Shang-Chi is a strong first punch for the latest addition to the MCU.
Published on August 26, 2021
Rating 4 /5
As Marvel’s first all-Asian entry into the cinematic universe, it’s comforting to know that such a towering franchise has plenty of room for more fantastical characters and stories. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings don’t exactly present a whole lot of new stuff for the MCU. It doesn’t open up much of any new worlds or tie too closely to previous events. Yet it’s also one of the most robust standalone pictures since Black Panther, managing to have a style and lore all its own that need not be bound by most Marvel mandates.
The tale of the ten mystical rings is also told in a rather intriguing manner. The film slowly pushes out the information as it becomes relevant. The rather brisk prologue lets us know there are ten magic rings capable of great power, granting immortality to the power-hungry Wenwu. Around the 1990s, while searching for a mythical land hidden in the forest, he falls in love with the mystical Jiang Li (Fala Chen). He has two children with her and one of them is Shang-Chi (Sam Liu).
Fast-forward to modern-day and Shang-Chi now goes by the name Shawn in California. His days are spent hanging out and working with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Though he tries to hide his skills in martial arts, having been trained since childhood, he finds that he can’t do so when being attacked by his dad’s henchmen. One of which goes by the name Razor Fist and wields an energy blade on his arm. To Katy, Shawn has some explaining to do, especially after roping her into a battle on a runaway bus.
Shang-Chi finds that his father is seeking out the mysterious gems of his mother. He has one as does his estranged sister Xialing (Meng'er Zhang). To find her, Shang-Chi and Katy find themselves on an adventure that will take them from the streets of Macao to Wenwu’s stronghold to a hidden realm of fantastical creatures.
I really dug how the film brings in the theme of dealing with loss in a rather somber yet profound way. Wenwu wants to open up a portal to a dark evil because it believes it will restore the life of his dead wife. We slowly get the full story as the adventure goes on, that he is more than just the villain known as The Mandarin (a title he jokes about being absurd enough that he loaned it out to some other organization to muddy the waters of his identity). He’s also a husband and father who considered giving up great power but ended up succumbing to it when wanting to revive the past. It’s an aspect that contrasts nicely with how Shang-Chi and Xialing try to avoid their past.
The action is, of course, quite fantastical. The titular weapon of the ten magical rings grants the user the power of energy emission, used on the arms like Mega Man style guns. While the climax of these rings being for a showdown of father and son amid towering fantasy creatures is rousing, it’s ultimately the more grounded martial arts of the film that leave the highest impact. The first big battle on the bus features Liu in top form as he takes on multiple attackers while trying to save a crowded bus of civilians. His moves are exhilarating as well as given proper framing so we’re not just watching a series of blurred punches and kicks.
The pacing is also pretty strong for favoring a non-linear take to both Shang’s lineage and the power of the rings. The film never lingers too long on the various backstories and gives plenty of breathing room to allow the mysteries unfold in a more progressive manner. This may also be the most toned-down of origin stories considering the comedic aspects never go off the rails. Even the cameos are kept minimal so as not to overtake this film standing on its own two feet.
Shang-Chi is a strong first punch for the latest addition to the MCU. It has all the familiar components but weaves them with such sweeping elegance and charm. It’s far more than just a Marvel movie with an Asian theme and manages to be one of the strongest and most profound MCU solo films since Black Panther.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.