Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is so much more than a par-for-the-course Marvel film. A beautifully diverse and exciting film that introduces new characters; breathing some colorful life into the MCU to ensure that our unwavering loyalty/addiction to this universe remains intact.
Shang-Chi is living the dream of parking cars for other people when The Ten Rings organization comes knocking, dragging him and his best friend Katy into his complicated familial past. One he walked away from long ago.
I know that for many hearing, or reading, someone praise yet another (the 25th to be exact) Marvel film can induce some eye-rolls. If you’re among those, I get it. Though I love them, Kevin Feige and Co. have certainly made a brand, recognizable the world over. There’s definitely a formula and many of their films follow it to a tee but what Destin Daniel Cretton brings to this film is so much more than we were expecting.
It’s funny because going into a film featuring a nearly all-Asian cast involved in supernatural forces inspired by Asian mythology causes me to immediately think of all the stereotypes that tend to come with them. You think of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. You think of the wondrous martial arts that grant their wielder the ability to run up trees and across water. Your mind doesn’t instinctually go to the stereotypes associated with Marvel. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about this film is precisely this: Destin Daniel Cretton somehow manages to lean into these while somehow challenging them at the same time. A fine line he walks quite well.
Our cast delivers on every level, enhancing the richness of what this means for Asian representation as well as for the future of the MCU. Simu Liu showed up to do his this! He’s charismatic, funny, and a total badass. Tony Chiu-Wai Leung portrays the complicated antagonist that is The Mandarin. You know what I love more than a strong villain? A complex one. A villain whose motives make you question whether you would, having been dealt similar cards, look at the world any differently than they. The Mandarin absolutely enters the exclusive club of great MCU baddies.
Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, & Michelle Yeoh also deliver fantastic performances we won’t soon forget but it is Awkwafina who surprised me the most. Was she Awkwafina? Yes, but also no. She pulled back her usual eccentric personality managing to match the energy Liu brought to Shang. Considering they are on screen together for most of the film, this helped immensely in our ability to “ship” them as BFF’s. Their chemistry brings this film to a whole other level.
I want to also highlight cinematographer Bill Pope and fight coordinator Andy Cheng who, together, brought some serious joy to this critic’s heart. In films with phenomenal fight sequences I love nothing more than a director who is bold enough to let the action play out in long wide takes that capture the magic in its entirety. Cretton trusted his performers, cinematographer, & fight coordinator enough to do so and for this I thank him.
Shang-Chi is the next great MCU superhero! The film isn’t even out yet and I am dying for a sequel. Before then, I am excited to see them interacting with our other beloved characters. How I would have loved to see him and T’Chala interacting and fighting alongside one another. Sadly this cannot be but hopefully seeing him do the same with Shuri will be equally rewarding in its own way.