Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021): This Ring-Filled Story Had Me Engaged Until the End

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy, The Glass Castle) and stars Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience, Taken), Awkwafina (Raya and the Last Dragon, Crazy Rich Asians), Meng’er Zhang (Oliver Twist, Finding Destiny), Fala Chen (The Undoing, No Regrets), Florian Munteanu (Creed II, Bogat), Benedict Wong (Raya and the Last Dragon, Annihilation), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Crazy Rich Asians), Ben Kingsley (The Jungle Book, Gandhi), and Tony Leung (Infernal Affairs, In the Mood For Love). This film is the 25th feature-length project in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is about a guy named Shaun, also known as Shang-Chi, who reunites with his family and faces his past as he encounters the ten rings organization.

The Marvel train can’t stop, the Marvel train won’t stop. And honestly, despite a couple duds over the years like “Thor: The Dark World,” I am glad this train has yet to grind itself to a halt. Even though they were not perfect, I enjoyed the few Marvel shows we’ve gotten over the past number of months. I will also say that I enjoyed “Black Widow.” But additionally, as I watched some of this content, part of me became a tad worried, because I had a feeling regarding Marvel that I last felt in 2017 when “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” came out. While both movies had their moments, I think both “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” brought some level of disappointment to the table. And honestly, this feels weird to say, I may have had mixed feelings on “Thor: Ragnarok” too, even though I did find joy in it. Much like 2017, the 2021 Marvel slate has given viewers a fair share of “good” but it has yet to deliver that one gem that is comparable to say “Thor” or “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Let me tell you something, I’m going to confirm straight out of the gate, “Shang-Chi” is not my favorite comic book movie of 2021. It’s got some tough competition with James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad,” which received my first perfect score of the year when I reviewed it, but I think that Marvel greatness is coming back with “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” I would say that as a Marvel fan, I was excited for “Black Widow” when they first announced it, and they executed it in a way that could please a Marvel fan like myself. But with “Shang-Chi,” I think it is going to do a better job at getting a wider audience to appreciate it over time. This is not just your standard Marvel movie with all your heroics, big booms, and such. This is a story that I feel could appeal to almost anyone. I would be SHOCKED if anyone comes out of this movie giving it a 1/10. Why? Because at the end of the day, this movie has one fun scene after the next with dozens of cool ideas and likable characters along the way. While I would not call this movie the next “Back to the Future,” I would put it aside that film in terms of accessibility to all audiences. Because that film is sci-fi, romance, comedy, adventure, and action all in one. It has a little something for everyone and each “something” is done to perfection. “Shang-Chi” I would say is a fine mix of action, mythology, comedy, family drama, and adventure.

I have never said this about any Marvel movie. Maybe with the exception of “Guardians of the Galaxy…” I would show this to my mother someday. For the record, she is *not* in the target audience for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I know the MCU can appeal to a wide number of people (Look at “Endgame’s” box office!), but these movies were not ever something that would appeal to my mother specifically. Maybe if I was 8, dad was busy, I could not go to the movies by myself, or if we had some sort of family outing, she would have gone to see one of these Marvel films with me, but I would be surprised if she went to one of these films because she wanted to or if she had any excitement to check one out. I would not be surprised if I had to maybe bribe my mother to watch this film on one occasion or another, but if my mother asked me, “Would I like ‘Shang-Chi?'” My answer would be a “Yes.” And part of that is because of the heart of the film. The heart being, Simu Liu and Awkwafina as Shaun and Katy. These are two people who have been best friends for years and to me they are arguably the most fun pair in recent cinematic history. While I will say that “The Suicide Squad” is still my favorite comic book movie, not to mention favorite movie in general of 2021, I think “Shang-Chi” is going to arguably end up being this year’s biggest crowd-pleaser.

Speaking of, shoutout to Simu Liu for giving a great performance as the character of Shaun. I have not seen much of Liu’s work. I know he is one of the starring roles in “Kim’s Convenience,” which I hear is a really good show, but I have not seen much of it. Frankly, Liu’s performance as Shang-Chi, which to me, evoked a vibe between fun and brooding, made me excited to see what else he could do in the MCU. As for “Kim’s Convenience,” who knows? Maybe I’ll get around to it. But I have way too many things on my plate when it comes to content and life, so we shall see. Also, the man is quite the action star! In the first half of the film, there’s some choreography that comes off as butter smooth. It feels natural, exciting, and fast. I love it! There’s not much evidence in the film that Liu ever needed a double while doing the action scenes, which if anything, pleases me to no end. One of my favorite action stars today is Tom Cruise because he will take any opportunity, practically to meme-worthy points, to do his own stunts. I’m glad that Simu Liu is taking an opportunity to do the same.

You want action? This movie’s got it! This movie does what Marvel does best and delivers one of its finest examples of quality. “Shang-Chi” does a great job at mixing epic action with gutbusting humor, and this is heavily exemplified in the bus scene. The scene is simple. Shaun and Katy are on a bus together, a guy comes up to Shaun, wants his pendant, and he just starts busting everybody in this magnificently fast series of punches and kicks. I won’t go into what makes the scene funny, as I had no idea what was going to happen going in so I’ll let everyone else do the same. However, what makes this scene so awesome is that it sort of grounds the movie despite being in something as fantastical as the MCU. There’s not really any superhuman crap going on here. Well, kind of… There’s some suspension of disbelief that could be brought to the table. It’s just martial arts and trying to survive. Not only is this a breathtaking scene from the heavy duty stunts and eye-popping camerawork, but it also does a good job at progressing the story of the film and establishing a key point of Shaun and Katy’s relationship. Katy’s reactions to this incident could not have been written any better.

Now, you may have seen in the trailer that Wong of “Doctor Strange” fame was going to make an appearance in “Shang-Chi.” If you wanted to know, Wong is in the movie for a number of minutes, but he does not have too much of an impact on the plot from start to finish. He’s in the fight club, he’s in the movie a little later, won’t say when, but if you are a fan of Wong, which I am, I’m sure that his appearance in this film won’t disappoint. Honestly, this movie made me like Wong more, because it did a good job at making him show off a fun personality. Here it is shown that Wong seems to be the kind of guy that you would not mind going out and a having a few drinks with.

As far as origin stories go, “Shang-Chi” excels. In fact, it is up there with “Thor” as one of my favorite origin stories of the MCU. When it comes to the story of this film, much like “Thor,” one of the core aspects of the film is the family drama a good number of the characters experience for themselves. Much of “Thor” was a battle between two brothers trying to impress their father, and in “Shang-Chi,” it’s a situation where the main protagonist is doing whatever he can to disassociate himself with his father. The family drama in “Shang-Chi” had my attention all the way through because I cared about the characters and there comes a point where Shang-Chi’s past catches up to him and he seems to regret everything that happened in his childhood. This is what makes him a broken hero, not so squeaky clean, and much of the backstory and flashbacks regarding what made Shang-Chi who he is happened to be incredibly compelling.

Oh yeah, Awkwafina is a goldmine in this movie. I already mentioned that the relationship between Simu Liu and Awkwafina in “Shang-Chi” is one of my favorite relationships in recent cinema, but part of what makes that relationship blossom is Awkwafina’s performance in the film as Katy. She feels so hyperactive, fun, and the real life version of caffeine! I already admire Awkwafina as a performer, just look at what she did in “The Farewell,” one of my favorite movies of 2019. But “Shang-Chi” proves that one of her strengths is comedy. And honestly, she’s having one heck of a year as far as her resume is concerned, because I already loved her in “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which turned out to be at one point, what I would consider to be the year’s best film. While I will say I like “Raya and the Last Dragon” a bit better than “Shang-Chi,” I think “Shang-Chi” will be a better reference to Awkwafina’s talent as a performer as it gives her a space to be dynamic and all over the place. I went through this entire movie wanting her to be my best friend, I think that is the best thing I can say about her. Honestly, if there is one thing I want after seeing “Shang-Chi,” it’s not just more of Katy, it’s more of Awkwafina in general. After seeing her in this film, I went from liking her, to legit wanting to treat her to lunch.

The flaws present in “Shang-Chi” are minimal. Again, I go back to my “Back to the Future” comparison, this is a film that I think just about anyone could enjoy, but it does not mean it is perfect. Before posting this review, I saw this film twice, and both times, I walked out saying the same thing, which is weird to say as a Marvel fan. This film becomes way too extravagant towards the end. You know how a lot of Marvel movies by the end like “The Avengers” or “Iron Man 3” will end in this big climactic battle? Everything is balls to the wall and flying in your face! CGI is everywhere! You can feel the production budget right in between your eyes! “Shang-Chi,” much like those movies, has that. But in the case of “Shang-Chi,” even though the film is by no means small, it feels weird seeing this big climactic sequence when the first half of the film feels natural and clean in terms of its action scenes. I will not do a deep dive into the second half of the film, but a lot happens and sometimes it can be overwhelming. It’s good stuff. Sometimes it’s great stuff, But when you take the fight choreography in the beginning of the film and compare it with everything towards the end, I find it to be a weird change of pace, even though it does at times match the opening scene, which by the way is an incredible opening scene, one of the best in the MCU. My question to myself is, if the story and characters were unlikable, how much would my opinion differ? It’s just something I want to keep on the backburner.

If you read my review for “Black Widow,” one of my complaints about that film, even though I liked it, is that at times, it felt like it was trying too hard to set up other MCU content. And this also brings in a growing complaint, or concern depending on how you look at it, that I have with the Marvel Disney+ shows like “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” My worry for the future of the MCU is that I will either have to watch a movie to understand what goes on in a television show, or the other way around. I am accustomed to seeing all of the MCU’s content on one specific medium, specifically feature films. As much as I like some things about the MCU shows, watching the MCU is starting to feel like homework. That’s not the case with “Shang-Chi,” and I say that for a couple reasons. First, the movie in general kicks ass. Second, the film feels like a contained story. Sure, it has Abomination in it. Sure, it has Wong in it. But “Shang-Chi” focuses best on being a great movie first as opposed to being a commercial for other MCU content. If you are not an MCU fan and want a place to start, I would not stop you from watching this first. It’s fun, action-packed, hilarious, and it has a little something for every viewer.

Also, I want to just say two words… Hotel. California.

In the end, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is one of the best movies of the year, and also one of the easiest to recommend to people. Going back to what I said about “The Suicide Squad,” which to be clear, is currently my favorite movie of the year, perhaps by a long shot. That is a film that I immensely enjoyed, arguably because it was made for someone like me. When it comes to “Shang-Chi,” there’s obviously a target audience, but I would not mind showing this movie to someone outside of that target audience and seeing what they think of it because I think they would get a kick out of it. The action is big, the pacing is fast, and I am looking forward to seeing more of Shang-Chi in the MCU. As for his pal Katy, I would like to call her my new best friend. I’m going to give “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” an 8/10.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is now playing in theaters everywhere and it is also available in 3D and IMAX.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for “Malignant” which has been out for over a week. Take this statement however you want, but I’ve had a lot of thoughts on this movie. Let’s just leave it at that. Also, just recently I went to a local theater to check out “Copshop,” so I will have a review on that coming your way as well. If you want to see more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?” What did you think about it? Or, what upcoming Marvel project, I’ll even include television shows, are you looking forward to the most? For me, it’s “Eternals.” The concept sounds engaging, the cast is incredible, a lot of it is done on location, and Academy Award-winning director Chloe Zhao is the director. THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS. Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s