Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the latest film in the long-running Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). To many, it’s a chance to infuse the MCU with Asian culture, similar to how Black Panther brought an African flare to the sprawling cinematic universe.
While the film certainly features a heavy Asian and martial arts influence, it falls short of greatness. Let’s go into more detail about this upcoming release in our full Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings review.
Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is the son of Marvel villain, The Mandarin (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), also known as Wenwu in this film. This is a departure from the character’s comic book origins, but a welcome change to bring the martial arts legend into the MCU.
With this change, the character is loosely linked to the Iron Man franchise, where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) was taken hostage by the Ten Rings criminal organization in the first Iron Man film, and battled against actor Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) as he portrayed a fake version of The Mandarin in Iron Man 3.
In this film, the real Ten Rings are an ancient alien artifact, consisting of ten power bracelets, that Wenwu came into possession of hundreds of years ago. They grant him the powers of a god and prevent him from aging.
He used the ten bracelets to build an evil empire and amass great wealth and power. However, he left his conquering life behind when he married Jiang Li (Fala Chen) and had two children, Shang-Chi and Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). After this introduction the film picks up years later with Shang-Chi in San Francisco.
He ran away from his father and now spends time with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). When his father comes looking for him, it leads to a martial arts filled adventure through China and other mystical lands. Shang-Chi plays out like many other Marvel origin films.
There’s very little interaction with the greater MCU aside from a few well-placed nods. It’s very similar to the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, where we meet the Guardians and the world they inhabit, but rarely see or hear about other established characters within the MCU.
At some point Shang-Chi will join forces with other superheroes, just like the Guardians did in Avengers: Infinity War, but none of that happens in this movie. The martial arts action of Shang-Chi is a big part of the film, and entertaining enough to keep the audience engaged.
Even if you’re not into martial arts films, the fight scenes should come off as fairly impressive. Each one seems to be inspired by popular films and martial arts icons of the past. For martial arts film fanatics, the fight scenes may come off a bit timid in nature.
There are some great effects, and it’s easy to pick up the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon inspiration, or the nods to Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen films, but none of the fights in Shang-Chi would make any legitimate top 10 lists. Most of the performances in Shang-Chi are top notch.
Simu Liu embodies the titular character and fills him with heart and virtue. Awkwafina wasn’t given much to do in the film, but adds a few quips here and there as her characters pals around with Shang-Chi. Tony Leung is the highlight of the film by a wide margin.
Despite his villainous nature, you will feel sorry for the character and perhaps even understand or relate to him. The only true misstep comes from Florian Munteanu, whose Razer Fist character is devoid of personality, comes off stiff, and features lackluster CG on his arm blade.
Shang-Chi was Marvel’s first opportunity to inject some Asian flair into the MCU. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have anywhere near the impact of Black Panther. Where Wakanda was oozing with African style and culture, most of the locations in Shang-Chi feel like any other Marvel film, with slight Asian influences.
Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) stop at the central city on Lamentis-1 in the Loki series, or T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) adventures in Busan from the Black Panther movie featured more Asian flair than almost anything seen in Shang-Chi.
As a necessary stepping stone to introduce the character of Shang-Chi, this film feels like a very safe play. It’s not an amazing film, but it’s also not a bad film. It’s right in the middle as an average, but welcome addition to the MCU.
There’s no desire to watch it a second time, but there is heavy anticipation for Shang-Chi’s next MCU appearance (at some point down the road). Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings does not disappoint, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
- Entertaining martial arts action.
- Wenwu is one of the better villains in the MCU.
- The changed origin story easily attaches Shang-Chi to the MCU without any retconns or string-pulling.
- There are two additional scenes during/after the credits.
- Katy doesn’t have much to do and is left to pal around with Shang-Chi for no real reason throughout the entire film.
- Beyond the martial arts aspect, fight scenes toward the end of the movie could have been a lot more engaging.
- The humor in the film is a little weak compared to many other MCU films.
- Everything about Razor Fist, who is just another generic evil sidekick.