Released: 2nd September
Seen: 27th October
The last time I saw an MCU film in the cinemas was 1st of July 2019, the film in question being Spider-man: Far From Home. It’s so weird to think that it’s been so long since there’s been an MCU film in a cinema, if you’d told me after seeing that film that we would’ve gone a little over 2 years without getting a MCU film in the cinema near me I would’ve called you insane. That’s been our weird little reality though, the franchise that effectively owned the box office took a couple of years off because they had no choice.
Black Widow did eventually get to come out, mostly on streaming which almost resulted in a huge legal battle but for a while the MCU has been relegated mostly to the world of streaming (Where, admittedly, it’s been incredible. Wandavision was robbed at the Emmys, I will die on that hill). Well thank goodness the MCU is back in cinemas with Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings being the reliable source of A Grade Action blockbuster that delivers a good time.
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings starts with the dramatic story of Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), a man who wants absolute power and so, with the aid of ten magical rings and also an army known as The Ten Rings he manages to not only live forever (because magic) but effectively run the world without anyone stopping him. He’s quite the bad guy… until he meets Ying Li (Fala Chen) who is the guardian of a mystical village named Ta Lo. The two of them end up falling in love and having a child named Shang Chi (Simu Liu)
Shang Chi, who goes by the name Shaun to his friends, ends up breaking away from his family and living in America where he works as a valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) and is mostly away from the pain that came with being the son of a… well, a villainous guy like Xu Wenwu. Of course, because we need a movie to happen at some point, a bunch of people come to get something from Shang Chi and there’s a whole bunch of fighting, then Shang Chi must go back to Macau to find his long lost sister Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and then team up to stop his dad from doing something big and evil and stupid.
Once again, Marvel just knocks this one out of the park. The first MCU movie with a mostly Asian cast and an Asian director has roughly the same cultural importance that Black Panther does, and honestly I feel like this easily belongs in the same discussion as that movie in terms of quality (and also you should probably look up critiques by Asian reviewers to put this in a cultural context because I’m not remotely qualified for that discussion). Right from the start there’s a very specific visual sensibility, beautiful bright colours and some of the most fluid camera moves you’ve ever seen. It’s almost like watching a painting come to life and it only gets brighter and more colourful the more it goes on. By the time the film gets to Ta Lo for the final act it turns into the most beautiful and colourful film the MCU has had since maybe Thor: Ragnarok, only a lot more controlled.
Control feels like a big thing for Shang Chi because everything is so precise that it’s just glorious to watch them work. The fight scenes are so sublimely choreographed that at times it looks like we’re watching two dancers who just happen to want to kill each other, every single shot is so carefully framed that there isn’t a wasted inch of film. It’s honestly hard to find a moment where they drop the ball, they just keep everything going by so quickly and look so good while they do it that it’s just all so very impressive.
Some particularly great moments include the bus fight sequence that featured heavily in the promo, for good reason. It’s easily the second best bus battle I’ve seen all year (Sorry Shang Chi, not my fault you came out in the year that Nobody owned the concept of beating the shit out of someone while on a bus) and then there’s the entire scaffolding fight which might be one of my new favourite MCU fight sequences. This film is full of some amazing action that’s beautifully shot, performed by incredible stunt people and surrounded by some of the most incredible sets.
Of course we can’t forget that Shang Chi brings along a cavalcade of great new people to be in the MCU. Simu Liu is just the most charming human being who sells the hell out of Shang Chi’s emotional trauma and has more facial expressions in a minute than most have in their lives, on top of making every fight scene look badass as hell. Awkwafina really proves that she’s just a fantastic comic relief, while also having more than a few badass moments of her own. Tony Leung joins the elite group of genuinely great MCU antagonists who are both scary and compelling in equal amounts. Hell, everyone in this film is just brilliant, both in scenes where they have to do some of the highly choreographed fights or just when they have a snappy MCU one liner to throw out.
Maybe if I was going to be a bit picky, I might point out that some of the editing felt a little off, almost like there was a longer cut at some point and they had to hack it down to fit a more respectable runtime but it’s not a deal breaker. Everything is still easy to follow and flows pretty well, it certainly didn’t feel like a 2 hour movie. It moves quickly but there are some scene transitions that feel abrupt enough that it’s noticeable, but still pretty fine.
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is exactly what I needed for the first MCU film back in cinemas, it’s a big fun energetic action epic full of great visuals, performances and character moments. Once again, to the shock of no one, the MCU has pulled another really enjoyable film out and gone above and beyond what was expected of them. It’s the exact film I was hoping for when I walked into the cinema and it gave me the exact happy feeling I wanted.
Note: There are two credits scenes and both of them are going to be important to future MCU movies… by this point you should be sticking through the credits anyway but just confirming, there’s a good reason to sit through these ones.