PG Score: 8.25/10
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was released in theaters on 9/3/21
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an exhilarating origin story that sets itself apart in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Led by the confident direction of Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy) and a breakout performance from Simu Liu, the action-packed blockbuster is boosted by phenomenal choreography, a winning supporting cast, stunning visuals, and an engaging plotline.
The film centers on Shang-Chi (Liu) as he confronts his past after being lured into the web of the shadowy Ten Rings organization. Cretton helms an engrossing narrative that feels fresh at almost every turn. There are glimpses of the household Marvel formula, but for the most part, Shang-Chi carves its own path in the ever-expanding universe. The screenplay from Cretton, Dave Callaham, and Andrew Lanham keeps the momentum at a near-constant high while still devoting important time to character development and building on its familial themes. There is also plenty of well-delivered humor inserted in appropriate intervals to achieve a balanced cinematic feat. Since it spends significant screen time growing its characters and their stories within a variety of genres, the movie is sure to appeal to a wider audience than the typical superhero flick.
Inspired by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the kung fu action scenes are genuinely breathtaking. The fast and fluid movements are a sight to behold as every blow is accompanied by sheer elegance. Each dance of precise punches and mighty kicks has its own identity as the set pieces vary in design, scale, and environment. From a bus racing out of control through the streets of San Francisco to the enchanting forests of the fictional Ta-Lo, lightning-quick strikes are traded all over the globe. Gorgeous backdrops and incredible special effects amplify the outstanding choreography in Shang-Chi. The fantastical elements are particularly appealing as they utilize a vibrant color palette and inject a mystical aura into each locale. The stunts and CGI are the icing on the cake for a film filled with magnificent martial arts spectacles.
The imprint left by the dazzling combat is deepened by the character development. Viewers are made to care for Shang-Chi and his comrades on a level that few action movies attain. The multi-dimensional protagonists and antagonists are all given the proper attention throughout the rich storyline. In showing the audience different sides of the superhuman central figures throughout the 132-minute runtime, Cretton renders them surprisingly relatable.
Simu Liu is magnetic in his portrayal of Marvel’s first on-screen Asian superhero. The Kim’s Convenience star steps into Shang-Chi’s shoes with a cool, calm, and collected swagger that enhances the hero’s likability instead of detracting from it. Liu skillfully conveys his character’s apprehension in reopening the door to his past and the moral grappling within his core. Much of the film’s success rests on the up-and-coming actor’s shoulders and he does not disappoint.
The supporting cast of Shang-Chi is led by Awkwafina, who is hilarious as the titular character’s best friend, Katy. The comedic genius gifts viewers with excellent delivery on all her one-liners and plentiful banter with her co-stars. Tony Leung Chiu-wai masterfully depicts the villain, Xu Wenwu. The seasoned performer showcases proficient acting as the antagonist is more nuanced than the run-of-the-mill bad guy. Meng’er Zhang is responsible for a strong performance as Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing. The actress has a powerful screen presence and is compelling as the mysterious warrior. Michelle Yeoh offers her talent as Ying Nan and notches another impressive acting credit to her filmography.
A Trailblazing Addition to the MCU
Destin Daniel Cretton steers the MCU in bold new directions with the help of a stellar cast, superb cinematography, an intriguing story, and the best fight choreography the franchise has ever seen. While the style may feel familiar to Marvel fans at times, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings still consistently breaks new ground.