On Saturday I saw Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings, the next MCU film in line. The SPOILER-FREE plot involves an ancient warlord obtaining 10 mysterious rings holding significant power which help him rise to the top of a secret organization. Admittedly, despite being a lifelong Marvel fan I've never read these comics. I didn't know Shang-Chi existed until this film was announced. Having only seen one preview I went in relatively cold, making me very excited because it's a mysterious, new character in a new era of the MCU. Has a new Marvel Legend has risen to the occasion or should he be snapped out of existence?
Director Destin Daniel Cretton does great martial arts fight sequences. Most modern action films suffer from over-editing resulting in choppy, indistinguishable short takes with too many close-ups to tell what's happening. Cretton uses long takes pulling the camera away so the action speaks for itself. Sweeping camera movements also add to the excitement. The fight scenes resemble wushu-style martial arts films. I'm a lifelong fan of the genre, having grown up watching Bruce Lee, Gordon Liu, and Jackie Chan. I appreciate how all the martial arts choreography was shot. Members of Jackie Chan's Stunt Team worked on this too. The bus scene from previews is worth the price of admission alone. Escalating quickly, it starts as a standard fight turning in much more. Another scene on the scaffolding of a skyscraper under construction is stunning too. The special effects portions are fabulously done. Like most superhero films, heavy CGI is expected. Up until the finale it's used minimally, with the fights consisting of practical effects like wirework. When the film slows down it's gorgeous to look at, especially with how colourful the set designs and costumes are. I hope he returns for the sequel.
The screenplay is by Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, and Andrew Lanham. While formulaic, origin stories are more about the journey, not the destination. The character development is done very well. Things do feel rushed at times but nothing feels forced for the sake of the plot. Even side characters have subplots that matter toward the finale. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of Folklore featured. Many fantastical creatures like the Qilin, Fèng-huáng, Dìjiāng, Fu Dog, Húli-jīng and of course Dragons are all presented with amazing results. They feel like living breathing creatures, not just CG eye candy. Almost everything in the film has a purpose by the time of the satisfying conclusion.
The entire cast is phenomenal. Simu Liu plays the titular role. He's charming and relatable, with the physicality to make me believe he IS Shang-Chi. I'm eager to see how he interacts with other MCU characters.
Awkwafina plays Katy, his best friend and the comic relief. Unlike most Marvel films, it's not too quippy. Many times, characters go for a joke cheapening the seriousness of the situation. Not here. The charisma between them feels natural. The jokes are more like friendly banter. Her performance feels genuinely heartfelt. I also like how they're just platonic friends. No manufactured contrived romance like many other superhero films.
Meng'er Zhang is Xu Xialing, Shang-Chi's estranged sister. Her sympathetic backstory shows why she's the strong-willed independent woman she is. Her poignant performance captures how she uses her pain to drive her.
Michelle Yeoh is Ying Nan, Shang-Chi's and Xialing's aunt. Her role is small but impactful as she helps the heroes learn the truth of their past. Her story about a strong, wise woman protecting her family is fascinating. Her performance is powerful.
Tony Leung plays the Mandarin aka Wenwu. He plays a charismatic villain with a smooth swagger. The MCU has always had a problem with one-dimensional antagonists except for a select few. His performance eloquently captures being a fearsome foe, a caring father, and a loving husband. His backstory about how he was a family man willing to make sacrifices explains his actions and I couldn't help but empathize with him because I got a sense of his struggle to balance his life as best as he can.
Overall, it's a great addition to the MCU because of its incredible king fu sequences, writing, directing, and acting. Also, the film has many surprise cameos too good to divulge here. I can't wait to see this exciting adventure again and more Shang-Chi in future installments. I'm sure this will be one that never gets old. I'd even place it in my top 5 MCU films, it's that amazing. I struggled to find anything wrong with it. I was invested until the epic finale. It felt like an anime brought to life. It's comparable to Black Panther and the first Thor because it takes us to his home where we learn about his family. There's a unique cultural significance to their powers and history. The idea of following a legacy is also prominent. I highly recommend this to MCU and casual film fans alike. Make sure to stick around for the 2 post-credits scenes. And remember, a new Marvel Legend has risen to the occasion…'Nuff said.
Grade: Extra Large Popcorn