When you go to the cinema to see a Marvel movie, you don’t necessarily go for anything deep, but a guaranteed two hours of great fun and a solid adrenaline rush mixed with some levity and maybe a couple scenes of emotional weight (whether its for family, friends, or a romantic lead). Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings does not disappoint at all. Though the third act doesn’t live up to the previous two, the movie as a whole was a crazy joyride of unreal concepts and brilliantly executed action sequences.
Before starting this review, I think it’s worth mentioning that this film is playing in the field of a culture I know absolutely nothing about. The inclusion of Chinese culture feels like, from an outside perspective, it might be done cheaply in the same way that Hollywood’s approaches to costume dramas based in British culture often feel tasteless and plastic (like Reign or Bridgerton) but honestly it’s difficult to say. That being said, I’m trusting that there were enough people of Chinese heritage involved with the film that reasonable care was taken with regard to the cultural message that it is promoting. It might also be worth noting that, as was also the case with Black Widow and Black Panther, there were no writers/directors that were from cultures/countries in which the movies take place and on which the plots all largely rely on. Of course this is a complicated subject but I do think that it is interesting that the diverse set of writers and directors that Disney is employing for their diversity-promoting films are all born and raised in the US.
Performances and Casting
The casting as a whole was not particularly exciting but Simu Liu was a surprisingly good choice considering that he is hardly well known outside of his work on Kim’s Convenience. Fala Chen and Florian Munteanu were also pleasant surprises in their minor roles. The cast also all did great jobs – Awkwafina and Benedict Wong delivered as usual but Simu Liu and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung delivered stand-out performances in their roles and really stole the show. The only disappointments really were Ronny Chieng (in a very minor role that I am honestly probably in the minority for disliking) and Meng’er Zhang who still was okay but, at least in my opinion, not quite right for the role in the way that it was resolved. That being said, I’d consider that more of a casting issue than a weak performance.
Screenplay and Direction
As I’m writing this, I don’t think I have anything negative to say about the screenplay other than that the story was a little too basic – the villain was driven by a goal that was simple enough that it was sometimes a little difficult to take them seriously. Also, a couple jokes fall flat but I think that is more due to them being ruined by the lengthy promotional run that Marvel has been running for the past couple months. As for direction, I think Destin Daniel Cretton did a great job, especially considering that this was his first big budget movie after doing films such as Short Term 12, Glass Castle, and Just Mercy. At this point, it’s very impressive how Marvel keeps hiring indie directors for big-budget movies and they all do brilliantly.
Technicals and Music
I never go into Marvel movies expecting to be amazed by the score. That’s not to say that they’re all bad – the recent Avengers and Spider-Man movies have had surprisingly good scores – but they’re usually good enough to do their job without being particularly interesting. Apart from some interesting tinges of Chinese traditional music, this was pretty much the case for Joel P West’s score for Shang-Chi.
The soundtrack for Shang-Chi includes stars like 88rising, DJ Snake, Anderson .Paak, Rick Ross, and EARTHGANG while giving a platform to lesser know (notably Asian-American artists) like Audrey Nuna, NIKI, and Rich Brian. Saweetie also delivers a surprisingly solid verse on Swan Song and Rich Brian honestly hammers out a lot of great tracks on the album. Finally, apart from the ending, the songs are placed perfectly throughout the film in a similar style to how Kendrick Lamar’s soundtrack album for Black Panther was used.
Until the third act, the fight choreography is unbelievably perfect and is so well integrated with crazy set pieces that Shang-Chi has some of my favourite fights in the MCU. My only complaint would be that sometimes they suffer a little from the shaky camera making it difficult to follow. Don’t be deterred, however, by a genuinely awful fight in the first 15 minutes of the movie – it is one of the worst fight scenes I’ve seen maybe in any movie ever but sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise great movie.
The character design for pretty much everything in this movie is perfect apart from a single exception that takes the third act from a 9/10 to a 6/10 (though that might be more due to the CGI being a little substandard) in a similar fashion to Black Widow‘s weird skydiving fight. The costumes, however, are perfect. Over and over again, Marvel brings ideas to the screen that should be almost impossible to make look anything but ridiculous and Shang-Chi is another great example of the costume and character-design department pulling through and bringing these ideas to the screen in a visually stunning way that somehow makes them conceptually adequate and easy to take seriously.
Finally, in terms of it’s place in the MCU, Shang-Chi feels very interconnected although the story is entirely independent. It seems like the MCU is become increasingly messy and interconnected as it moves closer to the world of the comics and, though I love that world, it is a little concerning because as things become more complicated, openings for inconsistencies and neglect open up. So far, Marvel has not often disappointed in that department and Shang-Chi is only an improvement on this. It feels like the story takes place in the world of the MCU without being to bothered by interacting with it and simultaneously not going out of its way to do so.
Shang-Chi is far from being in my top 5 MCU movies but I genuinely really enjoyed it. The only negative aspects that really bothered me coming out of the cinema were the sketchy CGI and the aforementioned terrible fight scene at the start of the film. The end-credit scene left me excited (if a little sceptical of if the execution of the idea is going to pull through) and all in all, I’m looking forward to Shang-Chi‘s further appearances on the big screen.
Thank you for reading and please check out our other content at ScreenHub Entertainment such as our podcast episode on the third Spider-Man movie or my review of James Gunn’s Suicide Squad.