Review by Sean Boelman
It finally feels like the movies are back now that we are getting our second of three MCU films in 2021, this one being a theatrical exclusive (after Black Widow got a simultaneous Disney+ Premier Access release). And it’s just in time, because Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is exactly what a blockbuster should be: a fun, epic, and genuinely artful action movie.
The film follows a Kung Fu master who is forced to confront his past when the Ten Rings, a powerful shadow organization, comes knocking. Like most superhero movies, it has the obligatory “saving the world” stakes, but it feels a lot more self-contained than most Marvel projects have recently, and that’s a welcome change.
This is an absolutely action-packed movie for the entirety of its two-hour-plus runtime. What stands out about this film is that it has so many great action sequences which have a distinct flavor to them. From the elegant and dance-like style of wuxia fights to the wackier approach of Hong Kong action-comedies, the movie is clearly inspired by classic Asian action films.
And yet, despite the fact that there are so many different styles coming together into the movie, it still feels like a cohesive vision. This is one of the few Marvel projects that legitimately feels like more than a product because it isn’t just a result of comic fandom. It’s an homage to a cinematic legacy of Asian film, complete with exquisite cinematography, and it’s truly beautiful to look at.
Ideas of family aren’t anything particularly new for comic book movies, but the writers approach this theme in a way that feels earned. All of the emotional beats throughout the movie are sincere and pay off in the final act in a way that is satisfying and moving, which is more than can be said about a lot of the MCU.
There are obviously a lot of things done in the film that are for the sake of linking it to the greater context of these interconnected projects, some of which are more effective than others. But in a fundamental sense, this is a character-driven story of a dysfunctional family, and the perspectives are surprisingly balanced between brother, sister, and father.
Lead actor Simu Liu is great in his role, bringing a really charming quality to the character. Something interesting about this movie compared to a lot of superhero debuts is that it is not an origin story, so Liu has the enormous challenge of making the character feel lived in even though it is his first appearance on-screen, and it works. The big standout, though, is Tony Leung, whose performance as the antagonist is one of the best ever in the MCU.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is not only one of the most enjoyable films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s also one of the most distinctive. It’s exciting to see Kevin Feige and co. investing in unique new directions like this now that the Infinity Saga is complete, and this will allow it to maintain its grip on popular movie.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits theaters on September 3.