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

Quick 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.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Marvel film that had so many people WANTING it to fail. The internet seemed full of people who were desperate for any bad news so that they could say “see! Go woke, go broke!”. They NEEDED it to be bad. Sucks for them then that is incredible. Comic book movies need a compelling villain. Loki was the only bearable part of the first two films, and the villain problem is why some Marvel films haven’t quite hit as they needed to. Wenwu is one of the most compelling villains in the MCU so far. Usually a lot of their villains are “same powers as the hero, but evil”. Sadly, this does do that, but the fact that the villain is the heroes father adds an emotional level to it. Especially since he’s not inherently evil, he’s misguided and being controlled by forces beyond his control. He was a villain before the events of the film, a figure of pure fear for people across the globe. But by the time the film starts all he wants is to get his wife back. That’s what inspires everything he does, and it’s weirdly beautiful. The downside of him is there is so much time spent on him, that the bigger bad that he’s doing it for only really matters in the third act, and doesn’t last for long. It’s his desire and love which leads to the third act CGI battle.

That’s the biggest issue, how underwhelming that final third is. It seems too big that it becomes impersonal, which considering the main core of the film is personal relationships is a bit weird. Instead of being a controlled dynamic set piece, it’s just CGI against CGI, and lets be honest, CGI hasn’t exactly been the MCU’s strong point so far (just look at some of the flying scenes in Captain Marvel for example).

It’s weird as there are some great fights in this. There’s a great rhythm to the way the fights operate. The way they use the surroundings brings to mind the best of Jackie Chan, where the layout of the room effects the way the action operate and it becomes almost a puzzle coming together, and means every fight is different. They also do a great job of demonstrating character through the action. You could show somebody the bus fight and they would get not only the main character, but also Awkwafina’s character.

Time for me to mention it. Awkwafina steals the show here (much like she did in Raya). She’s absolutely hilarious and serves as the audience in terms of introduction to the world, with Shang-Chi explaining everything for her. An incredibly unsubtle way of doing it, but it’s effective. She gives the best lines of the film, which considering the return of the fake Mandarin also happens (spoilers btw) is really something. One downside of her character? Her character arc doesn’t really work. She starts off as the standard “uncertain what to do in life and constantly changes plans” character, then picks up firing a bow and arrow, and is unnaturally good at it. She becomes good at it so far, and becomes so important in the final fight that it feels like Marvel knew she’d be a popular character and wanted to make her powerful. Does the MCU not have any normal characters? It’s okay to have characters who can’t fight, the way they’re treating it seems to be that if you can’t kill people, you’re worthless.

The mid-credits do a good job of setting up the future, with Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner working together (with Banner in full human form). If this is picked up in the future it could be exciting, but I doubt they’re going to deal with it in the new Spider-man movie (how fucking stoked are you guys for that, btw?) so might have to wait a while for that storyline to be moved forward. Eternals is released this year but that will have to be introducing so many characters that I’m not sure they’ll have time to deal with the ones we already know. The Doctor Strange, Thor, and Black Panther films will probably have their own things going on. So the best bet will be in The Marvels, and that’s not out until November next year. The MCU is juggling a lot of balls right now (lol, I said balls) and it’s going to take some skill for them to make the whole thing a coherent narrative again. Fingers crossed.

That’s why I think this is a great film. It works brilliantly on its own, you’re not there thinking you have an unfinished story like you do with something like Brightburn (or even Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 to an extent), but it also sets up the future plans. I’m excited to see what happens, and I like being excited for cinema. When I do the round-ups at the end of the year I can sometimes struggle to not repeat myself, but there is so much I didn’t mention in this review. The lead performance, his sister, the brutal nature of some of the fights, hotel california, Abomination, Wong, the sonic connections. There is so much to talk about with this, and that’s really what you need, to feel excited, to become a fan again, to the point where you become like a little kid describing something he loves “oh, and another cool thing, and then this happened” etc.

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