Marvel Studios continues the early stages of Phase 4 with its latest origin story and there’s a real feeling that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has hit the ground running again after lots of delays and an, admittedly, disappointing turn for Black Widow. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings breathes fresh air into the franchise that we haven’t seen since Black Panther (2018) and gives us some long needed Asian representation, not only in the universe but also in Hollywood.
Written by Alex Gilston
After Avengers: Endgame the big worry within the MCU was, how could it be topped? And was there a chance that it was going to become overly saturated? If Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings proves anything, it’s that there’s life in the old girl yet, and we’ve got a lot to look forward to.
The opening of the film introduces us to Mandarin, played by Tony Leung, and we’re treated to an expositional ode to classic martial arts movies. We learn that he is in possession of the Ten Rings which give him powers above that of a mortal man, including eternal life. Over the course of a thousand years he starts the organisation the ‘Ten Rings’ which seems to be an influential organisation that has affected the history of the world. Mandarin learns of Ta Lo, a hidden village that holds power that he wants. After trying to find it he comes across one of the village’s defenders and over time he relinquishes the power of the ten rings in favour of love. The pace continues as we’re introduced to ‘Shaun’ (Simu Liu) in the present day, he works as a car valet with this best friend Katy (Awkwafina), everything is normal until he is forced to show off his fighting skills in a scuffle on a bus. He and Katy are then whisked up into an adventure that will change the course of their lives forever. Shang-Chi doesn’t waste time getting into the action, and the runtime beats along at a perfectly steady pace.
Simu Liu slots himself confidently into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as he embodies Shang-Chi with ease, a performance that will surely see him become a fan favourite. The fact he can play off both the drama and the comedy respectively proves that he’s going to fit in well. Awkwafina also cements herself firmly in place as the charming Katy. Her and Simu Liu’s chemistry makes it feel like they have been friends for a long time and brings us a superhero duo to root for.
At the heart of this film is a family drama that works well within the film's runtime. It’s great to see the real mandarin on screen 8 years after Iron Man 3. Tony Leung brings a soul bearingly intimate performance to the character. Meng’er Zhang is also a wonderful presence as Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing, who gets some of the most badass moments of the entire film. This part of the story leaves for some well earnt emotional payoffs in the final act amongst all the action.
Speaking of action, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings serves some of the most ambitiously choreographed set pieces of the franchise. Whether it be on a moving bus in San Francisco, or on the side of a skyscraper in Macao it’s pure spectacle. The final act does veer closer to the usual MCU CGI mess-fest, but in this case it is easily forgivable due to the high quality of the film up to that point.
There’s something for everyone with Shang-Chi, the drama makes for the pillars of the film, the humour is plentiful but doesn’t feel shoe-horned in like some of its predecessors, and the action choreography is on a level unseen in the MCU since its inception. It’s wondrous from start to finish, and if you feel comfortable going to the cinema watching it, find the biggest screen possible because that’s where it longs to be watched. At the end of it all it feels like one of the most important Marvel Studios films to date, and deserves nothing less than rapturous support.