Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) movie review
Based on the Marvel comics, Shaun is your every day parking valet who one day gets pulled back into his old life when his father, head of the Ten Rings crime organization, begins searching for him. Shang-Chi, the latest feature installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, opens this weekend and boasts a solid reception from critics and audiences so far. So if you want to keep movies from going straight to Disney+, go see it.
Look I don’t know how else to put this. Shang-Chi was awesome. Now like all MCU films, it isn’t perfect of course. That said, I tend to judge Marvel films based not only on their quality and quantity of content overall, but how they look back and learn from past films in the MCU. And much like my favorite Marvel films, Chang-Chi manages to impress in plenty of ways! (Also compared to Black Widow- let’s just say it’s not as underwhelming…)
First things first, one of the biggest reasons to go see Shang-Chi is the breath of fresh air that is martial arts. Granted that’s been around for a while, but you don’t get a chance to run to cheaters to see Kung-Fu do you? Shang-Chi is no House of Flying Daggers (2004), but even the best actions scenes in this twenty-five film series feature the same quick cuts that we’ve come to expect from, well, America. (Exception to the John Wick series and all inspirations, some of which have managed martial arts on the big screen with even more glory…)
But we aren’t here to talk John Wick! We are here to talk Shang-Chi! And for a martial arts film where the predominate language is English, it’s pretty cool! The stung work is really smooth, and not only do we get a cast almost consistently performing the stunts (or an ace CGI team), but the sometimes choppy editing is toned down to maybe a cut or two every 10 seconds. IF THAT! There’s a couple very discrete long takes that- Look, if you go to a steak house and you order steak and late 80s Jackie Chan gives you steak, yeah it’s good steak. If you go to a fast food restaurant and order the stake, of course it won’t be quite as good. But let’s say you take that bite and it’s so good that it reminds you of that time Jackie Chan served you steak. You just want more and more…
While I am comparing Shang-Chi to other things, let’s talk Marvel movies. Now Marvel has had a nice pop in villains lately! We went from copy, paste villains that are just the hero or Dark Elves or generic bad guys bent on destroying planets we didn’t care about to Killmonger and Thanos an- heck Vulture AND Mysterio were both great! Luckily, Xu Wenwu, head of the Ten Rings, joins the top tier Marvel villains thanks to an genuinely amazing performance from Tony Chiu-Wai Leung. First, his personal connection to the hero makes for a very compelling narrative. Second, his backstory and motivation are surprisingly moving. They aren’t the first time it’s been done, but I can’t argue with the end result thanks to the depth Leung brings to the character. I want to go on and on about him, but I don’t want to spoil the film.
The villain isn’t the only thing Chang-Chi brings to the table, as it manages perhaps the smoothest balance of comedy we’ve seen from Marvel. It’s not the funniest Marvel movie, but the quips and jokes never pull you out of the moment! Who can we thank for this? Crafty writers and the unmatchable wit of one Awkwafina. Also I don’t know who Joel P West is, but his score is one of the best in the MCU. He manages to create some strong pieces of music with unique instrumentation, which we usually only see one or the other of. Let’s not kid, sometimes we see neither.
A few more positives before I get into the negatives. Visual Effects? Flawless. Oscar nomination? I hope so. Heck even Black Panther’s (2018) effects were a bit iffy at times. Performances? Well I already talked about Tony Leung and Awkwafina, but lead Simu Liu does a great job too! As do the rest of the supporting performances including Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, and Michelle Yeoh, who never disappoints. Pacing? Well this one is two-fold. Like the second act of Black Widow, there’s alot of family drama to get through. This means that while the middle of the film feels slow, it never feels boring!
That said, they should have tosses something into the second act to help balance the film’s structure a little. I feel like I just talked about flashbacks, but the flashbacks- it’s not that they aren’t placed well! It’s that we get a chance for a fight in a flashback in the second act, but we don’t see it. That would have helped smooth out the rest of the film. That said, once we get into the third act its mostly action. Ether way, all three acts are great! Just very different.
Now of course Marvel can’t help but end with a whole lotta CGI… I’m mixed. One the one hand, I get it. They make it work well enough, and the CGI was at least good! On the other hand, remember that movie I talked about earlier? House of Flying Daggers? That amazing film has one of the finest finales I’ve ever seen. We take an epic story, a police captain falling in love with a woman from the group of rebels he seeks to find and destroy, and we boil it down to that first half: “a police captain falling in love with a woman.” The plot with the rebels in the woods? Yeah not as interesting as the love triangle when you strip away all the color and have your final fight in the snow boil down to just feelings! It’s incredible. Shang-Chi… it does the opposite. Instead of doubling-down on the father-son dynamic, there’s big visual set pieces that try to top the first act of the film, which peaks with a bus fight. You know what? The bus fight was the best fight in the movie.
Having now compared this blockbuster to one of my favorite martial arts films of all time, I should remind you that that is being served at that steak restaurant. Now the question becomes: Should I give a Marvel film a grading curve? You’re darn right I should. Look, we’re lucky that the big bad studios don’t ruin every Snake Eyes (2021) we get. Is Shang-Chi a great movie? Almost. Does it manage to surpass expectations from a studio that called it an experiment? Heck yeah. So go see Chan-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Great villain, great score, awesome action scenes, flawless effects, top notch comedy, solid performances- this is the MCU film we’ve been waiting for since Endgame (2019). 8/10.
So yeah, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? Did you see it yet? What did you think? And what Marvel film managed to improve the MCU formula the best? Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And hey, did you like this review? Want to read more like it? (But typically shorter?) Leave a like, leave a comment, let us know what we should review next in the comments. And thank for reading!
-review by Ryan Prince