Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Movie Review
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I’ll admit – I didn’t know anything about Shang-Chi or his Ten Rings before I sat down to my preview, but he makes an incredible addition to Marvel Cinematic Universe
Of course, there’s a backstory to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) and it’s about an ancient, immortal, and powerful marauder who gains possession of ten magical rings he wears around his arms like fancy gauntlets. They give him the power to devastate and conquer and with that power comes the lust for more power. One day he meets his match from a magical hidden village and falls in love. Then, as these things go, tragedy strikes, bad stuff happens, and everyone is sad.
In the modern now, like right now, Sean (Simu Liu) fills his daily existence parking cars and cutting up with his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina). Things seem pretty normal, which is exactly the way he wants it right down to his Americanized name when he’s forced back into the world he’d fled from – and that’s pretty much where I want to stop talking because everything should be as fantastic a surprise for you as it was for me. This is a Marvel movie without beating you over the head that it’s a Marvel movie, and that’s important. Like Black Panther (2018), it stands on its own without heavily leaning on previous properties to establish itself, though there is one particularly funny callback and you’ll be pretty thrilled to see it.
What I can tell you – Shang-Chi is the kind of unassuming superhero that has his faults and quirks yet is still confident in his skillset. In other words, like Peter Parker and Steve Rogers, his humanity makes him a hero we want to see win. His familial bond, while broken in some spots remains strong without falling into the old Asian trope of Family Honor. That said, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings isn’t explosions and firepower, and while it draws heavily on Asian Cinema, don’t expect to see the extensive wirework. This is grounded fight choreography that feels authentic and powerful. The movements are quick and while you know there was lots of rehearsal, you just don’t see the “acting.” Simu Liu exudes the kind of likable energy that makes you want to cheer for Shang-Chi and his cause. There is no arrogant shade in his game.
Speaking of acting, I’m not ashamed to admit, when I saw Awkwafina’s name, I wasn’t encouraged. I went in believing her role as Katy, the best friend/romantic interest would go the way of Kat Denning’s Darcy in Thor (2011) and the loud-sassy-best-friend is tiring. Characters like Katy/Darcy generally go one of two ways – sassy and forgettable or sassy and irritating. Fortunately, there is a lesser-used option, one of “supporting character” and while Katy is important, Awkwafina knows that Shang-Chi isn’t her movie, and makes it a point to not being the wilting flower that needs to be saved. Not scenery/not albatross is hard but Awkwafina manages to carve her own place in the movie, without being obnoxious.
Michelle Yeoh is Ying Nan, aunt to Shang-Chi, passing down the family wisdom one sweeping foot at a time. She is #auntiegoals. Tony Chiu-Wai Leung is Wenwu, ruthless leader, loving father, and dashing romantic. His motives for what he does are driven by grief and love and it doesn’t come off corny or contrived. It’s another strong balance that’s a welcome change. Again, this isn’t your typical Marvel movie and that’s what makes it a fun watch. It’s probably the quickest 132 minutes you’ll ever sit through, There just weren’t any saggy bits bogged down by backstory or exposition. Even the dark parts are light and breezy, not to pretend they aren’t sad or traumatic for the characters, but to convey that an immortal’s life moves pretty fast and for us mere mortals, it’s all we can do to hang on.
There’s also a Dragon. It’s pretty cool.
Not knowing what to expect and coming out delighted was probably my favorite part of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. A comfortable roller coaster of feels and fights that didn’t pander to cheap lows or unrealistic highs. It feels like a reboot of Phase IV (I haven’t seen Black Widow, so this is my only start point). The theme of Phase IV is “grief” – how it happens, how we cope (or don’t), and what comes after. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like a pretty healthy way to start that process.
Please be advised there are 2 mid-credit/end credit scenes – one after the initial credits, and one at the very end. You know better than to leave before the lights come up anyway, right?
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) is Rated PG-13 for mild swears, familial death, car crashes, high-speed bus chases, cage fighting, spider bats, and soul-sucking demons from another dimension.