Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first solo movie to introduce a new character to the MCU since Captain Marvel. To that end, this movie is a rousing success. Simu Liu is a movie star in the making. And as soon as he appears on screen, he demands your attention. Liu effortlessly sells the action. But on top of that, his warmth and sense of humor fit right in with the Avengers. Unfortunately, the movie’s third act takes an unexpected turn for the worse, but it doesn’t knock the shine off of what is an otherwise solid flick. Our full spoiler-free review of Shang-Chi follows.
Having spent the last decade building up to Avengers: Endgame, Marvel Studios is now hitting the reset button. The Disney+ shows (WandaVision, Falcon, Loki) have basically served as epilogues to the Infinity Saga, while Black Widow was set right in the middle of it. As such, Shang-Chi bears the weight of telling a brand new origin story while opening the door to Phase 4.
In many ways, it accomplishes both of those tasks with grace. Shang-Chi is the son of Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), who is in charge of the powerful criminal organization known as the Ten Rings. He named the organization after the powerful artifacts that he wears on his arms.
Wenwu is also known as the Mandarin. Fans should remember the character from Iron Man 3. In that movie, an actor named Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) was hired to play the role of the terrorist leader. If you are curious about the real Mandarin, you’ll get all of your answers here.
Shang-Chi review: What is the movie about?
More than anything, Shang-Chi is a family drama. The relationships that Shang-Chi has with his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), his mother Jiang Li (Fala Chen), and his father are what drive the plot. They inevitably drift apart, but it feels as if the universe has them on a collision course with one another. And Shang-Chi’s friend Katy (Awkwafina) gets caught up in the fray.
Liu and Awkwafina do their part to carry the movie. The friendship between Shang-Chi and Katy helps to ground the conflict, and Awkwafina is a perfect audience surrogate. As the stakes grow higher, Katy finds herself wrapped up in an increasingly unfathomable state of affairs.
Importantly, the movie does a good job of splitting our time between the present day and the past. Flashbacks don’t bog it down, which is good. But we learn everything that we need to know about this family. Early on, it’s clear that Shang-Chi and Xialing are going to be forced to reckon with their past, even as they do everything in their power to avoid it.
For the first hour or so, I had a great time watching the drama build. Between the spectacular action setpieces were moments of emotional turmoil that really resonated. But, to be clear, action is the star here. The bus scene that you saw in the trailer is just an appetizer for what the director, Destin Daniel Cretton, has in store. There have been plenty of great hand-to-hand fights in the MCU, but Shang-Chi features a few of the best. I hope he gets a chance to work with Marvel again.
Shang-Chi doesn’t quite stick the landing
As good as the first two-thirds of the movie are, the third act is a bit of a mess. Generally, Marvel has been really good about paying off the emotional stakes that it sets up. But CGI-induced madness really bog down the final 30 minutes of this movie. As a result, the story loses its focus somewhat. On one hand, it feels unlike anything else Marvel has done. On the other, it feels completely out of left field after the first hour and a half of the movie.
As I said at the top, it didn’t ruin the movie for me, but it did leave me scratching my head. Admittedly, I know very little about Shang-Chi in the Marvel comic books, so perhaps it is true to his character and his story. That said, it wasn’t exactly the resolution I was expecting.
Nevertheless, the movie did get me excited about seeing more of Simu Liu in the MCU, as you can tell from this Shang-Chi review. He’s charismatic, he’s a badass, and most importantly, he’s really funny. It’s not clear when exactly we’ll see him again as the movie ends, but I have a feeling it will be sooner than later.