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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) Review

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Time: 132 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Simu Liu as Xu Shang-Chi/Shaun
Awkwafina as Katy
Meng’er Zhang as Xu Xialing
Fala Chen as Ying Li
Florian Munteanu as Razor Fist
Michelle Yeoh as Ying Nan
Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery
Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

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

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I was interested in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. For the first time in a while, it would be a new movie in the MCU following a character I’m not familiar with, and I liked the trailers and the look of the movie. I was expecting to enjoy it, as I enjoy most MCU movies. However I actually ended up liking it even more than I expected to.

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One of the refreshing aspects about this movie is how self-contained it is as an origin story, it doesn’t feel like a stepping stone to set up more movies. It doesn’t even tie into the multiverse event that some of the recent MCU projects have been moving towards. It’s very much its own thing, and which already has me on board. Another refreshing part is that is feels like a very different entry into the MCU, even to the point where it doesn’t feel like a Marvel movie at times. Once it started with the incredible opening sequence, I knew that I would really like it. In a way the plot is formulaic (not just to other movies in the series, but other action, fantasy, and martial arts films), however it was way more nuanced than I thought it would be. At its core the movie is focussing on a complex family dynamic, and with that there as a lot of thought put into the character work and history of this family. As the emotional core, it exceeds. In terms of the writing for the characters, it’s definitely some of the best in the MCU. In a way this movie is flashback heavy, that doesn’t sound good on paper, but each flashback feels purposeful and is done to flesh out this family story. The humour was generally alright, a lot of it really didn’t land but this is honestly the first MCU movie in a while where it didn’t feel like the humour took away from serious moments or stop the flow of the movie. The third act does feel a bit overstuffed with too many things, and it does have a formulaic CGI filled climax, which was a bit of a shame considering it pivots away from what is essentially a fantasy martial arts movie. However, it does have some incredible moments and it works well enough, it just felt like it came out of left field. There is a mid credits scene and a post credit scene, both setting up follow ups to this movie and the MCU, and they are worth sticking around for.

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The performances from the cast were generally great. Simu Liu played the lead role of Shang-Chi quite well from his grounded family life to the actual fighting. Initially Liu was just alright in the part, but by the end I thought that he was a great fit for the character. Awkwafina is also here in one of the main roles as Shang-Chi’s friend, who goes along with him on his adventure. She does act in the way that you’d expect her to if you’ve seen her other performances (especially with the humour). It doesn’t always work, but it wasn’t as distracting as it could’ve been, and the chemistry between her and Liu was believable. Meng’er Zhang was also really good as Shang-Chi’s sister, and Michelle Yeoh was a really good addition. However, by far the highlight performer is that of Tony Leung as Wenwu (the real Mandarin in the comics), the main villain of the movie and the father of Shang-Chi. He had such a strong onscreen presence, and you end up sympathising with the character, both through the performance and the motivation. Definitely one of the best Marvel villains, and honestly its worth checking out the movie for him alone.

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Destin Daniel Cretton is the director of Shang-Chi, I know him from his work on Just Mercy, and his first action movie was quite good. The cinematography here by Bill Pope made this one of the most visually stunning MCU movies. Aside from some washed out visuals at times, mainly in the third act, it looks very good, especially with the sets and environments. The action is also a highlight, with some top notch, fantastically choreographed and energised fight sequences that rank among the best in the MCU. A lot of the action set pieces are well thought out and put together. The CGI could be a bit of a mess at times in the third act, but I still enjoyed those scenes. The music was solid too, particularly the score from Joel P. West.

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Maybe it’s just because I’ve been finding most of the recent movies in the MCU to range from okay to just good, but there was something about Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings I loved. I enjoyed the visuals and the very entertaining action scenes, the acting was really good, with Tony Leung being the standout. However, I even really liked the story and characters, and the way everything progressed. I will definitely need to see it again to see if it still holds up beyond the first viewing. However, from the initial viewing I really liked it, and it ranks amongst the best of the series. Honestly, while it does tie into the MCU for sure, it is standalone enough that you can go into it having not seen the prior movies. It is worth checking out for sure.