Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review

It’s finally time to look at a fresh MCU movie actually set after Phase 3 with “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”. Now I’ll admit I’ve been reading Marvel comics and watching Marvel properties for a long time now but I only ever heard of Shang-Chi in passing, just “it was Marvel’s attempt to cash in on the 70s Kung Fu craze” so I was surprised to hear this going into production. Thankfully while it doesn’t reach Guardians level of “obscure property made big hit” Shang-Chi was an enjoyable two and half hours watch…

(Extremely Boring) Synopsis:

Martial-arts master Shang-Chi confronts the past he thought he left behind when he’s drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

Right from the bat you completely believe Shang-Chi and Katy’s relationship. They make a fun pairing.

While the film will more than likely be remembered for the exciting fight scenes and crazy climax I would like to start off by praising the family dynamic that plays out across the film. Shang-Chi (Simu Liu)’s parents are Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) a man who has lived for over a thousand years due to finding ten rings (that are more like bracelets than rings…) of unknown origin that gave him great power and stopped his ageing, and Ying Li (Fala Chen) a woman from a village hidden in another dimension. The two met when Wenwu was searching for this village as the next place to conquer but instead fell in love with its guardian (while being beaten back constantly). The two started a life together, Ying leaving the village and Wenwu giving up the rings as he finally found a life worth growing old for… until a decade or so later when someone he and his Ten Rings organisation had wronged in the past arrives and ends up killing Ying, convincing Wenwu to slap those rings back on his arms and go right back to criminal kill mode.

During this time Shang-Chi and his younger sister Xu Xialing (the older version of whom is played by Meng’er Zhang) go from having a loving family to being part of a crime syndicate and Shang-Chi is trained to be a superb fighting machine and sent to kill his mother’s killer in America, which he does but then decides the whole assassin life isn’t for him and instead stays in the US and tries to live a normal life. This is where we meet the character in “current day”, living a normal life in San Francisco with a close friend / blatant love interest named Katy (Awkwafina) until some Ten Rings members arrive and attack him on a bus. This sends him and Katy around the world, eventually meeting Xialing and finding out she left the Ten Rings only to open up an underground fighting ring and generally being no better than her father. Wenwu arrives and takes both his children back to his compound because he believes their mother is being held captive in her old village and is planning an invasion, which is a great motivation for a bad guy. That’s where the key drama comes from, Wenwu is the central villain but he’s a sympathetic character rather than one-note. The whole family drama aspect was really well played out and deserves a lot of praise.

At least this Razorfist has just one … razor-fist. The comic one has two blades for arms, which must make wiping your arse a horror show.

All that being said the aforementioned fight scenes do also deserve a lot of praise as well. A long fight scene on a bus has some great moments (plus the MCU debut of Razorfist, played by Florian Munteanu, which made me laugh as he was someone me and my friends would take the pee out of for being a really crap design for a villain…) and a showdown between Shang-Chi and Xialing against a whole bunch of Ten Rings members on a bamboo scaffold had some great moments as well. Eventually everything shifts focus and our lead trio of Shang-Chi, Xialing and Katy meet Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) who was captured and planned to be executed for his portrayal of Wenwu and the Ten Rings organisation during the course of Iron Man 3 but they instead kept him around as a sort of court jester. Great for some comic relief and his befriending of an odd Chinese mythological creature he dubbed “Morris” leads to him being able to lead everyone to Ying Li’s village, Ta Lo.

This is where the film gets a complete scenery makeover as the dimension that Ta Lo exists in is full of “real” versions of many Chinese mythological creatures and weapons, armour and techniques that verge on pure fantasy. Shang-Chi and Xialing meet their Aunt Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh) and not only get some snazzy new gear and a few lessons in wind manipulation but they also hear that the village is guarding a great evil known as the Dweller-in-Darkness (another obscure Marvel character me and my friends would laugh about, not that it bears any resemblance to its comic counterpart in this film…) and its this evil that has been calling out to Wenwu under the guise of his wife in order to manipulate him into destroying its prison and setting it free. This leads to a big showdown between Wenwu and his Ten Rings (both the faction and his actual ten rings…) against Shang-Chi, Xialing, the people of Ta Lo and a bunch of mythical creatures (plus Trevor hiding for most of the fight). Eventually Katy joins in with a bow and arrow too.

The “real” Mandarin… plus head ninja-like guy (Despite it all being based on Chinese mythology)

Shang-Chi meets and ends up riding a massive guardian dragon and then dropping to the ground to do battle with his father, soon showing how greatly his skills have improved to the point where Rings start to actually gravitate towards him, changing colour to match Chi’s orange aura rather than the blue of Wenwu. Before they can truly settle things Dweller-in-Darkness breaks free and devours Wenwu’s soul, the former true Mandarin passing his ten rings on to his son as a last act. This leads to the actual final showdown where Shang-Chi and Xialing riding the Guardian Dragon face off with the evil dragon-like Dweller, with Katy firing a decisive arrow shot to its throat leading to Shang-Chi using the Ten Rings to destroy it. It was quite the CG spectacle! When then get a “things return to normal” scene follow by a mid-credits bit where Wong, Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner all try and analyse the Ten Rings but can’t figure out where they’ve come from or what they’re made out of but are aware it seems to be emitting a beacon of some kind…  Oh and Xialing has taken over the Ten Rings group for herself…

The Bad:

Not a lot, honestly. There were times where I felt maybe it was a bit too long, the added Dweller-in-Darkness fight felt like overkill after a great showdown between Shang-Chi and Wenwu. Plus we never saw what happened to Trevor after the big battle. I was expecting a jokey ending where he stays in Ta Lo performing Shakespeare or teaching them footie or something. Minor gripes in the grand scheme, but they were still there…

Overall Thoughts:

The closest the MCU has gotten to a full-on Dragon Ball Z beam struggle.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a really fun film, full of some great martial arts action for its first half and then some top-class CG spectacle for the second half, all while breaking free of the MCU uninteresting villain curse that these origin movies often suffer from. While not perfect I won’t have any issue watching this again in any future marathon or MCU re-watch.

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