Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Marvel’s Rising Star Shines Bright

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Riley Kasprzyk, Entertainment Editor

The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) arrived in theaters on September 3, 2021, and it did not disappoint. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stars Simu Liu as the charismatic Shang-Chi. The film also features Awkwafina as Katy (Shang-Chi’s best friend), Meng’er Zhang as Xu Xialing (Shang-Chi’s sister), Fala Chen as Ying Li (Shang-Chi’s mother), and legendary actor Tony Leung, portraying the film’s villain and father to Shang-Chi, Wenwu. Destin Daniel Cretton serves as the director of the film and it is rated PG-13. 

The film’s story follows Shang-Chi, who lives in San Francisco and works as a valet with his confidant Katy. They like to stay out late partying and singing karaoke, always looking out for one another. But after the two of them are suddenly attacked on a bus by a group of assassins, Shang-Chi must reveal his heritage to Katy: he is the son of Wenwu, leader of the terrorist organization known as The Ten Rings, named after the ten rings, he uses to give himself increased longevity and great power. After running away and not seeing his father in a decade, the assassins sent were his father’s, sucking Shang-Chi and Katy into a quest to stop Wenwu. 

The greatest praise that I can give to this movie is that it breaks the rigid mold that most other MCU films are confined to. While this movie is a superhero movie, it also serves as a kung-fu adventure film with emotional depth. Whereas films such as Captain America: Civil War are popcorn flicks focused on giving audiences the maximum amount of entertainment possible, Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings is a much softer, more intimate story. This is especially apparent with the film’s villain, Wenwu. By making the antagonist the father of the hero, the conflict between them allows for the exploration of themes such as living up to the expectations of your parents and accepting all aspects of where you come from, both the good and the bad. Additionally, the film is not bogged down by the typical quippy MCU style of humor. While I consider Avengers: Endgame to be one of my favorite films, the movie ruined countless emotional scenes by forcing in lame humor. It’s hard to care about Thor’s grief when you have three characters making fun of him in the same way every thirty seconds. In this film, characters are allowed to have heart-to-heart conversations that peel back their layers and develop them, with one exception (there’s an awful joke when our heroes are on an airplane that kills all emotion in the scene). 

Another aspect of the film that was incredible was its characters. Simu Liu plays a likable protagonist that while charming, was not spewing quips in every sentence he spoke. Fans will be invested in seeing him in future movies. He was not defined by just one character trait, instead of showcasing a multitude of emotions throughout the film. Similarly, Awkwafina was a perfect co-star that provided comedic relief that was funny nine times out of ten. I like that she serves as a window into the story for viewers to look through. She is seeing and discovering everything in the film for the first time, just like us, and she reacts to everything pretty much as any normal person would. While our two main heroes were great, easily the best character of the film is its antagonist, Wenwu. A common complaint with almost any other MCU film is that its villains leave much to be desired. While audiences have seen good villains before, such as Black Panther’s Killmonger or Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Vulture, more often than not Marvel’s villains have paper-thin personalities and weak motivations. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, however, may have delivered the franchise’s best bad to boot. Tony Leung brings so much emotion to his role, wonderfully playing off of Shang-Chi and the other characters. He has everything I believe the best villains need. He’s powerful and scary, yet also vulnerable. Viewers will feel sympathy for him and understand where he’s coming from, but also disagree with what he’s doing. His motivations are very real as well, and he has the presence of a warrior and a father. He is perfect. 

The presentation of the film is on point as well. This movie boasts the best fight choreography in the entire MCU, and it is not even close. Unlike other Marvel movies that will have quick cuts and shaky-cam, Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings isn’t afraid to utilize long-takes so that viewers can see the fights clearly. The best action sequence is likely the one on the exterior of a skyscraper, which had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Additionally, the cinematography and shots in this movie were better than most MCU films, which are typically bland and lack color. The locations were intricately designed, with my personal favorite being the fight club in Macau, China. While there is some questionable CGI at times, it was nothing too noticeable or distracting. The movie displays a myriad of personality and heart. 

The only major complaint I hold with the film is that in the third act, the movie decides to have a big CGI battle against a faceless horde of bad guys. Granted, this third act is still better than most of the other sloppy third acts of MCU films, but it’s very frustrating when the first two-thirds of the film is so unique. However, the last fifteen minutes of the movie after the final battle make up for this subpar climax. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an intimate kung-fu flick that expands upon the precedent of the MCU. It has everything great about past MCU movies (charismatic and flawed protagonists, entertaining action, and humor) while bringing in novel concepts for the franchise (well-developed villains, amazing fight choreography, and creative shots), to provide an enjoyable viewing experience that’s as effective as Shang-Chi’s fists. The mid-credits scene teases that Shang-Chi will be a key player in the future of the MCU, and I hope he makes it to the lineup of the next Avengers team. With Eternals releasing this November, I have hope that the MCU is beginning to expand past their outdated formula. Even for those who aren’t the biggest fan of superhero movies, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is well worth a watch, earning it an 8/10 from me.