“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” gives us easily some of the best action to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This film gives us a compelling world and some amazing performances with Tony Leung as the standout performance. Seriously I hope his character is given a show or film of his own as he carries every scene he is in. Awkwafina and Simu Liu are both great too and are compelling leads. In the end my biggest problems with the film are just the humor and structure of some of the story, which I’ll get into below. Suffice to say I recommend this film. It is a great MCU film.
The film was directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton who co-wrote the film with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham.
The story follows Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) when he is pulled back into the world he left behind when his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) sends assassins after him, pulling Shang-Chi back into the world of the Ten Rings and the family he left behind.
The Action – The action in this film is fantastic with lots of practical effects and some amazing marital arts fights. My favorite fights were Shang-Chi fighting on a careening bus against assassins and his first duel with his father where his father beats him in Ta Lo. I wish we had more acts filmed on location and not a green screen as those are easily the most compelling action and reminded me of the great practical action from the “John Wick” series.
Wenwu’s Introduction – Wenwu is the creator of the Ten Rings organization and wields them as a weapon. We get his story in the introduction and learn he is a King who has ruled for over 1000 years using the mysterious artifacts known as the “Ten Rings” which he names his organization after. This organization and the rings which he only gave it up when he fell in love with Ying Li, one of the guardians of the magic village of Ta Lo. It is a great introduction and we see how the man who had everything finally found someone worth giving it up for which becomes his motivation later on. I really want a film or show about the Ten Rings as Wenwu’s introduction is far more compelling than anything done with “The Hand” in the Netflix Defendersverse. I want more about this group and Wenwu leading them when he was on top of the world.
Ying Nan – Ying Nan is Ying Li’s sister and played by the amazing Michelle Yeoh. She is Shang-Chi’s mentor who teaches him the style of martial arts his mother used to defeat Wenwu. We get some great scenes from her and see how much she loved her sister. She also loses a lot of her village from Wenwu’s invasion and from the demons that escape the portal that Ta Lo’s been guarding.
Katy – Awkwafina is the audience surrogate in this film as she is the one who is surprised that Shang-Chi knows martial arts and comes along for the surprises and reveals that Shang-Chi, Xu Xialing and Wenwu reveal. Her arc is finding purpose as a fighter with a bow which leads to her making the mortal wound against Dweller-in-Darkness end boss fight and getting recruited by Wong into the Avengers with Shang-Chi.
Xu Xialing – Meng’er Zhang does a good job as Shang-Chi’s estranged sister who had to teach herself how to fight after her father refused to teach her and she eventually ran way and formed an underground fighting tournament. Her arc is coming to forgive her brother as she forgives him for leaving and they reestablish their sibling bond. She doesn’t get to face Wenwu though, which I thought was a loss given how he had left her out and kept her trapped. She had as much reason to want to stop him as Shang-Chi. It was just as personal for her.
Shang-Chi – Simu Liu is great as Shang-Chi. He is a character who is running away from his past and his fun with his childhood friend Katy singing Karaoke and joking around. We learn he is carrying a weight though outside of his father’s physical abuse as his father trained him to be a killer and in the end he kills the man who killed his mom and the guilt haunts him. His arc is embracing his father’s shadow and accepting him as well as his mother’s light and finding balance to defeat the Dweller-in-Darkness and his father who in the end gives up the rings to him when he is killed by the Dweller-in-Darkness. He has a great arc and ends the film as an Avenger.
Wenwu – Tony Leung steals the show and I want a show or film just about him so bad. His introduction is one of the most compelling stories in the entire film. Tony Leung gives so much depth and heart to this character as he is scary even when he isn’t fighting but also shows tenderness and kindness so his falling in love with Ying Li makes sense as well as his fall back into evil and the Ten Rings after she dies. He is a character who has lived for so long that his drive keeps him going as much as the power of the “Ten Rings.” For this reason his death hits hard even if it is a bit predictable as he gives up the “Ten Rings” after being defeated by his son and when his soul is consumed by the Dweller-in-Darkness.
An Exploration of Trauma – Trauma is explored well in this film as we see both Shang-Chi and Xu Xialing have to face their trauma and trust betrayed to reform their bond together and rebuild their relationship that their father’s abuse destroyed. It is really well done and I loved how well the sibling relationship was written.
Wong and the After-Credits Scene – Wong recruits Katy and Shang-Chi to the Avengers and we the learn the “Ten Rings” are far more ancient than any of them know (Captain Marvel can’t place it and we learn they aren’t made of Vibranium from Bruce Banner). It is such a fun scene and the last of it is Wong, Katy and Shang-Chi singing Karaoke. This was fun and also sets up the mystery of the “Ten Rings” really well which I can’t wait to see explored further.
Trevor Slattery and Some Humor – The original fake leader of the Ten Rings who set to be killed by Wenwu until he becomes a jester for him instead. His original introduction was fine but the “humor” from him drags the pacing down so much and he isn’t funny. I would have preferred him and the Extrimis organization from “Iron Man 3” just being referenced at dinner only, we didn’t need Slattery in this and he gives nothing to the film.
Shang-Chi’s Guilt Needed to be Established Earlier – Shang-Chi’s guilt for killing his mother’s killer is something we don’t see until much later in the film. Given how important it is we should have seen the weight of the guilt on Shang-Chi earlier when he is in California living a life away from the Ten Rings. This story element still worked but is a con because it feels like it almost comes out of nowhere because of how poorly it is setup.
Dweller-in-Darkness and Minions – So much CGI monsters and they aren’t intelligent they just take souls to feed the Dweller-in-Darkness. This was lame as the Dweller-in-Darkness tricked Wenwu…where did all that intelligence go when it got out? In the end we just got a big CGI monster with CGI minions which was a shame given all the practical fighting.
“Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings” is a great film that just needed a little more work on structure and less jokes to be a favorite. I can’t wait to see where Shang-Chi’s story goes from here and figuring out the mystery behind “The Ten Rings.” This was a film with compelling characters, themes and action and I really hope we get a Wenwu film or show at some point as he was easily the most compelling part of this great film that sets up a lot of great things to come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Final Score: 9.5 / 10