Had to see this one twice just to make sure it was as good as I originally thought. Spoiler alert: it’s totally as good as I originally thought.
Following the adventures of the latest Marvel hero to hit the silver screen, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings tells the tale of Asian American, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), and his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) as they’re pulled into a world where teenagers can crawl on walls, literal gods walk the streets, world-threatening evil is an everyday occurrence, and magic users are a dime a dozen. Pursued by his evil father, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) — leader of the terrorist organization dubbed the Ten Rings — Shang-Chi is roped back into a life he left behind, as he unearths mysteries and revelations along the way that push him towards a destiny he’s only just beginning to understand. But as Shang-Chi wrestles with his harrowing past and potential future, his world is turned upside down, and as the mystical elements of his estranged family come to light, Shang-Chi finds himself embarking on a journey that no other hero has experienced before. Cue all the dope fight scenes.
Immediately starting on an exciting and intriguing note, Shang-Chi does a great job of giving audiences something unique and new to experience, while simultaneously adhering to the tried and true formula Marvel has been using since their cinematic universe began. Able to make you laugh in a surprisingly non-annoying way (Marvel’s comedy bits usually feel way too forced and one-note at times), gasp with excitement (how bout that first real fight scene on the bus, huh?) and open your mind to a new way of seeing things (the Asian influences alone are smartly and deftly woven into the narrative near perfectly), Shang-Chi is a movie that needs to be seen by casual and die-hard MCU fans alike.
Full of real stunt-work along with a healthy dose of computer-generated special effects that border on anime-like action when needed, Shang-Chi works on levels that I never expected going in, especially considering its trailers basically gave away the entire film from the jump. With an overall look and feel that toes the line between explosive Hollywood blockbuster and a quiet, family-driven affair, Shang-Chi excels due to a script that pulls double duties in introducing a new likable hero, while also delving into his Chinese heritage that is luckily never shied away from.
Anchored by some fantastic performances by Simu Liu and Awkwafina, this film expertly balances a lot of elements at once but never loses sight of the story it’s trying to tell. And despite the number of characters running around as well as plot beats that jump from past to present and back again to flesh said characters out, I never felt lost, unsure or bored as to what was going on, resulting in a movie-going experience that I can honestly say stands out not only in as an entry in the MCU, but the superhero genre as a whole.
As for flaws, this film really doesn’t have many that stick out enough to notice. Sure, it’s slow in parts and some of the plot beats and expositional story elements are layered on a bit thick at times, but overall, the script is great with the direction and acting even more so, and considering the filmmakers have done such a stellar job all around, almost all of these nitpicks can be easily ignored.
So while this one definitely builds on and borrows from many other MCU films released in the past decade, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is also a movie that stands on its own as one of the best entries in this cinematic universe yet. Equal parts fun, funny, action-packed, character-driven, and unique all its own, Shang-Chi has set a new bar in terms of quality and filmmaking in a series of films that don’t seem to be slowing down. The only thing left to do now is hope a sequel gets greenlit sooner rather than later.