“Shang-Chi, the master of weaponry-based Kung Fu, is forced to confront his past after being drawn into the Ten Rings organization.”

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writers: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Staring: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Yeoh
Streaming: Disney+
Release Date: September 3, 2021

Marvel has had better success than most introducing characters to its cinematic universe. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) achieves this goal with marginal success. The character itself, the acting and the atmosphere of the film is strong. However, a reliance on CGI and a fallback to the over-convoluted action crutch deteriorates would could have been a phenomenal launching point into a loose pile of mostly entertaining rubble.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings begins by telling the history of the the powerful ten rings and how they have been in the possession Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wait Leung) for millennium. In that time he has amassed an empire around him; a very power gang that he has been shifting his focus on due to changing personal strife and goals.

Xu Wenwu is the father of Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), the hero of our story. As a child he lost someone very important to him and from there he is trained to master the martial arts and hand-to-hand combat. Shang-Chi, and his sister Xialing (Menge’er Zhang), grow up and develop lives from themselves in different countries and environments. Shang-Chi, with the help of his friend Katy (Awkwafina), are suddenly thrust back into a world of ninjas, mystical destinies and powerful entities.

Their are many things mixing together that makes the Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings drinkable. The first being the action in the first two thirds of the movie.

There is something magical about kung fun and marital arts when it is done correctly in movies. If the director and actors are able to harness the fighting style well, the audience will gobble up any slop that is thrown at them. The action sequence on the bus in San Francisco when Shang-Chi takes on members of the 10 Rings terrorist organization is some of the best action I’ve seen in a Marvel movie in a long time. It was shot wonderfully and the choreography used the environment so well. Simu Liu was emulating Jackie Chan with the way he was using his confines to his advantage.

The second action scene that deserves a massive shoutout is outside on some high rise construction. We get a sense of danger with Shang-Chi genuinely being over run until someone comes in and helps him safe the day. Major credit on this scene goes to director Destin Daniel Cretton who flashed in some wider shots to reminds the audience of the scope of the fight’s habitat. Both of these sequences make the movie worthy of watching on its own.

Simu Liu and Awkwafina are the standout performers in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The fight scene on the run away trolley is reminiscent of Speed (1994) with the sassy and funny character steering to avoid danger while action star attempts to deal with the drama in their metallic confines. It all works for them two; when they are sitting in the restaurant talking with friends, when they are embracing their childish tendencies or when they are kicking butt.

The only gripe with Katy as a character is her sudden ability to become a warrior and have expert marksmanship during the movie’s final act. Again. The strong foundation really struggles to find its satisfying ending.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings suffers from the same illness that ruined Doctor Strange (2016). The build-up of the world and the character itself is intriguing and blends entertainment with necessary exposition. The positives are weighed down heavily in the last act of the movie when the story has to take a comic book and Marvel-action twist. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings gets bogged down in CGI and an over-the-top good versus evil battle of titans. I should also not that it’s not just Marvel that suffers from this affliction; Wolverine (2013) bends to the whim of too-cartoonish violence in the final act as well.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is worthy of recommendation because it takes a bold step and forces the audience to embrace a different culture and approach to heroism. The hand-to-hand action scenes are very entertaining and the chemistry between Liu and Awkwafina lifts the personable assets of the story to unexpected heights. This is a start to phase four that is above average and allows for optimism in Marvel’s cinematic future.

STANKO RATING: B- (3.0/5 Stars)

P.S. When I first graded Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings I gave it a C+ and 2.5/5 stars. Upon writing, this movie is better than that. If I watch it again, I bet I would like it more. Good job Shang-Chi, you have given me some excitement for Marvel for the first time in a long time.

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