‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ Movie Review: Not Your Typical Superhero Movie

Black Widow kickstarted the Post-Infinity Saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a whimper. Disney+ shows such as WandaVision and Loki have proven to be more successful with their storytelling. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the second installment of the fourth phase. Fortunately, it’s the breath of fresh air that the full-length features desperately needed. The MCU film is a family drama at its core that also happens to have some great action set pieces. The 25th installment will play exclusively in theaters on Sept. 3.

‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ is an introduction to another side of the MCU

Simu Liu fighting in bus scene in 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings'
‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ star Simu Liu as Shang-Chi | Marvel Studios

Set in San Francisco, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) lives a normal life. He parks cars for a living, but he enjoys the work. Those around him believe that he’s capable of achieving much more in life, but he prefers living a quiet life. However, Shang-Chi is hiding the fact that he’s actually an expert-level martial artist. He was trained at a young age to be an assassin by his father Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), who runs the Ten Rings organization that is now hunting him.

Katy (Awkwafina) is Shang-Chi’s best friend, who didn’t know about his past. When he decides to find his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), Katy refuses to let him go alone. Shang-Chi is going to need all of his training if he hopes to stop his past from destroying the world. As a part of the MCU, the events taking place will connect Shang-Chi into the ever-expanding universe.

‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ is a dysfunctional family drama

Simu Liu fighting with staff as Shang-Chi in 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings'
‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ star Simu Liu | Marvel Studios

The 25th entry to the MCU combines Eastern and Western storytelling and visual techniques. While it fits alongside other Marvel flicks, it’s also unique to itself. It has the familiar stakes associated with a Marvel film, but the journey there is more similar to the martial arts genre. Interestingly enough, the signature Marvel moments are actually the less intriguing aspects of the movie.

Yes, Shang-Chi is a superhero movie, but it’s more than that. At its core, it’s actually a dysfunctional family drama. Shang-Chi’s father and sister have changed since he’s pursued a normal life in San Francisco. The screenplay does a good job at introducing the family dynamic, as Katy is discovering many of the family’s issues at the same time the audience is.

One of the major themes of Shang-Chi is time, especially how the past will impact the present and future. The story reflects on how no one can truly outrun their past. Each of the lead characters has unresolved tensions in their past that they wish to run from. They can choose to continue running or stand up and face their fears and heartache. With the multiverse being introduced into the MCU, time and space have become significant themes. Shang-Chi’s past very well may have an even greater connection to the greater MCU.

Shang-Chi once again shows how representation matters. The film pays respect to culture and shares narratives from folks who have not been represented in the MCU previously. Hopefully movies like Black Panther and Shang-Chi are only the beginning of representing more diverse heroes from the comic universe.

Simu Liu and Awkwafina’s comedic chemistry strikes a balance with the action

'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' stars Simu Liu as Shang-Chi and Awkwafina as Katy
‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ stars Awkwafina and Simu Liu | Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios

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Director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) creates a strong balance between humor and action. Despite the film’s dramatic heart, it simultaneously beats comedy throughout the course of its runtime. There’s plenty of quick-witted humor throughout the screenplay, although it lands thanks to Liu and Awkwafina’s stellar chemistry. They have outstanding comedic timing and successfully bounce lines off each other with ease.

When it comes to the big fight scenes, Shang-Chi delivers on some of Marvel’s best action sequences yet. The first half of the movie is front-heavy with the film’s best scenes. The fight choreography is hypnotizing to watch, as it often reads more like an intricate dance. The third act stumbles a bit regarding its pacing, as the massive VFX consumes the climax. The Marvel-level threat feels tacked on at the end, rather than feeling true to the stakes from the start.

Shang-Chi is one of Marvel’s best solo offerings yet. By introducing more representation into the MCU, it allows the narrative to explore new places that would have been impossible to navigate otherwise. It’s a fun, thrilling movie that has the potential to make waves within the entertainment industry. Shang-Chi isn’t your typical superhero movie.