Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ★★★

Really dug the first half of this. The action choreography, while clearly shot entirely on sound stages, is damn impressive, elevated by the fact that you can actually see Simu Liu doing the stunts (well, for the most part - this film boasts some pretty terrible face-replacement effects that only get worse as it goes on). The pulse-pounding score further elevates these terrific action scenes; at times it's a direct rip-off of Ludwig Göransson's score from "Black Panther," but honestly, when it comes to superhero films, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

Sadly, the 2nd half devolves into the typical MCU CGI overload barf-fest with a story that's about as stock-standard as humanly possible (dead wife, portal to Hell, deus ex machina creature, side character who miraculously saves the hero at the last second). I appreciated learning more about these characters and about this world, and it's important that stories about minorities are making it to the big screen (especially via big-budget crowd-pleasers), but I would have appreciated any sort of deviation from the wildly worn-out MCU formula. Why do most of their movies end like this? I guess it worked in "Endgame" because the gimmick was that ALL the superheros were there, but other than that film, the "messy CGI final battle" is consistently the worst part of any MCU film. Even in the MCU shows, especially in Wandavision, the finale is always the weakest link! We're all in agreement on this right?!?!

What ultimately keeps this film out of the lower echelon of MCU films - apart from the exceptional action scenes - is the charm of the main cast. Simu Liu isn't quite the strongest dramatic or comedic actor yet, but he really holds his own during those actions scenes and his charisma is enough to make him genuinely likable as the lead. Tony Leung is as kick-ass as ever as the film's big bad. Awkwafina is even great as Shang's best friend Katy, and it should be mentioned that I've never grown tired of her whole schtick. I dunno, even when the humor is cringey, I still find myself absolutely captivated by her. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that a certain character from a previous MCU entry makes a special appearance here. Some of the trailers have flat out spoiled this twist, and many people talk about it openly on Letterboxd, but just in case you don't know, prepare yourself for quite the treat. It's one of the better examples of the MCU tying back to a previous film via an unexpected character. Just a riot.

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