This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Nathan Scott’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
To put it simply, Shang-Chi is one of the best origin stories Marvel has ever accomplished, and its on par with some of the best storylines the films have had (Black Panther, The Winter Soldier, Civil War). This isn't a film about saving the world, blowing up the bad guys and being the hero. Its about grief and its about how people deal with loss differently, where some will go to extreme lengths to try get them back because they refuse to accept that they are really gone.
The Ten Rings have been a terrorist organization established long ago in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but here we learn that the leader of it, the real Mandarin, is the father of who will become one of our new Avengers. Powered by these mythical ten rings for thousands of years, Wenwu has become immortal and used his godly power to conquer various corners of the Earth. In 1996 while searching for Ta Lo, a mythical village deep in the forest, he is blocked by guardian Ying Li, and they fall in love, having two children, Shang-Chi and Xialing, and abandoning the ten rings for a domestic life. One day, Ying is killed by enemies of Wenwu and he reverts to his old ways extracting revenge. When Shang-Chi is 14, his father orders him to murder the Iron Gangs leader and avenge his mother. After doing so, a demoralized Shang-Chi flees to America and goes into hiding, going by the name Shaun (ironic? Shaun/Shang, Michael/Michel. Gina/GIna).
The world building was very thorough and was easy to follow. It kind of helps that there are many elements of it that fans are already familiar with, and more or less getting a deeper insight into. Ta Lo reminded me so much of Narnia, its hidden, magical, its landscape, and the fact they have these huge and majestic lions that have a resemblance to Aslan. Seeing dueling dragons that try stealing each others souls isn't something normally seen in a Marvel film before, but the visual effects and fight choreography are so on point and feels amazing.
Personally I enjoyed the first half of the film more because there was an adrenaline rush with Shang-Chi and Katy being on the run from the Ten Rings who are after his pendant (a type of necklace he continues to wear). My favorite fight would have to be the one at Xialing's fight club, on the scaffolding where Shang-Chi takes on a whole army while trying to help Katy (who else loved her singing Hotel California while getting approached by the leader). Once the characters reach Ta Lo, I felt the film began to wind a little until the climatic third act, but still, it never loses momentum and the whole film is a terrific experience, even when their all about new characters, it doesn't mean its any less investing.
Having the protagonists father being the villain, felt quite dark, in a different way then we have seen before. I'm not sure if anyone else shared this same feeling, but it was eerie, knowing that the main enemy is whose responsible for your existence. Wenwu is a good villain, and in a way I felt sympathy for him, but not in the same way as Kilmonger from Black Panther. Its obvious that he feels guilt for his wife's death, even though he wasn't there and he had left that life behind, he still got involved with The Iron Gang in the first place, and knew that in some way it was his fault. This combined with his adoration for her, is what motivated him and wanted her to still be alive more than anything. The guy was in complete denial that shes gone, and goes along with the fairy tale that shes alive somewhere in Ta Lo. I was interested for this relationship between Shang-Chi and Wenwu to be explored a little more, but I think the short runtime and the plot prevented this, there could have been more scenes together between Shang-Chi getting ambushed at the fight club and then getting put in the cell. The outcome was a little predictable too, but I think how the characters reached that point, dealing with their moral beliefs and having their conflict, was done well to the tee. I think Shang-Chi needed to come to the realization that it was probably a good time to put Daddy in a retirement home instead
The Ten Rings (the actual rings that Wenwu wields on his arms) I would have liked to know a little more about. Its briefly mentioned that they may have been stolen from a tomb, but can we get some actual clarity from the man himself and more explanation on their powers? Wenwu was able to fire mini cannons from them on some occasions, and it looked like an air hockey puck flying around, but I liked it. These ancient rings are clearly capable of a lot, but what do they actually do apart from fly around and knock everything out?
I don't feel like this was the generic origin story that audiences were expecting, and it helped that Shang-Chi was already aware of his powers and things weren't always happening in the present, because right now I don't think we need another movie about the protagonist spending 90 minutes learning of their capabilities and how to use them, all that is done lightly and focuses more on moving forward. I wasn't really a fan of Xialing's character, mostly due to her not being developed enough and always being in the shadow of her brother, and its clear that she will probably be a villain moving forward, but not one that's even morally conflicted, shes just not really got much of a heart, borrowing more qualities from her father than her mother. She seemed like a very cold human being.
I lastly want to just quickly talk about the mid-credits scene and what I took from it. Bruce Banner is no longer Smart Hulk like we last saw in Endgame (how?) but his arm is still clearly broken. Here's my theory - as we know, the She-Hulk series in happening next year, perhaps this is set partly before or simultaneously? Bruce obviously gives his cousin a blood transfusion, who becomes the titular character. Perhaps a side effect of some of this blood loss is that he no longer a permanent Hulk hybrid? He obviously has less gamma radiation inside him now, maybe having less of these two things means he can revert back and fourth, or hes gone permanently! Have to wait and see!
If this is the future of Marvel, im here for it.