We’re entering a phase of Marvel’s infinite storytelling where I fear those who aren’t regular comic book readers, will start to become disillusioned by their upcoming projects. And by ‘those’ I of course mean me. With the quick back to back releases of Shang-Chi and The Eternals, I feel storytelling and strong character writing will need to create a much bigger impact than what we’ve seen from the franchise this far, as nostalgia will do little to reel me into these new world’s being created.
Sima Liu leads the fray as the star, Shang-Chi. As the first Asian lead performance and the first feature in the MCU to fully embrace Asian heritage beyond just its casting, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is yet another milestone hit by the conglomerate giants over at Disney and Marvel Studios.
After the death of his mother, Shang flees the village in which he was brought up and escapes the clutches of his dangerous father Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), the proud owner of the magical McGuffin of this story, the Ten Rings. Living a new ordinary life in San Francisco, the now named Shaun (Shang-Chi), works as a valet with his friend Katy (Awkwafina). When their routine post-work commute is interrupted by a group known as the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi is forced to reveal his hidden past and once again confront his father.
Not too dissimilar from the MCU formula, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings falls wonderfully (if not a little surprisingly) into the franchise without feeling too odd or out of place. But from its action spectacle, director Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy, Short Term 12) offers us something we truly haven’t witnessed before in the series thus far. Bringing flamboyant filmmaking techniques of Eastern cinema to the MCU by demonstrating martial artistry at the highest order.
Each set piece is designed to out shine the one before it, leading up to a final showdown that is so bonkers you’d believe you’re watching an anime and it makes you forget that you’re watching the latest addition in the story of the MCU.
Much of what works for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings rests on the shoulders of the newest lead member. Sima Liu’s first go as the titular lead role provides for a perfect inclusion to the saga in a post Tony Stark era. Looking to be an important asset in future instalments and could riff off many of the esteemed characters authentically.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings adapts many of the same narrative beats you’d expect to find in an origin story and fundamentally accomplishes its goal of telling something that is compelling and worthwhile. Sadly though, the energy found in its action heavy set pieces can’t be found elsewhere.
Slowing right down somewhere around the middle of its runtime, Shang-Chi loses much of the momentum built up with its frantic and fast paced action in favour of some tiring and often humourless backstory.
Of course it wouldn’t feel like a complete tie in with the rest of the franchise without the appearance of cameos or character crossovers. Most of which just feel totally misplaced and used for comedic effect as apposed to narrative competency.
As a starting point for welcoming the character of Shang-Chi to the MCU, Destin Daniel Cretton’s directing effort is a fun and informative entry to the franchise, but when pitted against everything else we’ve seen throughout the years in the franchise, falls short of ranking amongst the best of them. Perhaps a title better enjoyed with the help of nostalgia and prior background knowledge.