AlfredAngier’s review published on Letterboxd:
Alternate title: Good Mulan
Alternate, alternate title: The Lord of the Rings
Alternate, alternate, alternate title: Crouching Cthulhu, Hidden Dragon
Another fairly solid entry and the 25th(?!) in the MCU and there was a lot to like.
Although the usual third act slump with a giant battle struck again the great cast led by Simu Liu as the titular Shang-Chi and choreography that was actually good for a change and allowed the viewer to understand what was happening in the fights (what a concept) mostly made up for the shortcomings.
Liu brought a great lead performance that was both physically and emotionally demanding and rose to the occasion, can't wait to see more of him both in the Marvel universe and just in general.
I really loved Awkwafina's Katy as well. Sometimes her humor in other films comes off a little over the top but it was toned down a bit and really worked here as did her quieter moments and the close friendship she had with Shang-Chi was a highlight. The karaoke scenes were also fantastic and I like that Katy wasn't just a tag along but actually got a few moments to shine. Rare for a best friend character to play a major role in the plot and it was a richer film for her inclusion in the story.
They also threaded the needle pretty well in making Xu Wenwu (the always great Tony Leung Chiu-wai) a fully realized antagonist with plenty of evil deeds to make him a villain but just enough moments of humanity to not have him be one dimensional. Really tough to pull off but they did it.
Meng'er Zhang as Xu Xialing, Shang-Chi's sister also had a compelling arc of her own as she was ignored by her father and has issues to work through that feel seperate but connected to Shang-Chi, felt like an earned woman power moment when she gets her moment to shine and I'm curious where they'll go with the post credits set up they had for her.
Fala Chen as Ying Li, Xu Xialing and Shang-Chi's mother did a lot with a little and I've never seen her act in anything so was extra impressed by how strong her performance was in what is a usually pretty basic stock role. She elevated it above the standard trope and although I usually try to refrain from commenting on actors appearances I have to admit she was distractingly beautiful and I totally get why after a thousand years a dude would decide to settle down with her of all people.
Nice to see Benedict Wong utilized in an almost Nick Fury way too and was that Abomination from the awful Hulk movie that everyone tries to forget is in the MCU?
Michelle Yeoh automatically makes any film 15% better (that's just math, I don't make the rules) and she does so again here even showing off some of her martial arts skills, albeit more briefly than I would like but then again, I'd watch an entire film with her just training people.
While pretty much the entire cast was great there was one character that I don't think needed to be included and even though I love the actor they added nothing and could/should have been cut, if only because it reminded me that their film exists and a movie as good as Shang-Chi having two references to two of the worst MCU films is a bit much to stomach.
A point in its favor was portraying a different culture than is usually in a big budget film and calling out some of the problems it has without ever coming off as disrespectful or pandering and loved that a sizable portion was not in English. Good for them.
Then there's the aforementioned obligatory third act fight with the fate of the world at stake. I know it's a big ask but just once I'd like a quiet and contemplative finale, please?
The actual powers and how things worked weren't super well explained either, it wasn't movie ruining but a peeve of mine is when someone has a super archaic weapon they've used for decades (or centuries in this case) and someone else starts using that weapon just as well as the person with vast amounts of practice. Like how?
And shout out to Destin Daniel Cretton from my home state who made the excellent Just Mercy a few years ago and now this, good for him.
Overall a great cast, well shot action and a big step forward in big budget representation but hampered by the Marvel formula so it isn't able to reach its full potential with some really bad environmental CGI. That water didn't look real, nor did those rocks. You have too much money for Justice League level CGI Disney, get it together.
So a mix of good and bad.
Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.