Here’s our review for “Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings,” which opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, Sept. 3…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
If there’s one thing Marvel always seems to get right, it’s origin stories.
From the jaw-dropping introduction of Iron Man to the Nazi-punching super soldier in Captain America — not to mention the awe-inspiring entry of a rag-tag group of space heroes called the Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel just about always seems to get these right.
On the flipside, if there’s one area where Marvel has struggled with at times, it’s with creating notable villains to oppose the heroes during their first appearances on screen. That formula seems to hold true with Marvel Studios’ latest film, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
A visually stunning display of martial artistry and magic, “Shang-Chi” is the latest entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a hero not well known by audiences and it’s probably safe to say even regular comic book readers might be discovering the character for the very first time.
The film does a wonderful job not only explaining Shang-Chi’s complicated family history but more importantly it details the emotional turmoil he faces when he’s pulled back into a world he always wanted to leave behind.
While this is the first time we’re seeing Shang-Chi in a Marvel Studios film, the development of this character into live action has been talked about for years. From rumored discussions that had Stan Lee seeking out Brandon Lee — Bruce Lee’s son who was tragically killed on the set of his film “The Crow” — to a later version that was supposedly being developed by Stephen Norrington, who is best known as the director behind the first “Blade” film.
Meanwhile, mentions of the Ten Rings actually dates all the way back to the first “Iron Man” film in 2008 as well as the infamous arrival of The Mandarin — a famed villain in Marvel Comics history — in “Iron Man 3,” but that ended up being an imposter later exposed as an actor playing a part. At the time, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige discussed the fake out by revealing an actor portraying the villainous Mandarin while adding that just because the real version didn’t show up in that film, doesn’t mean he’s not somewhere out there.
That all comes full circle in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” as a new hero is born, a whole lot of mythology is introduced and with it a fun new entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
With that said, let’s get to our full review for “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”…
“Shang-Chi” actually begins in the past with a brief explanation about the origin behind the Ten Rings — a mystical set of rings from unknown origin that gives the owner incredible power — but rather than use the rings for good, the man who discovers them decides to use the rings as a weapon.
Soon enough this ruthless warmonger has captured or conquered many neighboring towns and villages while amassing a base of power where he will control with an iron fist (no pun intended). Thanks to the rings, this powerful ruler is granted eternal life, which means he transforms from a warlord into a crime lord as the centuries move forward.
It isn’t until he seeks out an ancient land called Ta Lo where the holder of the Ten Rings meets his match — and it’s a woman who not only defeats him in battle but then they eventually fall in love. The conqueror gives up chasing down more wealth and power in favor of starting a family with the woman he loves but that’s all snatched away when enemies from his past come calling and she’s the one who ends up being sacrificed.
That’s when the warlord who we later learn is named Wenwu begins seeking vengeance on all those responsible for his wife’s death as he rebuilds his organization known as the Ten Rings while also training his son Shang-Chi to be his ultimate weapon against these people.
But it turns out Shang-Chi isn’t a killer like his father and when he’s given a mission to take down one of the people responsible for his mother’s death, he ends up fleeing to America on his own to start a new life far away from the criminal empire built by his family.
Years later with Shang-Chi working as a valet at a posh hotel in San Francisco, his father’s Ten Rings organization comes looking for him to create a family reunion and he’s forced back into the life he so desperately tried to leave behind.
ACTING, DIRECTING AND SCRIPT
Let’s start with the visuals for this film, which are — as previously stated — absolutely stunning.
“Shang-Chi” takes the ingenuity in a film such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” that transformed martial arts into a truly high flying feast for the eyes and then crosses over with another visionary movie like “The Matrix” and the result is arguably one of the best looking Marvel films in history.
Sure, there’s plenty of CGI but the fight scenes in this film are unlike anything ever seen or used before in a Marvel movie and director Destin Daniel Cretton should be applauded for the way he orchestrated the action throughout “Shang-Chi.”
As far as the script is concerned, the plot in this movie is pretty straight forward, although it does get bogged down in mythology a bit too much at times. That said, “Shang-Chi” requires a bit more explanation than the average superhero movie because there’s just so much to digest about the character’s complicated past, especially when dissecting his parents and the powers they each possessed on their own.
It’s obvious that Marvel is really leaning into the magical side of stories these days, especially after introducing an all-powerful witch in “WandaVision” and then splintering everything off into the multi-verse during “Loki.” While there will certainly be more grounded stories in the future such as the upcoming “Captain America 4” film, it seems like Marvel is really ready to take a deep dive into the mystical and “Shang-Chi” is a prime example of that.
When it comes to the performances, Simu Liu is a fantastic addition to the superheroes’ gallery because he plays the part just the way it needs to be played. He’s humble yet unafraid and that’s a dangerous combination to try to get right in a movie.
As good as Liu is throughout this film, it would be disingenuous not to point out Awkwafina as the real scene stealer during “Shang-Chi.” Introduced as Shang-Chi’s best friend Katy from San Francisco, Awkwafina provides a serious dose of comedic relief but also injects real heart and emotion when acting alongside Liu in some of the most pivotal scenes in the movie.
It’s also worth mentioning that Tony Leung is fantastic as Wenwu, who is Shang-Chi’s menacing father and the original keeper of the Ten Rings. Leung manages to walk a fine line between a truly villainous character and a father/husband who attempts his best to be devoted to his family. Leung’s inclusion in this film was a huge addition and he chews up a lot of the scenery whenever he’s on screen.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE MOVIE?
As previously mentioned, Marvel has struggled at times to introduced worthy villains to go up against the heroes being created during an origin story. It took 10 years and nearly 30 films to finally build up Thanos as a world crushing villain who would eventually wipe out half of life in the universe but there was a lot of groundwork laid in order to arrive at the Mad Titan.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for some of the other more forgettable bad guys in past Marvel movies and that’s also the case for “Shang-Chi” in the end.
Now if that sounds a little confusing considering the praise heaped upon Tony Leung, who plays a major villain in the movie, that’s not without reason because there’s another big bad lurking in the shadows of this movie and that’s where the film kind of comes up short. This particular villain truly feels forgettable once everything is said and done — and that’s largely because there’s just no real investment in this particular character because the film spends so much time building up Wenwu as the biggest threat.
That said, it doesn’t ruin the movie by any stretch of the imagination but if the story solely focused around Shang-Chi and the warlord father who once wanted to conquer the world, that would have been a truly interesting film to watch unfold.
After all these years, Marvel is still finding new and creative ways to pull off eye-popping surprises with the studio’s films and “Shang-Chi” is an excellent example of that. It’s a gorgeous display of martial arts, mysticism and a truly interesting set of characters being introduced into the larger Marvel mythology, who I can’t wait to see again.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” gets 4 out of 5 on the Skolnick Scale