Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings debuted after pandemic delays, and it was well worth the wait.
Since Avengers: Endgame premiered in April of 2019 there’s been a subtle unease surrounding upcoming Marvel content. With the loss of three of our six core Avengers — and the team as we knew it — there were a lot of questions about the future of the franchise. Could they continue on the same trajectory without Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, the two pillars of the Infinity Saga? Black Widow premiered with mixed reviews, but it didn’t give a good indication of the future, as Natasha’s story had already ended. That burden landed on Shang-Chi’s shoulders. And he carried the weight with ease.
Origin films are always difficult. Trying to find the balance between creating a believable, coherent backstory while not boring viewers is a thin rope to walk. Marvel has typically done a fairly good job with most of their origins, with some being better than others. However, Shang-Chi took origin films to the next level. I’m placing it up with Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger. (For reference, those are my two favorite origin films.) When you factor in that Shang-Chi is a fairly obscure character, it only heightens the quality and success of its storytelling. There isn’t as deep of a preexisting connection to Shang-Chi as Thor or Captain America, yet you’ll leave the theater with a newly formed appreciation and respect for him as a character and a hero. Its masterful world and emotion building its finest.
Marvel has had time to perfect its formula. Through the years, they’ve developed a perfect blend of humor, action, and heart, and Shang-Chi highlights this flawless blueprint. From the script to the performances and the visual comedy at the hands of director Destin Daniel Cretton, Shang-Chi showcased what Marvel does best. It packed an emotional punch in ways I wasn’t anticipating. It also made me laugh harder than I have at some movies marketed as comedies. The cast of this film was perfectly orchestrated, and I’m beyond thrilled to see our main three players move on within the MCU.
As Marvel became the powerhouse that we know, they’ve started laying deeper into visuals. Not only effects but wide shots and stunning settings to displace us from our world and into their own. Shang-Chi‘s visuals took us to an entirely new level. While we’ve enjoyed seeing the galaxies and beyond in previous films, this transported us to an entirely new one, which proved to be just as beautiful as the rest. Of course, there is a magical element to the film that can’t be overlooked. It was sifted into the narrative perfectly, not overpowering the plot or Shang-Chi himself, but accentuating an already developing hero and making him more on par with his fellow superheroes.
Everyone’s performance was phenomenal, but the most enjoyable aspect of this film was feeling the love that each performer had for this project. Their joy and love of this film radiates through their portrayals, making it all the more enjoyable to watch. Simu Liu manifested his destiny with Marvel for this film, and he doesn’t take the opportunity for granted. Awkwafina is an absolutely hilarious powerhouse and likely the most relatable of the characters as the most “normal” of the bunch. She delivers every line with charisma and charm; it’s impossible not to love Katy. Finally, Meng’er Zhang stuns as Xialing, a perfect balance to Awkwafina and Liu, and Tony Leung ties it together with a heart-wrenching take on a very complicated character.
The film doesn’t shy away from complexity. Daddy issues are no rare occurrence in the MCU. However, Shang-Chi adds a new depth compared to the others that have come before it, refreshing the trope and keeping the audience fully engaged. The dynamics are interesting, keeping away from overused storylines (no, Shang-Chi and Katy aren’t romantically involved), and while there are some aspects we’ve seen before, its supporting plot is enough to keep it fresh.
Shang-Chi also brought an entirely new fight choreography to the forefront. Not to say there isn’t heavy-hitting action, because there is, but filtered in is the grace that comes with the Kung Fu style that Shang-Chi’s character utilizes in the comics. It’s no doubt months (at least) of planning and practice were needed to perfect these scenes, and it shows. The care and skill that everyone involved showcases is an absolute highlight of the film.
As a white woman, I could not possibly comment on the culture and its representation in the film. However, I will say it was far overdue for an Asian-led superhero film. It’s a relief to see Marvel working more diligently towards an inclusive environment for fans around the globe to see themselves represented in these heroes.
Shang-Chi reinvigorated my excitement for the MCU’s cinematic future. I’ll admit my nerves are still buzzing as the Multiverse is introduced to this world I’ve immersed myself in for over a decade. But Shang-Chi was exactly the spark needed to prove that even without some of our originals, Marvel is here to stay. I’ll be surprised if this film doesn’t rank in everyone’s top 10.