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Review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton

Premise: Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is estranged from his father (Tony Leung) who is the head of an international criminal organization known as the Ten Rings. Shang-Chi must stop his father from acquiring a magical artifact.

What Works: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a superhero film and it delivers the action and adventure that viewers expect from that kind of movie while telling an involving family drama. The title character is the son of a man who has lived for thousands of years due to a magical set of rings. He has used his time and power to build an international criminal empire but now seeks new magical artifacts that the father believes will reunite him with his late wife. The movie is really about a man blinded by grief and how his children must stop him from unintentionally unleashing a supernatural threat onto the world. That emphasis on family gives Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings a stronger emotional center than we usually find in superhero pictures. Shang-Chi is played by Simu Liu and he’s fully capable in the role. Liu does the action convincingly but perhaps more importantly he conveys Shang-Chi’s complicated relationship with father. Tony Leung is cast as Shang-Chi’s dad. The character is villainous but also tragic and Leung possesses menace that is tempered by sadness, making the character a compelling and very different sort of comic book heavy. Awkwafina is cast as Shang-Chi’s friend and she provides comic relief along with Ben Kingsley reprising his role from Iron Man 3. Between Awkwafina and Kingsley, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has a lot of humor that contrasts with the family drama and makes the film a lot of fun.

What Doesn’t: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has a lot of backstory to establish. The film not only has to explain the relationships between the characters but also the origins of various underground organizations, the powers of magical artifacts, and the disposition of fantastic creatures. All the exposition is necessary but the film is overstuffed with different places and people and creatures. Thankfully, the filmmakers spread the exposition throughout the movie, alternating explanations with action sequences, but Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings suffers a little from the volume of exposition it is required to incorporate. Most of the action is done well but the climactic battle scene gets too chaotic. The movement of the characters and the spatial relationships become muddled and the final set piece becomes an exhausting flurry of action. 

Bottom Line: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of the better films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although its surplus of plot is a bit unwieldy, the film moves along and provides fun action movie thrills alongside a compelling family story.

Episode: #869 (September 19, 2021)