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Shang-Chi: More Like a Trip to Narnia than a Visit to the Dojo

Posted by November 10th, 2021 No Comments »

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina,Tony Chiu-Wai Leung & Ben Kingsley

You had me at Marvel. SPOILER ALERT: I love comic books. I love the adaptations to animation, television and, most of all, the full-length feature films. I praise the good films as “great” and the bad films as “not that bad.” So am I the best, unbiased source for superhero movie reviews? Who cares. I’m going to tell you my thoughts on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings anyways.

Shang-Chi’s always been on my radar. I never read his comics but enjoyed his guest appearances. Having a monthly title in the 70’s and 80’s last more than one hundred issues is no small feat, and the popularity of the character reached cult-like status among comic book readers. When Shang-Chi made a return to comics in ’07, the idea of a feature length film – or at least a Netflix television series – became possible.

Again, I’m a super-fan of comics. So “street level” superhero shows on Netflix were essential for me, and Shang-Chi would have fit perfectly into the story arcs of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage or even Iron Fist. But now that I have viewed the feature length film, I’m glad this was the path Marvel chose. To my surprise the film wasn’t just KungFu and street level fights that showed off the amazing fight choreography of Andy Cheng (An Acolyte of Jackie Chan). It was an energetic journey into mysticism and fantasy as well.

The first act was what I expected: amazing fight scenes and an introduction to our protagonists Shuan and Katy. Both are played with charisma and swagger by Simu Liu and Awkwafina. But as the first act closes, (and I was getting used to San Fransisco), we are whisked away to multiple locales, each more fantastic than the last.  

Director Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy, The Glass Castle) does a great job of making these changes in locale plausible yet somewhat frightening. He does this by focusing our experience mostly through the eyes of Katy – played with an almost screwballs comedy affect by Awkwafina. Little did I know when I was favorably reviewing Just Mercy in 2019, Cretton was slated to direct this big budget, Marvel film as a follow up. Shang Chi has nowhere near the emotional weight of Just Mercy, but it does have similarities in that we believe the characters care for each other on more than a superficial level. Balancing this with action and fantasy must be difficult, and I commend the young director for doing this so successfully in his fourth film. 

As with all Marvel films there are surprises and cinematic touchstones that will impact the greater MCU, and all of these are fresh and fun. The main take away, however, is that we care about the characters because they care about each other, and that first act in boring ol’ San Fran was the set up we needed to be taken on a fantastical journey that is more like a visit to Narnia than a visit to the Dojo.

If the the previous Marvel film, Black Widow, was a B, and the previous film by Cretton was also a B, then this film about the Legend of the Ten Rings is a B+.

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