There are two types of movies I'm a sucker for: superhero and martial arts. Now imagine how gleefully surprised I was when Marvel announced Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a movie that combines both of the styles of films I listed. I have been eagerly anticipating this one, awaiting to see if Marvel's experiment of genres was successful.
You can probably guess from the title that a man named Shang-Chi is going to come across ten legendary rings, and you're right. However, there's a lot more mysticism and fantastical elements than your typical martial arts flick, though this is to be expected since Shang lives in the same world as the Avengers. Speaking of our star, his story is told very well. We see him in his prime as a martial arts master, getting glimpses of his training through brief flashbacks. I appreciate this because superhero origin stories are a dime a dozen, and it's refreshing when the filmmakers try to do something a little different when explaining how a hero becomes super. What I think makes Shang stand out is the fact he's not necessarily superpowered. He's a regular guy, albeit with a crazy family that has an army of assassins at their beck and call. The leader of said assassins is his father, the Mandarin. As an old school Marvel fan, I was so excited to learn that we would be getting the "real" Mandarin, after the disappointing version we saw in Iron Man 3. And the wait was worth it. Mandarin is now one of my favorite MCU villains, which is great news to viewers since most of the villains are pretty forgettable. I think the father-son dynamic between the hero and villain works well here, especially since both have flaws and redeemable qualities. Neither character is perfect, and they sort of desire the same thing. It's what drives their actions that sets them apart. It's an enjoyable story from start to finish, with plenty of heart and humor that balances each other well.
Of course, memorable characters aren't memorable without great performers, and the stars of this movie did an amazing job. Simu Liu was a great choice for Shang. The actor nailed each scene he was in, and I could sense he had a lot of passion driving his acting. This is a relatively unknown character, but with this being Marvel's first Asian led superhero adventure, Liu had a lot of pressure to ensure that this movie would stick the landing, hopefully encouraging Hollywood to put more faith in Asian led movies. Along for the ride is actress Awkwafina, who serves as a great comedic side kick. Most of her jokes landed well with the audience, and I still crack a smile thinking about a couple of them. Meanwhile, adding in the seriousness is Tony Leung as Mandarin. This guy nailed it. He delivered a great performance that wonderfully combined rage with regret and sadness, making the character more sympathetic. He never portrayed the character as completely mad with power (except for at the very start) but merely a man with a mission and a die-hard determination. The other supporting cast did very well too, though a couple of them I wished had more chances to show us more emotional depth. Like most recent Marvel movies, Shang-Chi is filled with actors and actresses that seem to be excited to be in this legendary universe, and their enthusiasm helps fuel the sense of fun that this story runs on.
Not only was the acting great, but the cinematography was also a positive element in this movie. From the well-choreographed fight scenes to the epic final battle, the filmmakers did a fantastic job capturing every moment in all of its splendor. Take for instance the fighting. A lot of fight scenes, even martial arts films, struggle to capture great shots of the choreography. Some movies like Ip Man do a great job of showing off the amazing prowess and skill of its fighters, whereas Mortal Kombat doesn’t capture that same sense of awe in its shots. Thankfully, director Destin Cretton knows exactly what I’m looking for in these types of movies and showed off the martial artists in some creative and memorable sequences. Some of these involve really good use of both practical and special effects, though there is a heavy reliance on CGI at the end, which was a bit disappointing, but before that, some of the fights are quite impressive and, I imagine, quite dangerous to pull off. The ambition of this movie is admirable, and the craft of it conveys a sense of fun, excitement, and passion, resulting in a well-made movie across the board.
I hesitate to get excited about movies anymore. Too many times I’ve gone into the theater expecting to have a good time, only to leave regretting the money that I spent. This time, my excitement paid off. Marvel’s experiment created a wonderful product that I’m sure will put a smile on the faces of many people, and another comic book character will undoubtedly become a household name.
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