Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton.
Written by: Destin Daniel Cretton, Dave Callaham, and Andrew Lanham.
Starring: Simu Liu (Shaun/Shang-Chi), Awkwafina (Katy), Tony Chiu-Wai Leung (Xu Wenwu) Meng'er Zhang (Xialing).
Like many, I've been feeling a little burned out on Superheroics, recently. Endgame was the culmination of 10 years and 20+ movies (and a couple of forgotten TV shows. RIP, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and was a cinematic event. But since then, the quality of Marvel's output has been somewhat mixed, to be kind.
So, naturally, I was a little wary of Shang-Chi. He's not a character I'm overly familiar with, but his concept is solid: He is REALLY good at hitting things. Like, super good. The best there is. (See our COMICS RETROSPECTIVE on the 1970s origins of Shang-Chi here)
But, like many other people, I decided that since it was Disney + Day recently, and they put Shang-Chi up earlier than expected, I figured why not give it a look?
I'm now REALLY annoyed, that I didn't brave The 'Rona, to see this film on the big screen...
Shang-Chi is so good. Easily a top three MCU Origin story, and EASILY the best film Marvel have put out since Endgame. It has everything you could want in a comic book movie, and so much more.
To start, we've got to address the obvious point. This is a movie about a guy whose power is "Really, really good at fighting", so: How is the fight choreography?
Honestly? It's probably the best we've had yet in the MCU. Before this point, my go-to for top tier Marvel fight scenes was Winter Soldier. But Shang-Chi blew that movie out of the water. From the very first class on a San Francisco city bus, to the final showdown in a mystical city, the fight scenes in this film are as beautiful as they are brutal. They're not without fault, they are still a few too many rapid jump cuts for my tastes, but there are far fewer than many other MCU entries *cough* Black Widow *cough*, and when they allow for an uninterrupted fight sequence, the results are unlike anything I've seen in a Marvel film to date.
Shang-Chi is the Master of Martial Arts, and Marvel allow him AMPLE room to demonstrate how he earned that title. I hope that when we see Shang-Chi return, they tone down the cuts a little, and give him room to really stretch his muscles!
But, as much as I would have liked it to be, Shang-Chi wasn't just two hours of non-stop fighting. There was actually a pretty solid story in there, as well!
I'll be honest: It wasn't anything ground breaking. Shang-Chi is living his best life in San Francisco, slacking off with his friend Katy. Good times. Then his father, who is a dick, hatches a plan to infiltrates a hidden mystical village to try and find his dead wife.
But here's the thing. It works. SO well. This is not a film carried by its plot; what carries this film is the CHARACTERS. If Marvel can be accused of one thing, it's wasting amazing villains. While I do love the MCU, I'll never forgive them for what they did to Malekith, and the less said about Taskmaster, the better.
But Shang-Chi does something quite miraculous. It doesn't just give us an AMAZING antagonist, it does so by redeeming one of the biggest failures in the MCU to date.
Iron Man 3 is a terrible movie. Just awful. One of the main reasons it sucks so hard is because they take one of the coolest villains in Marvel, The Mandarin, and turn him into a joke (albeit, an incredibly funny one).
Enter, Xu Wenwu. Shang-Chi's father, leader of The Ten Rings, and antagonist of this film. Note, I don't say villain. Because honestly, much like Thanos before him, I can't really call this guy a villain.
Not only is he one of the most fleshed out villains in the MCU to date, but honestly by the end of the movie, I just felt bad for him. He's not a bad guy, he's just a sad, angry, broken old man. By the time the big final showdown rolled around, I didn't want Shang-Chi to kick his ass, I wanted him to give the poor guy a hug!
I'm honestly not sure I've related as much to an antagonist in a single Marvel film this much before. He gave really strong performances, and he played brilliantly off of Simu Liu's Shang chi.
Speaking of: Simu Liu (Shang-Chi) KILLS it, in this movie. I already knew the dude had amazing comic timing and charm for days, after seeing him in Kim's Convenience, but his action scenes and dramatic scenes in this film place him firmly in the forefront of MCU leads for me. I can absolute see him as part of the new 'Trinity', replacing Cap, Iron Man, and Thor as the face of the franchise.
Now, I feel like I have to address one of the biggest criticisms I've seen, aimed at Shang-Chi...
Namely, the fact that the first 70% or so is a cool Martial Arts action film, and then the last 30% descends into the standard MCU CGI nonsense.
And ya know what? You're totally right. That is exactly what happens, and I'll not try to convince anyone otherwise...
However, you'll never convince me it wasn't FREAKIN AWESOME.
Yes, this film goes utterly off the rails in the last 20 minutes or so. There is a dragon. There is a soul stealing monster from the void beyond space. At one point, there may even be a Kamehameha... but it totally works and I defy anyone to explain how it doesn't.
This film is a love letter to the old wirework Kung Fu Fantasy movies of the '60s and '70s, and never pretends to be anything else. And guess what? All the crazy nonsense they do in this movie? Yeah, it's things that have been commonplace in that style of movie for decades. The only difference between Shang-Chi and those films, is that Shang-Chi has the budget to do this kind of thing in a modern, more convincing way.
My biggest worry, when I heard about this film, was that they weren't going to let Shang-Chi be Shang-Chi. I heard the director talking about how they wanted to amp him up a little, to let him fight alongside the likes of Captain Marvel and Thor, and that didn't sit well with me. This is Shang-Chi! His whole thing is hitting people. Why do they need to mess with that?
But I needn't have worried. Honestly, I think The Ten Rings are my favourite "Special Weapon" since Mjolnir. And if you knew how much I love Thor, you'd know that is high praise indeed! I wasn't really sure how they could make The Ten Rings work in the MCU, but honestly, the direction they took with them was better than anything I could have expected. The way they flow with your attacks, extending range, enhancing mobility, and can even be used to form shields and assist in blocking is inspired, and honestly seeing them in use got me far too hyped. And the best part is, I have a feeling we've only scratched the surface of what they can do...
Overall, if you're looking for a deep, complex, nuanced film that will change the way you view cinema as a whole, then go watch some independent French movies or something, I don't know. If you're looking for a fun, funny, exciting family film that will have you looking up your nearest Martial Arts school, then give Shang-Chi a try. You won't be disappointed!
Taheg Gloder is a Freelance Copywriter from England. Obsessed with comics and Manga since his teens, he now splits his time between writing comic reviews and retrospectives for POP, and doing reactions on his YouTube Channel, The Dragon & The Hound. He lives alone, because he’s a hermit.