After several delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” has finally made its way into theaters. The Marvel Studios film stars an ensemble cast of Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen and Tony Leung. The movie serves as an origin story of the titular hero Shang-Chi, played by Liu.
To start, this movie understands what makes an origin story compelling. Oftentimes in pictures introducing new characters, the villain feels thrown-in, almost as an afterthought. Much of the film has to show how the hero is born; thus, less time is spent developing their antagonist. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” makes the wise decision to make the villain a key part of the character’s origin. By doing this, they set up the hero and villain simultaneously, making the antagonist more developed and the movie more cohesive from the start.
Another reason this film works is the strong performances of Liu and Leung. This is Liu’s first leading role in a film — his only previous major role as a main character in the Canadian TV series “Kim’s Convenience.” Despite this, Liu fits right into the leading role, perfectly balancing the comedic and heroic sides that encapsulate a Marvel superhero. Leung is fantastic as the antagonist, bringing a weight and depth to his performance that elevates the picture.
The fight orchestration in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” sets it apart from other superhero pictures. The fight scenes in the first and second act make great use of their locations, choosing interesting set pieces that create entertaining interactions. These fights emulate the fighting style popularized by Jackie Chan and other East Asian actors during the 20th century. Many of the fights exhibit a dance-like technique, which is new to the Marvel Universe. This, combined with creative settings and creature design, makes this picture feel and look different than a standard superhero movie.
The film succeeds in introducing us to the character of Shang-Chi through a well-orchestrated plot, leaving viewers satisfied and looking forward to what is to come for the new hero. The film focuses on themes of loss, responsibility and acceptance, ultimately delivering a compelling story that never feels forced or contrived. The comedy is quite good throughout the picture with several moments sure to muster up a laugh from the audience.
In terms of negatives, the third-act fight sequence was a bit underwhelming. Although, that is only because of how exciting the battles in the first two acts were. The final fight scene leans more heavily into visual effects, which although isn’t inherently a problem, causes the scene to lose that hand-to-hand style of the first few fights. Though I understand going all out at the end, I do think a more subdued, emotional battle in a manner similar to the first few fights would have been a more effective finale.
In conclusion, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a great entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe bringing compelling characters, unique set pieces, and a brand new hero to the screen. For those reasons, I give this movie a moderately strong recommendation.