By Tim Nacey
The thing that struck me most walking out of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was that I didn’t feel like I’d just stepped out of a superhero movie.
It has some of the trappings of the genre, but it doesn’t bash you over the head with them. Because of that, I’d say that if you’ve ever been curious about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and have been looking for a place to jump in: this might be it.
The film centers around a man named Shaun, who was trained as an assassin by his warlord father and ran away from home when he was a teenager. Since then, he’s been living a normal life in San Francisco and is now working as a valet at some unspecified fancy establishment.
As you might expect, his father sends for him and Shaun’s, as he’s been calling himself since he moved to America, life changes forever.
“Shang-Chi” stars Simu Liu as the titular character and Awkwafina as his best friend Katy. This dynamic is what makes this movie feel like something special.
Liu and Awkwafina are hilarious together and have effortless chemistry that, without words, effectively conveys their years of history without pushing them into a romantic relationship.
Without spoiling too much, it’s heavily implied that Shang-Chi and Katy will have a big role in the future of the MCU, and I, for one, can’t wait to see more of them together.
Of course, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t bring up the other star of this film: the action.
Inspired by various styles of Kung Fu cinema, the fight scenes in this film are among the best seen from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
One scene near the film’s start makes heavy use of wires to accent the fighters’ flowing movements, much like in Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Another involves at least a dozen combatants flipping and leaping through and across scaffolding outside of a skyscraper, calling to mind some of Jackie Chan’s pre-Hollywood work.
In addition to feeling very thought-out, the action is also smoothly shot and it’s easy to keep track of the scene’s geography — a frustrating rarity in modern Hollywood.
The only thing that keeps these fight scenes from being truly dazzling is the heavy use of CGI that Marvel Studios can’t seem to help.
One of the things that makes a great martial arts film such an amazing sight to behold is the stunt work that showcases almost superhuman levels of athleticism. It keeps you locked into the moment and, sometimes, almost makes you forget you’re watching a movie.
The epic scale of a few shots and the amount of material added in post-production hurt that a bit.
In addition to the usual fun and games of a Marvel movie, this film spends a surprising amount of time engaging with big topics: nature vs nurture and the idea of assimilating into American culture. While this commentary isn’t as pointed as in “Black Panther” or the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, they lend a little heft to the proceedings and make “Shang-Chi” feel like one of the MCU’s more substantive and emotional films.
Despite a few minor missteps here and there, “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings” feels like Marvel’s big return to cinemas, more so than “Black Widow.” It feels like the MCU’s phase four has finally begun in earnest.