The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an unstoppable juggernaut of pop culture relevancy. It has solidified its role as a multimedia franchise. Following the release of Black Widow, however, I had a waning interest in the MCU that can only be described as “I will continue to watch every single movie and television series that you release within this franchise, but at the same time this is beginning to feel a little thematically and visually repetitive.”
But where Black Widow is a retread of many of the previous Marvel movies, most notably 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the MCU triumphantly reminding us why they’re the highest-grossing film franchise of all time.
The film has easily the strongest narrative of any MCU origin story movie. Rather than start with the origin, the movie instead opts to explain the MCU’s newest superhero, Shang-Chi, through a series of flashbacks juxtaposed against the film’s evolving narrative. The structure of this film very much makes it seem like the producers at Marvel have learned from the previous movies what works and what doesn’t work.
The action in this movie is fantastic. It is very rare that I see a blockbuster movie and explicitly think “wow, the action sequences and set pieces in this movie are fantastic.” Most of the time in the MCU, the action sequences can feel like little more than a means of moving the plot along. Here, however, the opposite is true: the action sequences are genuinely engaging and exciting to watch, while also naturally moving the plot around. I’ve seen a lot of people saying that this movie “takes inspiration from Kung Fu movies,” which is technically true but a more accurate way to say that is to just say that this is a Kung Fu movie because this movie is literally a Kung Fu movie.
The performances in this movie are also fantastic, and you can tell that everyone was very passionate and attached to the characters they are playing. Simu Liu nails the titular role of Shang-Chi and immediately solidifies himself as a major player in this franchise. Tony Leung portrays Wenwu, one of the best antagonists that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever had. And Awkwafina does what she does best: being Awkwafina.
This movie also does a good job of acknowledging the fact that it is a part of a larger franchise. The movie features a couple of fun cameos and surprises that I very much enjoyed, and I felt like they were used in ways that benefited the story. However, I do think that there’s something to be said to the fact that every entry in this franchise, at this point, features some sort of surprise cameo, and I am beginning to worry that this could become overused and lessen the impact of the major crossover moments. The moments in this movie, luckily, don’t feel overdone and for the most part, added to my enjoyment of the movie.
Visually the movie is well put together, for the most part. The stand-out sequences are the fights, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the movie is bland to look at. Sometimes the movie feels a little bit like its color palette is trying to look grounded and realistic, something that I think that the rest of the MCU suffers from as well, as the most engaging sequences of the movie are the ones that embrace the less grounded, more colorful design.
Overall, I would say that Shang-Chi is definitely a movie that you don’t want to miss. It’s definitely worth heading out to a theater to see, and I look forward to seeing where this new sub-franchise heads.