Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings follows runaway Shang-Chi/Shaun (Simu Liu) as he returns home and confronts the familial trauma he left behind.
In many ways, the film is just retracing the steps of the superhero origin stories that have come before it. There’s a hero, there’s a journey, and there’s a threat; but somehow, Shang-Chi still feels like a fresh inclusion to the genre.
I’ll admit that during the first ten minutes I was apprehensive. It felt as though I was entering into an experience that I’d find enjoyable, but would ultimately put down as filler for the newest phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And then the first punch was thrown.
I have never really understood what constitutes a good fight scene. To me, action scenes in action films often feel a bit bland – a blur of movement that’s hard to keep up with which ends up acting as a bridge between moments in the narrative. However, Shang-Chi gives a masterclass in the makings of an epic fight scene that propels the story forward. The practice of martial arts is part of that story and I loved watching it.
Andy Cheng’s exciting choreography coupled with Bill Pope’s contribution as director of photography gives a flow to the action. At times the fight sequences even feel like an artful dance.
In addition to the remarkable fight scenes, Shang-Chi offers some brilliant performances. As the first Asian superhero in the MCU, Simu Liu has a lot on his shoulders, but he leads with ease, and I won’t be surprised if he quickly becomes a fan favourite. He manages to keep his character’s goofy personality intact while letting us see his serious side when the time calls for it.
It was amazing to see Tony Leung gracing Hollywood screens after years of wowing Hong Kong audiences and arthouse fans. His role as Xu Wenwu, Shang-Chi’s father and antagonist, created one of my favourite villains I’ve seen in the MCU, and this was in large part due to Leung’s performance.
While none of the cast let the side down, I will say that the surprise inclusion of a minor character from earlier in the MCU did feel out of place. Although they produced some comedic moments, Awkwafina and Liu’s chemistry could have supported this instead.
Sometimes large-scale action films can fall into the trap of making their male protagonists all fight. It is almost as if they expect their leading men to wear their tragic backstories emblazoned across their foreheads. In Shang-Chi’s character, his trauma is a part of his story, but that’s not all he is.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings could have easily been a generic origin story. Instead, audiences are taken along for the journey. Rather than telling us what each character’s motivations were in the first five minutes, we discovered the story with the characters. It may feel familiar as an origin story, but it has its own voice.
Just like how Black Panther rightfully put Black talent on the world stage, this film will feel very personal to a lot of people in Asian communities. Destin Daniel Cretton’s direction is a clear homage to Asian people everywhere, conveyed through large set pieces to small character moments.
I am always worried at this stage of the Marvel Universe that they will stagnate. Kevin Feige has proven that he can create consistently good movies. I just fear that at some point they will settle for good and not innovative.
Black Widow, although a solid addition, felt like something we have seen before. Although Shang-Chi isn’t an enormous deviation from the rest of the universe, it does feel new. There isn’t a reliance on nostalgia; it carves its own path and has made me genuinely excited to see what’s next from Marvel.
Shang-Chi and the legend of the Ten Rings is showing in theatres now.
Featured Image Credit: Marvel Studio/Nerdist