Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has, without a doubt, the best action sequences and choreography in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Throw in well-developed characters, a story you can get behind, and some humor, and you have one of the best superhero origin stories ever.
Before all the buzz behind this movie, I was cautiously optimistic about it, but mostly because of my own ignorance. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, I knew close to nothing about Shang-Chi, the Marvel superhero. Some say it’s always good to get to know a specific character and how he/she was created in the comics, but other than seeing the trailers and reading the critic reviews, I went into this one mostly blind and not knowing much about this hero. In hindsight, I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed it so much more, considering all the surprising elements, such as the story, his background, and the characters in it. I absolutely loved Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Although it’s still early and there’s still Marvel’s Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home to look forward too, this could end up being my favorite superhero movie this year. I haven’t really thought about it just yet, but I may have enjoyed it even more than WandaVision and Loki, which I hold in high regard.
In Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) must face his past, which is one he believed he left behind, after he’s forced into a confrontation with his father and the Ten Rings organization.
If I’m being honest, I’m glad the MCU is getting back to telling genuine and authentic origin stories. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the event films, such as the Avengers films, and I’m incredibly excited for all the future stories the Disney+ series are setting up. But, it’s somehow refreshing to see a new Marvel movie about a character very few fans and viewers know about, and how it’s focused on telling the hero’s story rather than using him as a set up for another massive event film. Personally, my favorite phase one MCU origin story is Captain America: The First Avenger, but I think this one may have topped it. Speaking more on its authenticity, the Asian culture really jumps out at you from the very beginning, and it’s great to see it shine like this. The last time I felt a similar feeling watching an MCU film was with Black Panther, which is, although different, a stunning display of African American culture.
It’s pretty impressive how the story seems to flow naturally from the start. Nothing ever felt rushed or jarring. I loved how director Destin Daniel Cretton introduced Shang-Chi. At first, he seems like a normal human being just like everybody else. Then, a specific scene happens and the movie really begins to amp up and never looks back. The way the characters are introduced is also extremely well done. No one feels shoe-horned in and every character, major or minor, feels important in the grander scheme of things, which I think many directors get wrong in today’s day of cinema. In other words, no one feels dispensable or useless.
The highlight of the movie, for me, was the action and the fight choreography. Looking back at some other films in this genre that have incredible action sequences, such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War, I honestly think they don’t compare with this film. Obviously, it’s a number of different fighting styles being utilized, which are inspired by different kinds of martial arts, but action sequences have never looked quite this good in the MCU. I wasn’t expecting anything less either since Shang-Chi is considered the master of Kung-Fu anyway. The film does a fantastic job of showing it too. I was concerned that the action scenes would have too much CGI, which I feel would take away from the realism of it all. I guess it’s mostly bias speaking since I’m used to seeing other Kung-Fu and martial arts films where there’s little to no special effects. I was surprised at how practical some of the fighting seemed though, and there’s a perfect balance of practical and special effects.
It also helps that many of these action sequences take place in a variety of different set pieces and areas, full of different tones and themes. For example, the one everybody has already seen is the one in the public bus, which is awesome and it really sets the pace for the rest of the film. There are also scenes in a neon, cyberpunk-looking club, which gives off a very vibrant and interesting feel. This is pretty much a standard for the majority of the movie since there are numerous fight scenes in a bunch of different areas, with each giving off a distinct, but memorable vibe.
Whoever assembled this cast really hit the mark. It’s both wholesome, but also pretty hilarious, to see Simu Liu get this role after clamoring for it some years ago on Twitter. The funny part is it seems Marvel never even saw his tweet, according to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige. Everything happens for a reason, I guess. I do think many other Asian actors could’ve portrayed this character, but I’m not sure they could’ve brought the same dedication, charisma, and talent Liu brings to this character. He’s the perfect choice to play Shang-Chi and he’s definitely the standout of the entire cast. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what he’ll do in the MCU in the future. All of the possibilities are truly thrilling.
Other cast members I enjoyed are Awkwafina as Katy, Meng’er Zang as Xu Xialang, Fala Chen as Ying Li, Michelle Yeoh as Ying Nan, and Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu/The Mandarin. Awkwafina provides most of the comedic relief in the film, as expected. She has some great comedic timing and it never feels out of place or steals any moments from certain scenes. I also enjoyed Xu Xialang, Ying Li, and Ying Nan when it comes to the action sequences. They each showcased a different kind of martial arts style and truly elevated the overall viewing experience. I do have to speak a bit more on Xu Wenwu, who’s yet another villain who has a method to his madness and someone you can relate to, at times.
I really have to credit Marvel for finally delivering with the villains. For a long time, most of the villains seemed bland and their purpose was simply lazy. As of late though, just to name a few, with the Vulture, Thanos, Killmonger, Mysterio, and now, the true Mandarin, the villains have been simply phenomenal. At first, he seems like a typical, ordinary villain who is hungry for power. As the story goes on though, you can see how he changes and why he’s hellbent on making certain decisions based on what he’s been through and what others have done to him. Of course, you can’t really justify all of his choices, but you can understand his mission. Leung really sells the character and is another highlight of the film. There are some other surprises in store in terms of characters and cameos, but I’ll let you see for yourself. In typical Marvel fashion, there are two post-credits scenes, so stick around for those. I know I said the movie spends the whole time telling its own story without any set ups, but technically, post-credits scenes aren’t exactly part of the movie, right?
Other than some iffy CGI moments, and barely, it’s hard to find a flaw with this movie. Almost all of the characters are likable, the action and choreography is the best its ever been in the MCU, the story is both exciting and emotional, and for the first time in what seems like a long time, it’s an origin story that stands alone and doesn’t worry too much about what else is happening outside of it. There are some nods to other films, which helps the audience see where it’s taking place, but that’s mostly it.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know much about the character. If you’re a fan of the MCU, and the genre in general, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one you can’t miss. There hasn’t been one quite like it yet.