Updated: Oct 24, 2021
(c) Marvel Entertainment. Video courtesy of Marvel via Youtube.
Full of action, excitement, and a visual feast thanks to stunning cinematography wrapped up in the stylings of old school martial arts films, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings kicks off the MCU phase 4 film run on a high with only a few of the MCU’s niggling issues surfacing.
The film centres around Shang-Chi (Simu Lui) after his comfortable life in America as a parling valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) is shattered by the re-emergence of his father The Mandarin (Tony Leung Chui-Wai) and his mercenary group The Ten Rings Organisation.
It’s revealed that Shang-Chi isn’t your average valet. He’s been trained by his father since he was seven to be his father’s personal hitman and heir to the organisation. The Ten Rings chase him from America to Hong Kong all the way to their compound where he’s imprisoned for not going along with his father’s plans to storm into the mystical city Ta Lo and raze it to the ground.
While imprisoned they discover that Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) the former actor that played the fake Mandarin in Iron Man 3 has also been imprisoned and is performing stage productions for the organisation. After some persuasion, they convince Trevor to help them break out of the compound, and with the help of the creature Morris they discover Ta Lo just in time to fight off The Mandarin.
Shang-Chi’s father has been searching for this mystical city of Ta Lo ever since he discovered the power of The Ten Rings millennia ago. After the death of his wife, the search has consumed him as he is desperate to find the city as he believes he will be able to resurrect his dead wife.
Now Shang-Chi has to confront not only his father but also his past actions and trauma to discover his purpose and true calling in life. That’s the summary of Act 1 & 2 and then Act 3 starts and this is where the first big issue rears its ugly head.
The entire film up to that point is setup more as a conflict of ideologies between father and son and it’s been by far one of the most compelling conflicts the MCU has had in its mainline films for a long time. Then in the third act it’s just tossed aside in order to get the mandated generic shadow/darkness monster horde battle in like every superhero film since MCU phase 1.
Just like the light beam into the sky trope that’s also prevalent in superhero films, it’s predictable, overdone and in truth, extremely frustrating when they had a more compelling and nuanced conflict that they built up only to toss it aside.
Another thing the film doesn’t throw away from the comics is the stylish martial arts action. The opening action sequence set on a runaway bus is just exceptional. The choreography is tight, each punch and kick feels meaty and kinetic and I could clearly see where each blow landed instead of having twenty billion jump cuts between each shot (thinking of you Taken 3… for the first time in years).
The action channels the old school black and white martial arts films while injecting a fun modern twist throughout the first two acts. The pinnacle of this for me is the thrilling action set piece fought on the bamboo scaffolding outside a Hong Kong high rise apartment building. The action’s full of suspense and is easily the high point of the film’s action for me.
Most of the characters are also pretty solid with The Mandarin and Trevor absolutely making the film for me. Trevor’s a good comedic foil for the rest of the serious characters and brings some nice moments of levity especially at the third act.
The Mandarin is the only real villain in the MCU that I’ve ever felt sympathetic towards except for The Vulture from Spiderman: Homecoming. The motivation behind his actions, his need to reunite with his wife and the lengths he’ll go to in order to get her back resonated with me. In the face of such a nuanced villain, Shang-Chi can’t help being a little flat and by the numbers as a protagonist especially seeing as he follows the heroes’ journey arc to the letter.
Unfortunately, the tight action scenes and compelling characters are pretty much all dumped in the third act just to be replaced with the typical generic horde of faceless demons and ghouls whose only motivation is that they’re evil because some ancient prophecy said they were evil. All this just makes the film feel predictable and just another Marvel ending.
By the time the third act rolls around, you can tell exactly how it’s going to end. The good guys are going to end up winning, the bad guys will be defeated and Shang-Chi will end up discovering the power inside him all along and use it to overcome his obstacles while making peace with his past. It’s predictable, it’s frustrating but I can’t lay all the blame on the film as it’s more of an underlying issue with the MCU as a whole.
The film’s good overall and would have been my favourite superhero film of this year if not for the newest Spiderman film being released later this year. It’s a real shame that this film that’s at least attempting something different than the standard MCU formula is going to be overshadowed by yet another Spiderman film (even though I am really excited for it and will probably see it on opening night).
Overall, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a great action martial arts film for the first two acts with stunning action scenes and a compelling villain only for all that good work to be superseded by the usual MCU third act.
What did you think of Shang-Chi? Is it your film of the year so far? Let me know down below.
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