Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – A superhero film that lives up to the hype
Marvel’s newest movie is a thrilling mix of believable people and stunning CGI.
Although it may seem as if there isn’t a month that goes by without another comic book picture being hailed as the peak of the superhero genre, it’s very uncommon for a film to live up to its hype. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, on the other hand, accomplishes all of this and more. Destin Daniel Cretton, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham, is astute enough to see that the key to success with an effects-driven, eye-popping extravaganza is not the CGI spectacle, but the fundamentals.
Characters with different textures. Friendships fueled by karaoke and shots. Also, the combat choreography is electrifyingly badass.
The film is already one of the freshest Marvel pictures in a long time, thanks to the goofy exchanges between Simu Liu’s Shaun (heir to his father’s tricky relationship with power and his mother’s fierce empathy) and his best friend, defender, drinking buddy, and fellow valet car-parker Katy (Awkwafina). That’s before the brawl on a speeding bus, which features an Eastern European man mountain with a laser arm prosthetic.
But maybe more striking than where this picture fits into the Marvel world (it’s an anomaly, which is all the better for it) is how gracefully it fits into the wuxia fantasy-infused Chinese martial arts tradition. The film draws its inspiration from the martial arts epics of the early 2000s, both in casting (Michelle Yeoh, as calm and lethal as ever, and Hero’s Tony Leung play crucial parts) and set pieces (there’s a reference to the classic bamboo forest sequence in House of Flying Daggers). It’s a tricky balancing act to pay respect without being derivative, but the film succeeds.
Similarly, Cretton navigates clichés like flashback sequences and that most venerable of old chestnuts, the training montage, with a surprising lightness of touch. Only at the conclusion, when the film switches from gorgeous, thrillingly handled action sequences to a struggle between a slew of spectacular effects, does this exciting mix of genres lose some of its lustre.