If there’s one thing the monumentally successful “Black Panther” film taught Disney it’s that representation not only matters, but it’s also exceedingly well received and successful when handled properly. Disney’s gross mishandling of “Black Widow” with their streaming service caused major changes to their movie release patterns. There was a lot riding on “Shang Chi”, both financially and culturally and Disney needed to give this new hero in the making its proper dues and respect. While a lesser-known character compared to the likes of Iron Man or Spider-Man, Marvel has made stranger characters into household names like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man.” With no big names attached and a culture putting a lot on this film being a success, let’s hope this film plays out like we all hope it will.
Our titular hero Shang Chi (Simu Liu) is the son of an immortal crime lord; The Mandarin (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) who has long controlled the criminal underworld for centuries thanks to his super-powered mystical rings. After trying to live a normal life with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina), his father sends warriors to bring him back into the fold and make him his right-hand man. Shang Chi discovers his father and his armies are planning to unleash a destructive and deadly force upon the world. Now he must discover his true identity and master his abilities to stop his father and save the world from a threat just waiting to be unleashed.
The Marvel films have never been lacking in the action department. But it wasn’t until I got a glimpse of the kung-fu fighting styles of the cast in “Shang Chi” that I realized that there has been a serious lacking of proper martial arts content. Much like “Black Panther,” “Shang Chi” is a completely self-contained Marvel story that manages to stay well connected with the established universe, as well as be its own thing and develop its own unique world, rules, powers, and unique environments. “Shang Chi” is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in years. Not just talking special effects here, but also the deep, meticulous care and effort that are put into the epic storytelling and the majestic visuals of the martial arts being displayed by phenomenally talented actors.
The “bus scene” alone is worth the price of a movie ticket. Every shot, kick, punch and flip is expertly crafted to make the fighting look and feel as real as possible. Fantastical fights are in here aplenty but the film never backs down from delivering a multitude of incredible martial arts battles that never fail to entertain you. Simu Liu is new to me but he clearly has talent beyond his physical capabilities. He presents a believable, down to Earth guy who masterfully balances humor, stoicism, and being a badass while making it come off naturally all at the same time. His chemistry with comedy queen Awkwafina is always on point. They have a realistic rhythm that keeps the humor and heart strong and effective without it ever feeling forced. They’re one of the best duos in Marvel’s history and I truly hope she sticks around as long as War Machine or Wong has.
Tony Chiu-Wai Leung is a unique villain as at times, he feels as much like the leading man as Shang Chi is. He’s conflicted, dangerous, powerful, cold but also relatable, wounded, and full of pain and grief that makes him far more than just a world-conquering supervillain. The world-building brings the story to many different locations and settings; engaging everything from mystical dragon lands to cage fighting in the underworld. There’s even a stellar cameo from Ben Kingsley; one of the few strong connections to the Marvel universe in this film. He’s as delightful as he was in “Iron Man 3” and to see this film use him and make him part of the journey shows a great sense of connectivity I am thankful was not dismissed.
My only criticism comes from the lack of proper use of Katy and Shang as a duo and a potential couple. The film teases some possible romance blossoms blooming but kind of forgets about and never comes back to it. If they dismissed it, it’d be one thing but to tease it and kind of drop the ball on it later feels like a wasted opportunity. Again, I hope Awkwafina follows Simu Liu in future sequels. Overall, minor gripe aside, “Shang Chi” is a wonderfully inventive new approach for Marvel that delivers on every possible level. This film may seem like it was only made for some people but in truth, it was made for everyone and it shows, Marvel fan or not. See why this film is such a stellar, well-deserving success, and go see this film whenever you can.
We give “Shang Chi: Legend of the Ten rings” 3 ½ stars out of 4.