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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

While Disney+ shows like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki have all explored the world in a post-Thanos universe, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first real film of Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe considering Black Widow was a flashback film. There’s a lot riding on Shang-Chi’s shoulders, not only for kicking off a new era of Marvel films but also for being the first Marvel film with a predominantly Asian cast and lead. And the film mostly succeeds in that regard, delivering an intimate origin story wrapped around an action packed adventure.

 

A thousand years ago, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) discovered an ancient artifact, bracelets consisting of ten rings that gave him immense power and immortality. With them, he was able to conquer dynasties and eventually establish the Ten Rings Organization and influence the world from the shadows. Eventually he fell in love and decided to put the rings away in favor of raising a family, but after the unexpected death of his wife, he quickly falls back to his old ways, raising his son Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) to become a ruthless ruler like himself and eventually inherit the Ten Rings. But Shang-Chi doesn’t want that life, and runs away to San Francisco, changing his name to Shaun and hopefully make a life of his own. But when his father sends a group of assassins after him, Shang-Chi is forced to confront his past and face his father head-on, not only for himself, but for the fate of the entire world.

 

The best thing Shang-Chi does right is its action, with its fight scenes and choreography as some of the absolute best in the entire MCU. The opening fighting scene inside of a cramped bus is fantastic. It’s a great introduction to Simu Liu and eases any tension you might have about the actor being able to pull off this new character. The action is rapid fast, but the camera is mostly able to stick with it so it's never confusing. The introduction of the ten rings as a weapon is also great. In the comics they’re literal rings, each with different powers, but here they act as bracers of sorts, allowing the wearer to use them in all sorts of magical ways. They can create energy blasts, which can be used either to knock opponents back or propel the wearer sky high when aimed at the ground. They can also create energy whips, similar to Whiplash in Iron Man 2, although much, much better in every aspect. They’re a stunning weapon, and the film takes full advantage of showing them off in creative ways whenever possible.

 

Shang-Chi’s plot is a more intimate and self-contained story than your average Marvel Studios film. It’s really about Shang-Chi’s journey and dealing with his family’s trauma. Tony Leung’s Wenwu believes that his wife’s soul is trapped and being held prisoner by her home village of Ta Lo, and will go to any lengths to free her. The path to Ta Lo is hidden by an ever-changing maze of bamboo trees, and he needs both Shang-Chi and his daughter Xu Xialing (Meng'er Zhang) to open it. Identity plays a huge role in the film, and Leung does a fantastic job playing a more complex villain who believes that what he is doing is in the best interest of his whole family, regardless of the bigger complications that may arise from it. At the same time, however, because so much of the story and characters are new, there’s a lot of exposition to get through. Worse, the film explains these backstories and motivations multiple times throughout so the speeches get quite lengthy and tiring over time. I did enjoy the fact that Shang-Chi stands on its own for the most part and that you don’t need to watch all 24 previous MCU films to understand what is going on. It’s nice to get a fresh start with Phase Four, although there are still a few teases of what’s in store for the future.

 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings might not revitalize or redefine the superhero genre as it follows many of the same conventions that Marvel Studios has established, but it doesn’t really need to. The story is pretty standard, but the action is top-notch and the best Marvel has ever done. The whole film is wonderfully entertaining, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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