Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

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

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Shang-Chi, for me, comes up just short of a slightly higher rating, and that's largely for seeming to drop the ball at the end.

To lead with what it gets right, and its a lot, is how much of this didn't feel like a Marvel movie. For a start, a huge amount of this movie simply isn't in English; it's a ways into this before there's English dialogue, and the movie doesn't mind dropping back out of English throughout the movie. That alone is a gutsy move for a mainstream, big budget Holllywood film and I'm really glad that they were willing to do that and to commit to that. It seems to do a fairly good job of going back and forth between the two.

There's also how well this handled martial arts in the context of this film. Part of that, certainly, is how well this draws on that rich genre, and even without being terribly familiar with it, there was still a strong influence from movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in how this is shot and stylized. More to that, though, is how wordless yet informative it was able to make it. The fighting here isn't *just* fighting. It's why at the start of the film when Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), Shang-Chi's father fights Ying Li (Fala Chen), Shang-Chi's mother, it's well before the narration says it that it's clear that this is a "how I met your father" story because that fight isn't simply a fight, there's a sensuality to those scenes that adds so much to the mood. It's not unique to this segment, the fighting is able to convey moods and relationships, not just serve as action throughout the film.

A bit closer to a Marvel movie (Marvel doesn't have a monopoly on it, but it often relies on it) is the use of comedy, and it doesn't come up short in that regard. A part of that is much of what Awkwafina's role is here to bring more of a sense of comedy, as well as being the outsider to help guide the audience in to what is largely a family squabble. There was also the surprising decision to bring back (for almost entirely comic relief, but also some plot usage) Ben Kingsley's actor character Trevor Slattery, who had been hired to pretend to be a criminal mastermind using the name the Mandarin, and it worked surprisingly well. Quite interestingly, his mythological creature friend Morris is an established creature called a DiJiang. I do appreciate that the creatures that show up in here are drawn fairly straight from mythology and without a pressure to just pick the mythology a western audience would recognize.

Where this loses me is how much it pours into the big battle at the end, and where this seems to lose focus and feels more like 'generic new MCU movie'. There's some interesting stuff in the buildup with that and how this deals with Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) having to come to terms with the sins of his past, and how where he comes from has shaped him. The internal conflict is, I think, handled quite well, particularly him having to deal with his father (with some fairly strong undertones that remind me greatly of Return of the Jedi, although I'm not saying Lucas originated it). The big battle that goes with this, though, seems to be far too much about getting through a list of things that they want to make happen during that fight scene, and to advance each character along the way (some of this started before the fight itself, but it does start to feel predictable, even cliche). And it does this for far too long; it doesn't feel like it's going anywhere and it doesn't feel like it's doing much that is that interesting. All the fight beats felt clear.... it was clear from the start that Awkwafina was going to need to step up at some point in a moment of crisis with the bow and arrow and save the day, for example, and it was clear that at some point the rings would transfer owner, as they do indeed do.

In the end, it's that last battle that feels the most traditional sort of thing to have in an MCU movie that weakened the whole thing, as it prevented this from finishing as strong as it could've because I just... got tired of it and that is rather disappointing, even though so much of this I did still really enjoy (including Benedict Wong's brief return in here as Wong). It just felt like it limited itself when it reached the climax of the film in the one spot that everything had been building to.

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