During a panel I was on for Marvel’s What If, the host asked, “who’s going to care about Shang-Chi?” After having seen it, I can adamantly answer a lot of people will. I agreed with the host’s question to an extent. From my limited knowledge of comics contrasting my vast knowledge of their movies, I never heard the name Shang-Chi mentioned. But then again, Dr. Strange, Thanos, Loki, and many others became public lexicons later. During a different period, the ordinary guy knew nothing about the Avengers other than Spider-Man. Who wasn’t even initially on the team when Disney acquired Marvel. Now Spidey is as popular as Iron Man. Shang-Chi might be another one of those names we all will get to know.
New ground isn’t broken with Shang-Chi as much as it is re-explored in style. Marvel’s brand of conscious humor shines at its best in this picture with its many welcome surprises. Sometimes the humor can be forced, but nothing particularly cringe-worthy comes to mind. Part of the Marvel formula is a solid choice of directors. Plucking from the tree of Indie filmmakers, Destin Daniel Cretton brings some much-needed choreography to the film’s combat.
The action sequences in the MCU suffer from their exact recipe. After the portals open in Endgame, the final climactic fight engulfs in a cacophony of CGI diarrhea. The stakes in each bout play less skin by the teeth survival and more like a symphony of hero moments. Not that I mind the overall style in action, but its familiarity hinders its tension. Destin Daniel Cretton pays homage to classic Asian cinema from Kurisowa to Bruce Lee films breathing much-needed life into the MCU’s action.
Film after film in the west consists of forgettable combat. Finally, we get a movie that breaks the mold, aside from John Wick, of course. Taking a page from the Wachowskis, Mr. Cretton rarely cuts the camera when fights break out. Each hit has an impact. The risks our heroes take feel dangerous. I know Shang-Chi will come out okay in the film, but for a moment, the action was sharp enough where I momentarily had my doubts. Like watching The Matrix, I wondered if the actors got injured making this film. The crowd I saw the flick with had their collection of “woos” and “whoas,” cementing how incredible the action was. For the first time in a long time, I was excited about the following action sequences rather than marking time for the next story beat.
There’s some cartoony CGI that took me away from the excitement on certain occasions. I can’t entirely fault the technology. Like puppeteering or animatronics, there’s a limit to the technology. Having someone fly across a destroyed plane platform with a Liu Kang kick might kill an actor or stuntman alike. The movie unleashes the usual third act of animated villains populating the screen. Luckily, the CG in the final act doesn’t reach Marvel or DC’s usual level of extremities. The stunning choreography stays intact. What can be said of the story isn’t anything new.
An origin story is an origin story at this point. Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) goes by the alias Sean. His lady friend/love interest Katy (Awkwafina), learns about Sean’s troubled past when a group of mercenaries confronts him. In the world of superheroes, you’re either an orphan or have power-hungry abusive parents. Shang’s daddy Wenyu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) would make good friends with Starlord’s father. From here, if you’ve seen any Marvel movie, you can imagine what the plot is going forward.
Shang-Chi could very well be another household name to add to the Marvel tenfold. The cast works together seamlessly. Although not quite as funny as his co-stars, Simu Liu has the charisma to invest me in his character. Awkwafina’s usual brand of witty humor blends with the MCU’s fun aesthetic, and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung plays a convincing sympathetic sociopath. Some other characters I’ll keep my mouth shut about since it’ll be a blast to see how you react when they pop up on screen. If it weren’t for the perfect timing in its humor and its spectacular encounters, Shang-Chi could have been as forgettable as Black Widow. Although not available for streaming yet, if you don’t mind going to the theater, the action in Shang-Chi: and The Legend of The Ten Rings is worth seeing on the largest screen possible.
Let me know if you agree with my rating when the film comes out.