create stories that feel new in order to keep going. One of the latest superpowered flicks to be added to their expansive library is the long-awaited Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Is this martial arts epic the necessary step toward a fresh formula that Marvel needs to prevent fatigue, or is it disappointing after the large-scale battle with Thanos? Let’s adventure forth to find out.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings may be a comic book superhero movie, but it’s also a modern martial arts film. The martial arts action throughout the movie is extremely well-choreographed and absolutely gripping. Between the choreography and cinematography, each fight scene is a visual pleasure. Not only is every acrobatic move attention-grabbing, but it all also adds to the story. Whether it’s fearing for characters being attacked on the side of a building or marveling at two characters falling in love while fighting, the action finds ways to play with the audience’s emotions.
When superpowers are actually used, they’re unique from anything we’ve seen so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, both mechanically and visually. It’s nice that after so many blockbusters in their lineup, they can still show off a superpower in a new way. Plus, it’s actually a really cool superpower.
An issue with quite a few of the MCU’s films is that their villains are unfortunately stale. Ronan the Accuser just wants power and has no real personality traits. He’s just there for the Guardians of the Galaxy to have a foe to battle. Kaecilius serves the same purpose for Doctor Strange, which is a huge waste of Mads Mikkelson’s talent. The antagonist in Shang-Chi, however, is an especially sympathetic character. Wenwu’s backstory and motivation are actually extremely tragic. He blames himself for his wife’s death and fights for a way to be with her again. It’s hard not to see where he’s coming from. That, plus the fact that he feels like a true threat, makes him undoubtedly one of the best villains in the MCU.
Another mistake that the MCU often makes is interrupting their emotional moments with poorly timed humor. After Thor witnesses the destruction of Asgard is probably not the best time for Korg to yuk it up. Thankfully, the folks behind Shang-Chi ensured to let the emotional parts be emotional while providing humor when it was appropriate. When the humor happens, it’s hilarious. When the serious scenes occur, they tug at your heartstrings. The two tones never inappropriately overlap.
Katy, played by the always-funny Awkwafina, is one of the most entertaining sidekick characters in any recent movie. She’s hilarious and steals many of the scenes she’s in. She even receives a fantastic arc of her own. It feels like she’s just as much of a protagonist as Shang-Chi at times. The whole cast is phenomenal, but Katy stands out quite a bit.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ties in nicely with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with references to existing elements like Extremis from Iron Man 3 and appearances by the likes on Wong, Abomination, even Trevor (also from Iron Man 3), but it manages to ultimately feel like a true standalone story. Many other movies in the franchise get a little too caught up in trying to connect to the rest of the universe, like Iron Man being one of the central characters in a Spider-Man movie. Shang-Chi feels like Shang-Chi’s story. Outside of brief and minor appearances, the cast is overall made up of Shang-Chi characters. It’s also worth noting that, in one of the ways it does connect to the rest of the MCU, it solves an issue that some may have had with a previous Marvel movie.
The filmmakers prove that they’re not afraid to go big throughout the movie, especially toward the end. They fully embrace the film’s blockbuster nature with over-the-top ideas like a giant dragon-kaiju battle with a couple of the characters riding one of them. The final act is easily one of the coolest things ever pulled off in a Marvel movie, which might even be tough to top in a future sequel. These huge, action-packed moments are riveting to experience, but they never feel too big or out of place.
One of the biggest strengths the movie has is that its protagonists feel both real and relatable. The “slice of life” aspect of the film feels like something that much of the audience is familiar with. Goofing off with your friend at work, feeling pressured to get a better job and get married by parental figures, drunken karaoke nights, and not knowing what direction to go in life not only will hit close to home for a lot of viewers, but it also adds a lot of life and realness to an otherwise fantastical movie.
I’ll start off the negative critiques of the film by saying that they’re mostly just minor nitpicks. For one, the final act heavily relies on the use of weapons and armor made out of dragon scales, but they never say where or how they get the scales. There’s one dragon that seems to not appear to humans other than on rare occasions and one demonic dragon that’s been sealed away for centuries. They’ve clearly been farming tons of dragon scales despite dragons feeling like a rare commodity.
There’s a moment toward the end when Katy, whose main strength is skillful driving, is chosen to take up archery. It’s fun and goes well with her arc, but it feels very abrupt when it first happens. They basically have a character tell her “you’re being trained in archery now,” and they carry on training her despite her never showing interest in it before. Again, it’s cool and plays a large part in her arc, but it feels random when it first comes up.
Most of the visual effects throughout the film are pretty good, but there are moments when the CGI is unfortunately subpar. When Razerfist doesn’t have a weapon attachment on his arm, his missing hand is clearly CGI-ed away. It breaks immersion and distracts from other things going on in the movie. The CGI isn’t terrible, but where the movie is made by Marvel and Disney with a massive blockbuster budget, there’s no reason why it’s not as great as the effects in the recent Star Wars movies. At least it’s not as bad as the effects when Black Panther takes on Killmonger.
There’s quite a bit of worldbuilding throughout the movie with the Ten Rings organization, the Golden Daggers underground, and the fantasy realm of Ta Lo. However, we’re constantly left wanting more. We never learn quite enough about any of these new worldbuilding elements, which is understandable due to timing.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the breath of fresh air that Marvel needed to continue their canon after the Thanos saga. It adds new worldbuilding, superpowers, and lovable characters and ultimately feels like a standalone story. It’s a riveting and action-packed martial arts film that is an absolute joy to experience from beginning to end with one of the biggest third acts ever seen in a Marvel movie. Plus, the “slice of life” feeling allows for the audience to see themselves in this epic adventure. All this makes Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings one of the better Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.
Rating: 9.5 / 10