Shang-Chi, the master of unarmed weaponry-based Kung Fu, is forced to confront his past after being drawn into the Ten Rings organization.
It was always going to be a bit daunting being the first Marvel film to herald ‘Phase 3’ (let’s call ‘Black Widow’ a coda to ‘Phase 2’), and being honest, I was tempted to give this a miss, having grown a little tired of these movies for some time. However, just like Michael Corleone in ‘The Godfather Part III’, I was pulled back in by the good reviews and I headed along to my local multiplex to check ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ out. It’s the first Marvel film to feature an Asian-American lead and a predominantly Asian-American cast and the story is centred in Asian (specifically Chinese ) culture. It tells the legend of the ten rings, which are mystical weapons that grant their user immortality – when the film begins, Shang-Chi’s father Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) is in possession of them.
In the present day, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is working as a valet in San Francisco, under the name Shaun, when he’s (along with his friend Katy – Awkwafina in quite annoying form) drawn back to his destiny when some of his fathers assassins attack him. This takes them to Macau where his sister runs a fight club, then to their father’s compound in China, before we end up in a mystical village guarded by a great, seemingly impassable forest. It is much like many recent Marvel films in that we have a bit of globe hopping, some extremely well-choreographed action sequences (the one on the bus is great, although I preferred the relative minimalism of the scene in ‘Nobody’) and a story that doesn’t really draw you in. It’s forgettable once the credits roll, but in the moment it’s entertaining in spurts.
The best thing about this film are the elder statesmen and stateswoman with Tony Leung particularly great as Shang-Chi’s conflicted father, and Michelle Yeoh a strong late addition to the movie’s final act. The third person to mention I shall not, as to do so would constitute a spoiler. Simu Liu is a solid lead, more impressive in the fight sequences than when he has to emote (not a surprise given his martial arts background), and Awkwafina as mentioned is occasionally funny, but more often than not annoying. I wasn’t a fan of the flashbacks which seemed to be inserted badly to take momentum away from the main picture, even as they gave us more time to spend with Leung who was terrific.
‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ breaks new ground for Marvel in terms of representation, but in terms of storytelling there’s little fresh here and we’re left with another example of a superhero origin story that we’ve seen many times before in the last 10-15 years. Not the fault of ‘Shang-Chi’ itself, but it suffers nonetheless.
Directed By: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong and Tony Leung