Shang-Chi is forced to confront his past after being drawn into the Ten Rings organization, led by his father who trained him to become a deadly Kung Fu master from the day he was born.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings achieves the difficult task a new hero to an already enormous cinematic universe while still feeling as exciting and unpredictable as some of the past outings. The settings, characters and conflict are inviting, especially the vigorous execution from director Destin Daniel Cretton (whose previous movies Short Term 12 and Just Mercy I highly recommend). The action is dynamic with scale that ranges from martial arts on a bus to fantastical battles with ancient superpowers, and sets that range from San Francisco to China. The film clearly took inspiration from the practical martial arts days of Jackie Chan, and the passionate fights of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The music, including the excellent score and solid hip-hop soundtrack choices, also adds a lot to the film’s pace and globe-trotting adventure, reminiscent of the modern, colorful nature of Black Panther that also brought elements of ancient culture to its production design. And similar to that film’s effect on black representation and culture, Shang-Chi marks the first time an Asian main character gets their due in an action movie of this proportion, but there are badasses alongside the hero as well, including strong women in power whose place in the fight is never questioned. Simu Liu immediately fits perfectly into the roster of MCU heroes, delivering a well-rounded hero who’s journey you love to follow along. Liu excellently balances charisma and heart that makes you embrace Shang-Chi in a humanly way, with the pain and difficult decisions that comes with the character’s traumatic past. The family dynamic elevates the conflict and Tony Leung’s portrayal of his power-hungry father is ruthless, a character who’s mere presence makes you feel fear and distrust, yet you see his perspective that sends him on this destructive path that sees many hurt. Awkwafina, who’s worked magic almost every time she’s in front of the screen, is not just wonderful comic relief but a loving best friend whose chemistry with Liu makes the runtime interesting. Michelle Yeoh also adds plenty to the film in a key role in the film.
With every Marvel movie, the studio proves that they can reach wide audiences with their large budgets and marketing, but more than that, their heart and entertainment, and this movie has plenty. It’s also helpful that unlike Black Widow, this movie is set in the present day chronologically — so stay free of spoilers because Marvel loves throwing in some surprises, and boy do they pay off! Though a few moments of green screen are noticable and some of the exposition has tedious moments, Shang-Chi’s fast paced adventure of self-discovery, with emotional stakes and action that mixes modern and mythical feelings, presents a fun mix of action, comedy and emotion with great sound editing, fantasy and sets in addition to likable protagonists and formidable foes. By the end I felt on the edge of my seat, unsure of what will happen to the characters because of the stakes and surprises that are presented. Marvel once again brings theater-worthy fun to the screen that all ages can love and eventually rewatch along with the rest of their library.