Over the years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been known for its repetitive nature. Let me tell you now that “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was anything but generic. But honestly, I would have preferred a simpler storyline rather than the new action and fantasy mix. When I watched it, I felt like I saw two movies, not because of the length but simply because of the overwhelming nature of the story. There was a bit of a disconnect within the film, as well as many inconsistencies.
The movie follows the life of Shang-Chi, the son of a Wenwu, a warrior who wields the ten rings: powerful alien technology that gives super-strength and eternal life. Wenwu meets Ying Li, the guardian of the magical village, Ta Lo. Soon after, their wife is murdered by enemies of the Ten Rings, sparking the old Wenwu to exact revenge. He trains his Shang-Chi to be the perfect martial artist and at the age of 14 sends him on a mission to kill his mother’s murderer. After completing the task, Shang-Chi runs away and starts a new life in San Francisco.
The movie cuts to the present day, where Shang-Chi is working as a car valet with his friend, Katy, and living a very laid back life. After multiple long action, fight scenes, we find out that Wenwu is searching for his kids to find his wife, although she is dead. A treasure map leads the Ten Rings to Ta Lo, where Shang-Chi fights his father and absorbs the rings as his own. At this point, all of the forces unite to beat the mystical beast Dweller in Darkness.
Before I state my thoughts on the story, I think the most critical aspect of the film to address is the casting. Marvel took a considerable risk with many of the choices in this movie’s cast, with their biggest risk being casting Simu Liu as Shang-Chi. Physically, Liu did a great job with stunts, action scenes, and hand-to-hand combat. Emotionally, not so much. Shang-Chi is meant to be this character who’s broken, someone whose past continues to haunt him. He’s fighting an antagonist as well as his own emotions. Watching Liu, I felt no emotional impact. In fact, he seemed perfectly fine, as if nothing ever happened. Having that extra layer of emotion would have done wonders for his character resolution at the closing of the movie.
Alongside Liu was Tony Leung, playing Xu Wenwu, Shang-Chi’s father. I found this choice to be very peculiar. Leung, known for his roles in romance and drama movies, plays another emotionally distorted character. Contrasting Liu, Leung did a great job showing Wenwu’s dramatic past of losing his wife, being corrupted by power, and ultimately losing contact with his children. The “scary” aspect of his character is where I had an issue. Leung, now 56 years old, is meant to play an immortal warrior leading his own army. Ambition and corruption were conveyed really well, but just not in a scary way like it was supposed to. While Leung did a great job playing Wenwu, I still think that casting a more villainous-looking actor would have taken the character to a different level.
Overall, I think Marvel did take some risks while casting “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” some of which paid off, others which did not.
Now, onto the story. In my opinion the movie was split into two parts: action and fantasy. The action part was crafted beautifully. The fight scenes were choreographed really well and they set up the tone for the rest of the movie. Out of nowhere, however, the movie takes a wide turn off its projected path and begins a whole new fantasy plot. The type of action changed, the story completely changed, and the resolution goals changed.
This second fantasy section switch focused on other characters rather than Shang-Chi. Starting with an unpredictable appearance from Ben Kingley’s Trevor “Mandarin” Slattery. His role, as it was in “Iron Man Three” was comedic but I thought was stretched for too long. I will admit, there were times I laughed at his stupidity, but it took some of the movies’ energy away from Shang-Chi.
Right off the bat, I despised Katy, portrayed by Awkwafina. The movie tried to get the new “young” vibe and she helped with that a lot, but I think she overshadowed Shang-Chi from San Francisco all the way to Ta Lo. At the end, she shoots an arrow that saves Ta Lo from being eaten by the Dweller in Darkness, they hype up that one shot that eventually Shang-Chi’s final moments seem bland.
This second section also introduced many new characters like Ying Nang, Shang-Chis’s aunt. She teaches him the mystical martial-arts of Ta Lo, the same technique that his mother used to beat Wenwu. Michelle Yoeh played this character really well, I would argue that of all the cast, she is the most talented. Regardless, I thought this scene was kind of rushed since there was no context of time. They arrived at Ta Lo and immediately began training for the ambush of Wenwu. There was essentially no time to meet her, learn about their mother and the history of the Dweller.
Of all of the characters, Wenwu dominated the second half of this movie. The movie followed his resolution, coming to terms with his family, fighting them, and then eventually giving up the rings. His death was filmed very well, it highlighted all the emotion of their family without having dialogue. But, rather than focus on Shang-Chi’s side of the story, they looked more at Wenwu.
Overall, Marvel phase four has had this recurring theme of having an antagonist but no apparent villain. Whether it is Galactus, Nightmare, or Kang the Conqueror, I look forward to seeing how this chapter unfolds.
All in all, I think Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was over-hyped. It didn’t have one central story, character, and even genre. I would still recommend it to all who are invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the following movies will drag on these themes found in the movie.