SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS
(***)-JIM RUTKOWSKI
"...the type of electrifying superhero introduction that every fringe character should enjoy."

Shang- Chi Scores 7 Out of 10 Rings

(112621) For the 25th movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the company looks to one of its lesser-known characters to help take the brand name forward. Not that Shang-Chi is an obscure superhero, but he doesn’t quite have the marquee value of previous characters, presenting a challenge for the production to deliver a memorable introduction for a wide audience. And “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” does just that, presenting an interesting new face on the scene, and the urban and mystical realms he inhabits. Television star Simu Liu gets a critical career at-bat with the eponymous role, and he makes a strong impression, becoming a compelling focal point for the feature while producers fill supporting parts with screen legends, familiar Marvel faces, and comedians, working extra hard to make sure the launch of Shang-Chi goes down smooth with comic book maniacs and the people who love them.

Shang-Chi (Simu Lui) is trying to live a normal life in San Francisco, spending his days with pal Katy (Awkwafina) as they enjoy their time as habitual underachievers. That peace is soon shattered by the arrival the Ten Rings gang, who seek a special pendant Shang-Chi keeps around his neck. Understanding this new reality, Shang-Chi explains his complicated secret history to Katy as they travel to Macau, revealing that he’s the son of Wenwu (Tony Leung), a man who has spent the last 1,000 years defeating enemies with help from ten magic rings of power, only to turn away from violence after falling in love with Jiang Li (Fala Chen), a member of the hidden community, Ta Lo. After his wife’s death, Wenwu has returned to madness, gearing up to conquer Ta Lo, requesting help from Shang-Chi and his sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), who once refused their father’s demands for submission, and plan to battle him once again for their freedom.

The director is Destin Daniel Cretton, continuing Marvel Entertainment’s mission to pair art-house helmers with blockbuster offerings, with the “Short Term 12” and “Just Mercy” filmmaker facing a mighty expositional challenge with this movie. There’s a lot of ground to cover when clarifying various worlds, and the picture gets off to a rousing start while detailing Wenwu’s rise to power, clearing all challenges away with the power of the bracelet-like ten rings before being stopped in his tracks by Jiang Li, who’s not a typical adversary. Their battle scene gives Cretton an opportunity to stage his own tribute to wuxia cinema, creating a bruising ballet for the twosome, who trade magical hits and flirtatious looks before love eventually claims their hearts. It’s a gorgeous sequence, quickly followed by the introduction of Shang-Chi, who goes by “Shaun” in San Francisco, enjoying a low-impact life with goofball Katy, which eventually comes to an end when brutes from the Ten Rings confront him on a city bus, commencing an amazing battle on the moving vehicle that shows off Shang-Chi’s martial art skills and Cretton’s unexpected control of screen chaos. It’s one the sharpest action sequences the MCU has produced to date, offering a blistering reveal of Shang-Chi’s hidden skills and thrilling use of San Francisco road hazards.

The story travels to Macau to introduce Xialing, Wenwu’s discarded daughter and a powerful warrior in her own right. She owns a gambling palace for streamed fights, which defines her physical capabilities, identifies her estranged relationship with Shang-Chi, and moves Katy forward as the audience surrogate, with the slack-jawed woman overwhelmed by all she’s learning about her best friend, including the magical world he’s been forced to return to. Peace doesn’t last for long, leading to yet another outstanding battle scene (this time on the scaffolding of a skyscraper), which keeps the movie on the move, but the screenplay (by Cretton, Dave Callaham, and Andrew Lanham) eventually slows the film during its second act, where even more explanation is required as family business is tended to, with Wenwu exposing his reasoning for invading Ta Lo, trying to make the impossible a reality.

It’s somewhat strange to watch “Shang-Chi” take an extended breather after a dynamite first act, but dramatics aren’t troublesome, giving Lui something to play as the character deals with his past, and Leung is terrific as Wenwu, portraying a subtle stage of obsession that drives the character to extremes. Zhang also makes a fine impression in her screen debut. It’s the comedic aspects of the feature that feel awkward, keeping Awkwafina quippy and screamy as Katy, and there’s an old face from the MCU past who returns to duty, bringing broad acting and a faceless, winged pet with him. His presence is only necessary to do a little
Iron Man 3 ret conning. But becomes a supporting part, not just a cameo.

Unfortunately the third act of the features goes full-on Marvel Formula, paring heroic growth (Michelle Yeoh shows authority as Shang-Chi’s aunt, Ying Nan) with massive displays of CGI creations. The movie gets noisy and excessive when it’s proven itself to be more than capable with cleanly imagined scenes of conflict, diminishing the rush of the first hour. Bigness doesn’t have to be a thing here, but the MCU has one way of doing business, and they’re going to do it, making absolutely certain Shang-Chi gets the royal treatment to best preserve his chances of becoming a mighty force in the brand name’s future (and let’s hope that happens). It’s a slightly uneven picture, but when “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” concentrates on raw power and unusual obstacles, it’s the type of electrifying superhero introduction that every fringe character should enjoy.
 

Directed by:     Destin Daniel Cretton
Written by:     Screenplay by Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel
 Cretton. Based on the Marvel  Comics character.
Starring:     Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang
Released:     091321
Length:     132 minutes
Rating:     Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action,
 and language

SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS © 2021 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Review © 2021 Alternate Reality, Inc.

LAST WEEK VITO REVIEWED:
"
the French Dispatch"

     

NEXT WEEK VITO REVIEWS:
"Belfast
"