“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” makes history for Marvel

Shang-Chi cover poster

Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi cover poster

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” makes history for Marvel
Sydney Bowman

There seems to be no stopping the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) this year as Phase Four of the popular franchise is ever-expanding. So far, 2021 has seen the releases of “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “Loki,” “Black Widow,” and the currently-running “What If…?” all to rave reviews from critics and fans alike.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” joins the MCU’s lineup as the first Asian-led, directed, and majority-cast film of the franchise. Amid a scathing lawsuit from Scarlett Johansson over the release of “Black Widow,” “Shang-Chi” is a theater-exclusive, which many experts predicted to be to the detriment of the film’s earnings. Instead, the movie seems to be outdoing projections and is well on track to set a new box office record for Labor Day weekend. This is good news for the upcoming “Eternals” as questions have arisen regarding the possibility of delay.

“Shang-Chi” tells the story of the titular martial artist (Simu Liu) as he tries to hide his identity from his power-crazed father, Wenwu (Tony Leung), after escaping his upbringing as a killer. Wenwu is the leader of The Ten Rings, an organization that has been present in the MCU since its inception in “Iron Man.” When Shang-Chi’s cover is blown, he and his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) must track down his sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), and stop Wenwu from releasing a primal evil upon the world.

As a martial arts film, the action in “Shang-Chi” is absolutely unmatched. The fight choreography is leagues above that in anything the MCU has ever produced with its clever incorporation of various styles of martial arts, all without the quick cuts common in MCU action sequences. This is due to Liu being a trained stuntman, martial artist, and gymnast; therefore, he did not need a stunt double for the vast majority of the film.

An early bus fight scene stands out in particular where Shang-Chi is attacked by assassins and must defend himself, Katy, and the other civilians on the bus. The action is energetic, exciting, and clever.

Underneath the flashy presentation lies a strong emotional core that thoroughly explores the complex dynamics of Shang-Chi’s family. Wenwu is one of the better antagonists in the franchise. His motivations are very well-defined, and the audience can easily sympathize with him despite his darkness. Shang-Chi himself has complicated feelings regarding his father, painting the young protagonist as a troubled man that desperately wants to repent for a dark past but struggles with truly hating Wenwu. All of this brings about the film’s themes of family legacy, moral ambiguity, and personal redemption.

Shang-Chi’s relationship with Katy is a standout element of the film. Liu and Awkwafina have remarkable onscreen chemistry that lets them easily bounce off of each other. Audiences will love the banter between the two best friends as well as their willingness to do anything for each other. Quite honestly, the pair have one of the most endearing dynamics of any two MCU characters. It will be in the series’ best interest if Katy returns with Shang-Chi in his next appearance, whenever that shall be.

Xialing, Shang-Chi’s sister, is easily the least interesting character of the film as she is presented with an intriguing backstory but little personality to accompany it. However, the character serves an important purpose in Shang-Chi’s arc, so she is not entirely wasted potential as her presence is a constant reminder of his past failures. The MCU has been keen on developing its supporting characters in recent years, so it stands to reason that Xialing will have her chance to really shine in a future project.

“Shang-Chi” is also quite comedic at times, owing mostly to Katy for her mischievous, light-hearted antics. Unlike predecessor “Black Widow,” the film actually handles these moments of humor quite well without breaking the dramatic tension of its major climaxes. Instead, the quips are enjoyable but largely harmless.

Perhaps most important is the movie’s reverence for Asian cultures, especially that of China. The movie is primarily set in China, and there is even a location teeming with mythical creatures taken straight out of Chinese folklore. The vast majority of the cast is also Asian, as is director Destin Daniel Cretton. Even the film’s score takes inspiration from traditional Chinese music with beautiful flute and string melodies. “Shang-Chi” takes a huge step in representing Asian people and culture in the superhero genre.

The only glaring criticism to be made is the movie’s overreliance on CGI. For much of the film, it is extremely obvious when the actors are placed against a green screen, which happens for most of the scenes taking place outdoors. In addition, the film’s final battle devolves into a CGI-riddled confrontation. Audiences have come to expect heavy visual effects in MCU films, but “Shang-Chi” steps just a little over the line, much like “Black Panther” or “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

Overall, “Shang-Chi” is an excellent addition to the MCU library and serves as an important representation of Asian culture. With superb action, sympathetic characters, and show-stealing performances, “Shang-Chi” will likely become a fan favorite. The future is certainly bright for the franchise’s newest hero. Once again, Phase Four has produced a winner, and with “Eternals,” “Hawkeye,” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” still set to be released this year, the MCU will undoubtedly attract moviegoers for a while yet.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is now in theaters.