Well, I’m back from watching Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and well, I’ve got thoughts. Some good, some bad, but overall, Marvel Studios has another hit on their hands.
I’m going to break this review down into sections because I have so much to say so…let’s do this.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has a really good story, even if it didn’t quite know how to cohesively tell it without veering sometimes dangerously close to cornball-ville or boring predictabilty.
Tony Leung brings the heart to this movie in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I don’t think this film would have been as good as it was if it wasn’t for casting him as the story’s antagonist.
The story is very family-driven and leans heavily into the emotional side of things, hence the tears I ended up shedding during the film’s final act. While Simu Liu is a welcome addition to the MCU, Leung’s Wenwu was the character I empathized with the most.
This movie is funny, just like all Marvel movies are funny, but sometimes the humor was a little too much. Some jokes are laugh-out-loud funny while other jokes I could see coming from a mile away. But overall, casting is everything and Simu Liu and Awkwafina really managed to land all of the comedic beats.
The Action Scenes
Yes, this movie has some of the best action scenes in the MCU. Maybe, in fact, the very best…which makes sense considering that it deals with a lot of martial arts. But still, the action at times felt very eye-popping and was very impressive visually.
Shang-Chi is no joke and will be a fine addition to the Avengers. And his sister, Xialing, is another character whose story I am very enthused to see continue in the MCU. I loved her!
Once again, Marvel has created a bunch of lovable characters. Simu Liu killed it as Shang-Chi and will undoubtedly be a fan-favorite. Awkwafina once again is the lovable best friend (or is she something more?) and nails all of her comedic moments. I cannot express how much I loved Tony Leung’s empathetic Wenwu. Meng’er Zhang is another cool sibling. I loved her. And of course Michelle Yeoh was a highlight in the film.
What can I say? Sarah Halley Finn did a great job casting again!
All in all, Shang-Chi is a marvel, no pun intended. The film is a bit long but pretty darn entertaining overall. Asian-Americans will feel represented in ways they’ve never had the chance to see in a major blockbuster like this before. The story and characters are introduced in a way that you will fully understand and care about them while also being moved by their journeys in the film. And once again Marvel sticks the landing. Great job, Marvel Studios.
I’ll give the film 93 out of 10 and 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s worth the watch, for sure.
I thank you for reading and I hope you have a tremendous day.
2 thoughts on “‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ Isn’t Perfect But It Did Its Thing”
Saw it in 4DX yesterday and unfortunately I think it was one of the lesser MCU efforts. I definitely agree Tony Leung was the best character in the movie. But because of that, I felt like I was identifying with him and rooting for him even at the moments when the movie wanted me to be hating him and rooting for Shang-Chi to take him out. Tony was just a much better actor than Simu Liu, who seemed completely bland and wooden. They may have gone over Wenwu’s dark deeds in history earlier in the film, but that may have slipped from my memory as the film went on.
The awkward attempts at comedy were a big problem for me. Awkwafina (Awkward-fina?) didn’t make me laugh at all. And when she wasn’t doing her schtick, she basically had no personality. Seeing a comedian put in as a sidekick in a superhero movie just brings back memories of Richard Pryor in Superman III. It was a mistake then and a mistake now. Seeing the two of them do the comedic summary of events at the end of the movie was a lot like one of Richard Pryor’s scenes, and just shows the dangers of this. You can very easily make a superhero movie seem ridiculous and unbelievable if you start poking fun at the storyline. But that prevents us from staying fully immersed in the fantasy. They also give Tony a rant against the “Mandarin” name, which is a joke at the expense of decades of comic book lore. Never a respectful thing to do when it comes to the fan base. And, surprise, there’s a big joke moment when the tough villain decides to be a softie and agree to work with the heroes. Never saw that one before. I think Kingsley and his “pet” provided the only chuckles I got out of the movie.
The action scenes are good, but only as technical exercises. I didn’t feel like the story added enough drama and/or logic to back them up. Starting the bus fight just because one character wants to steal an object is about as flimsy a reason as you can get. And because we have no idea what the importance of the object is at that point, we feel less suspense. And, in retrospect, since they know where Shang lives, it would’ve been far easier to just find an opportunity to steal it while he was sleeping. Or, since he was already baited to visit his sister, get it there. Or just wait until he tells them the story about their mother, which he was apparently always going to do anyway, and ask for the stones then.
Other things didn’t make a lot of sense. The fight between Tony and Michelle was nice to look at, but I didn’t personally understand why it sometimes looked like a dance. The secret path through the forest seems impossible to navigate without having a high-speed vehicle, but why would an ancient spell have such a requirement? In the final battle, if the villagers knew the dragon was underwater, why wouldn’t they have sent someone to call it out? The coordination between Shang and the dragon also seemed too choreographed, as if they had developed a plan, but that would’ve been impossible.
This leads into the problem of fantasy movies that have a lot of magic, but don’t explain how it works, or what its limits are. I am not walking away from the movie with an understanding of what the power of the ten rings is. I can see they extend like a slinky, and can blow things up real good. In the comic books, I believe each ring (the kind worn on a finger) had a specifically defined power. More importantly, if I can’t understand the rings, how can Shang take possession of them and immediately know how to operate them so effectively? I also don’t remember it being explained how Wenwu had this army at his disposal. Was he paying them or did he have some mystical way of commanding their loyalty?
In a movie that’s already potentially confusing, I don’t think it was a wise idea to split Shang’s origin up in flashbacks spread throughout the entire length of the movie. It prevents us from getting a lot of his character development early on when it might’ve helped us get more interested in his journey sooner. If the elements of your story are complex, it’s better to make the TELLING of the story simple. Unfortunately, when it got to the point of revealing his dark secret, I don’t think the actor successfully landed the pathos it needed. And then that little speech at the end about how Shang and Katy are now part of the “superhero club.” Just because he knows martial arts and took possession of those bracelets? Not to mention she’s a barely trained, powerless sidekick. Wouldn’t it have been better for Wong to ask for those bracelets to keep them somewhere safe where they couldn’t fall into the wrong hands? At any rate, it’s corny as heck to give a speech basically “announcing” that they’re now in the rolodex when it comes to finding help in the next crossover crisis.
At certain points, I found myself wondering if this is honoring Asian culture, or is it just taking a lot of cliches and stereotypes and mining them for Hollywood’s moneymaking machine. Even the stuff with the parents telling the kids to be higher achievers, which they hammered over and over in multiple scenes, represents the well-known Asian “tiger mom” stereotype. Yes, it may be one of those stereotypes with truth behind it, but it doesn’t seem all that creative to grab every established trope of Asian culture out there and make a movie out of it. And of course, they threw in the gratuitous “girl power” moment where a woman boasts that she can do things better than the men. Meng’er Zhang seemed like a good actress, but I could easily see this character being cut out of the movie entirely. Nothing pivotal in the plot seemed to hinge specifically on Shang having a sister.
It seems to me to be a movie that has a lot of silly stuff in it, and spends too much time making jokes out of that silly stuff, instead of using movie magic to help us understand and believe in all of it. The connective tissue between the big action scenes was among the thinnest and most perfunctory in all the MCU movies. Similar to Hank Pym in Ant-Man, Wenwu goes through enormous machinations to get the hero’s attention instead of just showing up at his door and explaining what’s going on. Lastly, I don’t think there’s ever been an MCU movie where I was rooting for the villain over the hero, which is ultimately the movie’s most fundamental and fatal problem.
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Everything you said is unfortunately valid. There are a lot of holes once you start poking. I, however, really enjoyed the movie, loved the characters, and it was a visually arresting film at many times.
But I do understand every one of your gripes. Sorry you didn’t like the film.
As a character, do you think you’ll like Shang-Chi as an addition to the Avengers?