Phase Four of the MCU may not be the best, but so far it is the most consistent.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is the 25th entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and stars Simu Liu in the titular role as a young man who is forced to face his past and confront his father, a terrorist who has lived for a thousand years. The cast also includes Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung, while Destin Daniel Cretton directs and co-writes.
After a year without any Marvel products, 2021 has given us more than our fair share with three TV shows and two solo movies, as well as two more films to come (until they inevitably get delayed again). “Black Widow” was a solid entry into the sprawling cinematic universe and while “Shang-Chi” isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, there is enough style and attention to detail to make it stand out.
Simu Liu is a decent leading man, and dropped into the Marvel formula he isn’t asked to do too much. He gives Shang-Chi a nice blend of masculinity and vulnerability, and while at times his delivery can be a bit stoic he does have some nice comedic timing and chemistry with Awkwafina, who is equally charming in her own right (albeit at this point in her career, is playing herself).
I’ve seen some lauding Tony Leung’s performance as Wenu, Shang-Chi’s father and the film’s main antagonist. I thought he was serviceable, certainly not bad, but as with most Marvel baddies I just wasn’t overly interested or threatened by him. Killmonger has better motivations and the Vulture has a cooler design; I can’t imagine many people citing him atop the MCU’s villain list once the dust settles.
The fight sequences in the film are expertly staged, and after this and “Black Widow” it is nice to see the MCU allowing their films to get a bit more violent (we get a little bit of blood and a man gets run over by his own motorcycle). Some of the combat play out more like dances than fights, with the use of gentle motions and soft music, compared to quick cuts and loud orchestras. It’s a nice touch by director Destin Daniel Cretton, and what I came away with thinking about instead of the CGI noise finale that all superhero movies have.
Aside from the visually messy finale, the film also does sag in the middle once they start getting characters into position for the climax. The first 45 minutes of the film are really great, and I appreciated how it felt more like a genuine romcom than a superhero movie. I like Marvel as much as the next guy, but sometimes their quieter, more intimate movies like “Spider-Man: Homecoming” are them at their best. Also, the film attempts to retcon the events of “Iron Man 3” and explain away how Ben Kinglsey’s Mandarin was a fraud and it’s to mixed results; I liked part of what they were going for but then the more I sat on it the more annoyed I got.
“Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings” is a solid entry into the MCU and a pretty fun time at the movies overall. Before my screening started an audience member stood up and said, “attention everyone, I just wanted to let you know there are two post-credits scenes so be sure you stick around for them!” and it just reminded me why I love going to the theater.
Critics Rating: 7/10