In the 25th adventure from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an Asian main character takes center stage for the first time. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings represents a novelty in superhero cinema and is also an excellent introduction to a film universe that actually already has 24 films under its belt. But above all, it makes you want more. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Chang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (USA/AUS 2021)
The plot summary
Katy (Awkwafina) actually thought she knew everything about her best friend Shaun (Simu Liu). Together they not only work as bellhops at a posh hotel and regularly fight over who can drive their guests’ luxury cars into the garage, but above all they make the nightlife unsafe and regularly get carried away with lavish karaoke parties. But then one day something happens that turns the friends’ lives completely upside down. On a bus at full speed, Shaun is attacked by some darkly dressed fighters who want something from Shaun – but what? He has no choice and has to tell Katy about the true background of his identity. Shaun’s actual name is Shang-Chi and he is a professional killer trained by his father Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), who fled his father’s care ten years ago to build a new, normal life elsewhere. But now the mysterious organization “Ten Rings” brings father, son and Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) back together…
The plans for a Marvel entry with an Asian hero at the center have existed since 2018. At that time, the MCU was in the middle of Phase Three and had already had “Black Panther”, “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Ant-Man in the Wasp”. lots of material provided for the fans. But with “Avengers: Endgame” and “Spider-Man: Far from Home” the end of the career for the first team of MCU heroes was already in sight. And in the meantime, those who once started it all have left comic film production – in line with the developments in the series’ content – and are making room for a new team of superheroes. In addition to Yelena Belova, who was introduced in “Black Widow”, these include the “Eternals” (theatrical release: November 5th, 2021) and the “Marvels” (theatrical release: November 11th, 2022) as well as Shang-Chi and probably also his best friend Katy, who, over the course of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” develops from comic relief to a real fighter and thus also another companion to her friend. Will the two of them become a couple at some point? Still open! But what is not at all open is the directorial and tonal direction that director Destin Daniel Cretton is taking with his first work for the MCU (and his first big-budget directorial work). And that’s surprising considering what the Hawaii native has been filming recently. In addition to the festival favorite “Short Term 12”, the deeply kitschy family analysis “Castle made of Glass” and the solid courtroom drama “Just Mercy”, Cretton was also responsible for the extremely miserable conversion film “The Hut – A Weekend with God”. Thankfully, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” couldn’t be further from this.
Katy (Awkwafina) and Shaun aka Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) are best friends. But he has a secret that she doesn’t know about…
After the round conclusion of the third MCU phase, “Black Widow”, the first title of phase four, failed to stir up enthusiasm for the next Marvel films at the beginning of the year. Maybe because this is a film that doesn’t show us what after happened before the events of “Endgame,” but before. Apart from the current Marvel series, “Shang-Chi” is now the first film after Phase Three to mention the Blip (i.e. the phase in which Thanos caused half of the earth’s population to disappear) and thus makes it clear from the start: It continues! And not just on the official timeline; In general, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” scores with a noticeable sense of optimism. Destin Daniel Cretton displays a directorial energy that is captivating and stirs up enthusiasm for the story of Shaun and Shang-Chi, his environment and his background. This puts the film ahead of many other Marvel origin stories, which were mostly about introducing not only the new character, but also his position within the MCU. Shang-Chi’s origin story, on the other hand – and it is already film 25 in the franchise – can be viewed completely separately from the remaining films. Screenwriter Dave Callaham (“Wonder Woman 1984”) creates a completely unique cosmos for its protagonists and only occasionally makes connections to well-known characters and events. For those familiar with the subject, this is enough to roughly classify Shang-Chi’s importance for upcoming films and to recognize cross-connections to other films (in particular, the surprising appearance of a long-forgotten character will delight many fans). But anyone who doesn’t do this has no disadvantage here. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is therefore an excellent entry-level Marvel movie, or just a very successful one, from Asian action films like “The Warriors” or “Kung Fu Hustle” (the posters for the films also hanging in Shaun’s bedroom) inspired superhero film.
“Destin Daniel Cretton displays a directorial energy that is captivating and stirs up enthusiasm for the story of Shaun and Shang-Chi, his environment and his background.”
And as such, the fight scenes in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” are particularly eye-catching. Because these have – at least in the first two thirds – a recognition value that cannot be attributed to all Marvel action scenes. The type of staging also differs in the previous films: from playful in “Ant-Man” and “Spider-Man” to rough and martial in the “Captain America” films to enriched with many fantastic elements in “Doctor Strange” (almost) all Marvel films have slight differences in the way their makers bring the bombast to the screen; and yet the MCU has never been known for particularly excelling in their action. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is on a level of its own. Especially the overview, the cameraman Bill Pope (“Baby Driver”) with his almost floating photography, is occasionally reminiscent of such gems as “Upgrade” or “Nobody”, which was only released in this country this year. In particular, a fight on a scaffolding is visually impressive, so we can say with a clear conscience: we have never seen a comparable staging within the MCU before; Let alone a martial art that is so clearly influenced by Asian fight and action films, to which the typical Hollywood bombast usually clearly subordinates himself. At least until the last third. Even then, Destin Daniel Cretton remains true to his chosen line, but means a little too well with the finale.
With its style, “Shang-Chi” stands out from many other MCU films.
When tons of fantasy creatures such as dragons or faceless hybrids of rabbit-like creatures and birds finally appear in the final battle, the screen (or, if you later want to watch the film on Disney+, on the television screen) is full of CGI swarms. The fact that it still seems impossible to stage a “people flying through the air on fantasy creatures” sequence in such a way that it looks better than in the 1990s classic “The Neverending Story” is on the one hand; “Shang-Chi” is simply not an exception, but the rule. But apart from that, many Cretton predecessors within the MCU have achieved much clearer, better coordinated and simply prettier final battles. All sorts of fighters and fantasy creatures have been dueling in front of a uniform gray-on-gray for far too long. And the final duel between Shang-Chi and his adversary, whose name we don’t want to reveal at this point because it is a great strength of the film that its course cannot be predicted most of the time, is dominated by computer effects, that take the focus away from the actual plus points of the film. This not only means that “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” feels far too long overall, but also that the quality curve falls towards the end. And that usually leaves you much more frustrated than the other way around.
“Many Cretton predecessors have achieved significantly clearer, better coordinated and simply prettier final battles within the MCU.”
Nevertheless, one has to say: The major weaknesses are clearly concentrated on the final chord. Until then, “Shang-Chi” is doing particularly well thanks to the excellent chemistry between Simu Liu (“Kim’s Convenience”) and Awkwafina (“Jumanji: The Next Level”) extremely fun; And that too without the typical one-liner punches that we are used to from the MCU. Overall, the film has a very positive tone, which at no point interferes with the staging of the martial arts scenes, as these are predominantly lively and light-footed and not extremely serious and gross motor. In addition, this “new world”, which is opened up to viewers and fans in a completely new way in “Black Panther”, is simply far too interesting to let the weak points of the film drag you down too much. We definitely want to see more of Shang-Chi and Katy!
Conclusion: Unfortunately, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” cannot maintain the quality of its very good opening and its equally exciting and aesthetically impressive middle part until the end, but apart from that it is one of the most entertaining origin stories within the MCU.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” can be seen in USA cinemas from September 2nd, 2021 and can be streamed on Disney+ from October 17th, 2021.