*Light spoilers ahead*
Every time you think Marvel won’t outdo themselves… they do. It’s incredible what they are able to do with a few hours of screen time, and their latest release of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was no exception. Even at a 10:15 p.m. screening (I had to see it on the day of release, of course), which is typically way past my bedtime, I couldn’t help but stay ultra-captivated by this film.
This movie had a strange challenge: it was the first film released as a part of Phase Four of the MCU (in addition to the three Disney+ shows from 2021, but the true MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) movie experience can’t be replicated by a 30-minute show).
It’s hard to step into a legacy like the MCU, competing with beloved characters like Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Black Widow that have captured fans’ hearts for more than a decade, yet “Shang-Chi” instantly earned its place in this ever-expanding cinematic universe. Plus, the movie industry is still hurting amidst COVID-19, but this movie shows why Premier Access could never replicate the grandeur of the moviegoing experience, especially when it’s for a Marvel film.
While one review can’t quite capture the special essence of this film, here are some of my favorite parts of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings:”
Okay, like for real. Ahead of seeing it, I heard that some reviews were calling this the best film since “Black Panther.” Now that’s a hefty statement to make, but I can see where critics got the claim. The music in itself was reminiscent of the risks “Black Panther” took with its now-famous soundtrack, produced largely by artist Kendrick Lamar.
Asian-American music collective 88rising and Anderson .Paak were notable additions to this soundtrack, in addition to releases from 21 Savage, DJ Snake, Rick Ross, BIBI, and more. The mix between Asian artists and other popular artists from similar genres made for a unique film and credit soundtrack. Listen to the full album on Spotify.
Of course, the score as a whole was stunning, with musical themes underscoring the entire film that reflected traditional Asian music without compromising the movie’s modern-day setting. Similar to how fans can hear Captain America’s theme and be transported back to a romanticized WWII era, or hear “Back in Black” by AC/DC and think of a billionaire-playboy- philanthropist developing his first Iron Man suit, I think in just a few years fans will be able to immediately recognize Shang-Chi’s theme.
Think of Iron Man without Robert Downey Jr., Hawkeye without Jeremy Renner, or Loki without Tom Hiddleston – it just wouldn’t be the same. Casting the next generation of Marvel characters can’t be an easy job, and despite what must be a monumental creative undertaking, this cast was phenomenal. It must be intimidating becoming the next superhero, stepping into a role people around the world will come to know. Simu Liu rose to the challenge to play Shang-Chi, and he does so effortlessly. Liu is equal parts funny and vulnerable, while also being an incredible fighter, friend, son, and sibling.
It’s hard not to like anything with Awkwafina in it. While she obviously brings a comedic element to all of her films, I felt that she was able to step out of that typecast just a bit in “Shang-Chi,” especially towards the end of the movie. It’s going to be exciting to watch her character development as she is now a part of the MCU.
I’ve seen commentary on how the amount of crossover between the actors in this film and “Crazy Rich Asians” shows the lack of Asian representation in Hollywood (this article from The Washington Post describes how this film fights “yellow peril”), but as a huge fan of “Crazy Rich Asians,” and now “Shang-Chi,” I wasn’t upset to see some familiar faces that I grew to love in “Crazy Rich Asians.” It was inspiring to see how these actors and actresses, particularly Michelle Yeoh, portrayed such different characters in both films. Yeoh going from an intimidating, wealthy matriarch to a gentle, welcoming aunt and figurehead… talk about acting. Read more about how this film is a start to fighting anti-Asian prejudice in this article from BBC and how “Shang-Chi” aims to correct a previously controversial MCU villain here.
Plus, no one can be mad about the appearance of Benedict Wong, reprising his role as sanctum keeper/Doctor Strange tamer Wong. When you see those fiery orange portals appear… oh, man. You know Marvel means business.
In this movie, we were introduced to an all-new cast of characters (minus everyone’s favorite, Wong from “Doctor Strange” and Trevor/the Mandarin from “Iron Man 3”). While we’ve had over 20 movies to get to know and love the traditional Marvel characters, this was our first interaction with the Ten Rings and Shang-Chi’s family.
Tony Leung plays Shang-Chi’s father, Xu Wenwu, the leader of the Ten Rings and the possessor of the rings for over a thousand years. The way the movie portrayed him was so brilliant because I spent the movie not knowing whether I loved or hated him (even by the end, I’m still not too sure). He is clearly a powerful and feared leader but also a romantic and family man at heart. His weakness being the love he had for his late wife was both touching and relatable and really showed his vulnerability as a leader.
We have equal parts hilarious and adorable best friend dynamic between Shang-Chi and Katy, played by the genius Awkwafina. When we first meet them, you can’t help but love their friendship while also wondering if it’d ever turn into something more. You see Katy come into her own while simultaneously processing that her best friend of ten years is nothing like who he said he was. She is quickly taken out of her comfortable valet routine but jumps into Shang-Chi’s complicated past and takes on skills of her own.
A mix of action and beauty
What kind of superhero movie would it be without action? While there were of course plenty of action scenes, all of them felt so poignantly choreographed. The scene on the city bus where we learned of Shang-Chi’s fighting ability had moments of traditional martial arts but also that action Marvel fans know and love. Similarly, the scene in Xialing’s fight ring on the building scaffolding was that blend of fascinating and intense, too.
The moment where Wenwu first meets Shang-Chi’s mother Li, played by Fala Chen, in the mythical land of Ta Lo, totally caught me off guard. I wasn’t sure what I was watching, but I knew it was powerful and beautiful. The audience, like Wenwu, couldn’t help but fall in love with Li and her world. I loved how the studio directed a fight sequence that was clearly still action-oriented but had graceful dance elements, too. I really enjoyed reading about all the mythical creatures featured in Ta Lo and their relations to actual Chinese history.
Finally, the end action scene was written and shot in a way where you really didn’t know what was going to happen next. You had Wenwu breaking down the wall, the people of Ta Lo elegantly fighting with dragon scale armor, the Ten Rings Army using their luminescent blue weapons, and, best of all, Shang-Chi awakening the Great Protector from underwater – all nestled in between mountains, vibrant green grass, scenic water, and cliffsides. I’m not sure how to describe all of the nuances without giving it away, but when that beautifully daunting dragon opens its eyes, come on.
And of course, there were the end and mid-credit scenes (seriously, who are those people who get up and leave right when the credits roll? Do they know nothing?). The way Marvel has pretty much invented the importance of these never ceases to amaze me – they have audiences everywhere wrapped around their finger, sitting through the entire credit roll commenting on how many people work on one movie. Even though you just watched a several-hour movie, sometimes just a few seconds of the mid or end-credit scene are equally important to the future of the MCU. While I know we’ll have to wait at least another movie or two (honestly, probably more) until the mid-credit scene plays a role in the MCU, I will be excitedly awaiting it when it does. I look forward to finding more MCU Easter eggs throughout the film, too (because I will be seeing it again).
If you haven’t seen any of the MCU up to this point, first of all, who are you and where have you been? But seeing how this movie is its own unique origin story of a new superhero, it’s relatively accessible to new Marvel fans, too. If there was ever a time to get invested in Marvel, it’s now. I can’t wait to see how Shang-Chi and the rest of the Ten Rings’ affiliates play into the next phase of the MCU. My bet is he’ll make an experience in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” set to release March 2022, but Marvel Studios knows how to keep fans on their toes.