When Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was originally announced, excitement about the film arguably wasn’t high. Sure, it was great to see the Ten Rings set to take the stage and the Mandarin be given his proper due, but the character didn’t strike much interest.
At the time, the mindset of wanting to see Iron Fist done properly was fairly strong, so seeing Shang-Chi get chosen instead was a little head-scratching—even though the complicated copyright behind the character thanks to Netflix is well documented.
All of that said, even up until a few weeks ago, excitement about seeing the film wasn’t notable in any sense; the project was simply happening. Thankfully, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings began to surpass expectations. Boy, did the world vastly underestimate this film.
The film introduces Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi to the world, someone who is known as the Master of Kung Fu in the comics. The film takes lots of liberties from the source material, but most of those deviations are for the better. In the MCU, Shang-Chi has been away from his father, Wenwu/The Mandarin, for ten years, living a normal life, something which explains his absence up until this point.
Of course, things happen, and Shang-Chi is forced into action, bringing him back into his father’s world. In doing so, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is enriched by the many new and unique elements that the film introduces to the world.
SHANG-CHI IN ACTION
Easily the most impressive part of Shang-Chi lies within the fight choreography present throughout. The trolley fight sequence—which has been seen throughout nearly all the trailers—was absolutely mind-blowing. It’s no exaggeration to say that it is nothing like any other action sequence in the MCU to date.
The kung fu present is reminiscent of classic martial arts films, and it carries through the entirety of Shang-Chi. Nearly every major action sequence utilizes these techniques, and it makes for numerous impressive stunts and fights that many wouldn’t believe have finally made it into the MCU.
A lot of this was made possible thanks to the film’s supervising stunt coordinator and second-unit director Bradley James Allan, who sadly passed away a few weeks ago. He was a long-time member of Jackie Chan’s team, and his knowledge and expertise were responsible for bringing new life to the MCU.
While the fighting styles present in the film truly make unique, there’s another weapon in the film’s arsenal: the Ten Rings. No, not the organization, but the mythical artifact that Wenwu wears around his arms.
On paper, the way in which Shang-Chi has adapted the Ten Rings seems pretty dull. They certainly are nothing like their comic counterparts, likely in a bid to distinguish them from the Infinity Stones. For one, they really aren’t even really rings rather than bracelets worn every time they are on screen.
But the team at Marvel Studios and the creatives behind Shang-Chi did a great job at fleshing out how the Ten Rings would function as a weapon, and it is a blast to watch them in action.
The logistics of how someone like Wenwu would use them in combat compared to Shang-Chi were phenomenally executed and thought out. Every time they graced the screen, the ways that characters used and/or defended against them were inventive and rich with creativity, leading to some incredibly beautiful moments.
KATY, THE PASSENGER
Awkwafina also stars as Shang-Chi's best friend Katy, sharing a platonic relationship with Shang-Chi—something the movie never takes steps to push toward anything further; which is refreshing, to say the least.
As for Katy’s character, she’s fun, but Awkwafina is basically just along for the ride. The film does give her some character development, parallel to that of Shang-Chi’s in some aspects, but it’s rather simple and rarely in the spotlight.
Still, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not every character can get all the attention. Her role may be more in the background, but what she does get is enough to keep the character from feeling like an entirely useless part of the story.
XIALING, THE PROTEGE
One of the most pleasant surprises of the film was Meng’er Zhang’s Xialing, Shang-Chi’s younger sister. Being new on the scene doesn’t seem to have bothered Zhang once as she completely nails it.
What’s even better is that she is basically just as much of a lead as Simu Liu’s titular hero. They are both struggling with similar issues but handle them differently—as they do with the trauma on both of their shoulders.
The relationship between Xialing and her brother is one of the best parts of the film and is as interesting as both of their relations with their estranged father. While the fight scenes may be what the film does best, the family dynamics and conflict are easily next on the list.
Looking back at Ant-Man, Xialing is basically what Evangeline Lilly’s Janet/Wasp was but even more so as she plays an integral part in the film. Don’t be surprised if Xialing pops up somewhere pretty important down the line.
WENWU, THE MANDARIN
Tony Leung gives a fantastic nuanced performance throughout the entire film. His character, Wenwu, or The Mandarin as most of America knows him, is easily one of the most relatable and sympathetic villains to date—a case could be made that he isn’t the bad guy at all.
Wenwu is terrifying, and his calm demeanor truly makes him feel unpredictable. Leung never overdoes it for the role and portrays the quiet strength and deep sadness the character is grappling with perfectly. The Mandarin is truly a quintessential tragic character.
After the film is released, Wenwu may start rising on everyone’s list of best MCU villains. He truly does match up with the likes of Killmonger or Vulture, though Thanos arguably remains number one.
Having the Mandarin finally revealed and fleshed out has been a long time coming. It’s satisfying to say the least, even if it isn’t done exactly how fans may expect.
For those wondering how much of this character will connect back to Iron Man 3, it does in an organic and fun way. Thanks to the reveal at Shang-Chi’s red carpet premiere, it’s safe to say that Sir Ben Kingsley is back as Trevor Slatery. To say any more, however, would be spoiling, but his appearance is more than just a quick cameo.
A FANTASTICAL INTRODUCTION
While the trailers seem to have revealed a lot, there is a good chunk of huge MCU additions that haven’t made it into the marketing (yet). Fret not, they won’t be revealed here, but the film certainly opens up the doors to an entirely new corner of the world begging to be explored.
As glimpsed briefly in the promotional materials with the dragon and large lions, Shang-Chi strikes a more fantasy feel than any other MCU film before it. It’s also something that the movie doesn’t ever try to shy away from and embraces with open arms.
Having such outlandish concepts in play while also trying to put out a grounded and serious family drama is a hard act to balance. Yet, Destin Daniel Cretton does so with ease as the more fantastical elements never get in the way of the emotional root of the story—and neither do the comedic beats, something that can’t be said by other MCU adventures such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok.
THE STRUCTURE, VISUALS, AND MUSIC
While there’s plenty to love in this film, the structure of it all isn’t anything new. It pretty much follows the same exact blueprint which a lot of other MCU films do, so don’t expect anything groundbreaking in that regard.
Even up through Shang-Chi’s last act, the film never deviates from its structural chains. Some may also be turned off by the copious amount of CGI at points throughout the film. In truth, none of the visual effects were a letdown, so that shouldn’t be an issue for most.
The last act especially has some truly phenomenal visuals, and everything happening is off-the-charts insane—maybe too much at points, with the film essentially requiring the viewer to simply accept what they are witnessing. None of that, however, takes away from how fun it all is at the moment.
As for the overall design for the film, it’s splendidly done. Shang-Chi’s costume in particular is phenomenal, being both simple yet endlessly intricate. Xialing sports a similar piece of garb, and it is equally impressive.
There are many new creature designs as briefly seen in the trailers which truly bring out that sense of wonder. Once it’s seen by the general audience, the world will know, but just looking at what the film gives in this regard, it’s crazy to think that all of it is now officially a part of the wider MCU.
Lastly, the film's song/soundtrack choices were particularly great during the many action sequences that are housed within. The chosen tracks enhanced every action sequence they were in. Overall, though, there isn’t any particular track that stuck after the film–, so don't expect an iconic Shang-Chi theme in the same vein as Black Panther/Wakanda or Captain America.
WRAPPING UP: SHANG-CHI HITS THE MARK
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a beautiful film. For those wanting the standard MCU affair, it’s all there.
Despite the film not breaking free from the usual structure the Marvel films follow, Shang-Chi adds plenty to the table that no other previous Marvel Studios film has to offer.
Whether it be the incredible martial arts action scenes or the newly introduced fantastical elements, or the underlying family trauma and struggles which make up the core of the film—Shang-Chi makes a truly impactful addition to the colorful roster of the MCU.
The real question is: where will he show up next?