Thirteen years, 24 movies and numerous television shows have passed since the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) started with the release of “Iron Man.” Since then, the franchise has raked in billions of dollars and introduced the world to a massive slate of superpowered heroes.
One might start to wonder if there was anything else the franchise could throw at the audience, and if there was any juice still left in this mega-franchise. Those thoughts certainly crossed my mind.
I am happy to say that Marvel has succeeded once again.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” brings a new hero from comic book obscurity to a welcome and new place in the Marvel mythos.
The movie follows its titular character, played by Simu Liu, as he spends his days working as a valet and partying with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Unbeknownst to his friends, he is actually a martial arts assassin trained by his power-hungry father (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), the wielder of the legendary Ten Rings. His past catches up to Shang-Chi when his father finds him and his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), longing to bring them back into the fold of his murderous ninja empire.
With killer ninjas around every corner, the stage is set for some slick martial art fight scenes. The film does not disappoint on that front.
The fighting was reminiscent of old kung fu movies. Liu and the rest of the cast clearly put in the work to master the fight choreography, and when the fists fly, it’s where the film shines.
The director, Destin Daniel Cretton, made sure to keep the energy of fight scenes up behind the camera as well. Cretton refrained from using quick cuts, an issue that plagues modern action filmmaking. This style bogs the scenes down, looking jarring and sloppy rather than exciting. Cretton instead favors long takes during the fights, trusting in the actors and their choreography to carry the action.
No Marvel movie is complete without a lovable, charismatic lead, and Simu Liu nails that perfectly. If you want just a glimpse of what I am talking about, go check his Twitter. Liu can handle the comedy bits, but also steps up to the plate for the fights and the emotional beats.
On the other side of the coin, Marvel continues to add to its small but growing list of compelling antagonists. Shang-Chi’s father, Wenwu, surprises with a sympathetic yet intimidating villain to clash with our hero. While he does not quite reach the heights of Thanos or Kilmonger, he still has a touching story and can knock Shang-Chi around a bit.
The film features a refreshing predominantly Asian cast. A study out of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative revealed that the percentage of speaking Asian characters in films from 2019 amounted to a miniscule 7.2%. “Shang-Chi” does not completely rectify that injustice, but is a step in the right direction. It brings a unique feel to a franchise where three of its leads are white guys named Chris.
“Shang-Chi” does fall into that typical MCU formula. A hero with daddy issues that must discover his full potential. A cast of quippy side characters. A big CGI climax to cap it all off. It scratches that Marvel itch, but through its great action, memorable characters and celebration of Chinese folklore, it kicks this new phase of Marvel movies off right.