Shang-Chi t
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – 2021

Director Destin Daniel Cretton
Screenplay Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, Tony Leung

The brilliance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is it literally encompasses everything one can imagine. If it hasn’t been covered up to now, Shang-Chi… is evidence that it will all come in good time.

The story begins with Shaun (Liu), who is living a comfortable life as a valet, singing karaoke with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). One morning, on their way into work on the bus, they are accosted by members of the Ten Rings organization. We know from the prologue that this organization is run by Shaun’s father, Xu Wenwu (aka the real Mandarin, among other names by which he is known). He has been in possession of 10 Rings of power for at least 1000 years, and he wants his son, whose real name is Shang-Chi, to return.

What drives Xu is not megalomania. If it were that easy, they could have hired a dozen other actors without Tony Leung’s acting ability to play the role. His quest is deeper and more nuanced than just controlling things. Still, he wants to break down a wall, so we can look forward to that.

After the insane attack on the bus, Shang-Chi tells Katy his real name and part of his family history. Of course we, along with Katy, will not discover everything right away. First they need to head back to the homeland to search for and rescue his younger sister, Xu Xialing (Zhang).. Or so they believe.

From here more of the story unfolds, and we see the full potential of Shang-Chi as he faces down his past, which looks more than a little like his future. How he handles this is a delicate and artistic balance that brings us into a world we have had no prior concept to in the world created by Marvel.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings does a nice job of bringing us further along the mystical side of Marvel, heretofore touched only in Doctor Strange. To its credit, we are not immersed into a bevy of exposition. There are several elements to the film that are not explained, and the story is better for it. We don’t need to know everything now.

On the other hand, it does successfully tell the story of Shang-Chi and his family from the perspective of it’s beginning, circa 1996 through now. The confidence of knowing they don’t need to tell more than that is one of the benefits to being part of this Cinematic Universe. The other is hiring a talent like Destin Daniel Cretton to tell the story from his own unique perspective.

Having not seen any of his previous work, I didn’t know what to expect with his take on updating a comic series and characters that moved between problematic and respectful. Fortunately, given the talent and the skill involved within the Marvel studio, we get much more of the respect, combined with a metric ton of beautiful scenery.

The direction is right on cue for this universe. There are enough cameos and guest roles that are from other films that it feels cohesive, even when adding incredibly deft and artful new elements around the characters. The pacing is exceptionally brisk for 132 minutes. The CGI is on par with the best of the series, with one notable exception at the beginning of the bus ride, right about the time the brakes go out.

Liu is the right person at the right time to hit it big. His role as Jung, the prodigal son of the wonderful Canadian sit-com Kim’s Convenience, prepared him to play another wandering child. His kind face belies an incredible physique and a fighting style that has to be seen to be believed. He has a martial arts and gymnastics training that shows in every remarkable scene. His is a star that deserves to rise.

Awkwafina is just the right mix of will they or won’t they as a companion for Liu. There is no questioning the depth of feeling the two have for one another, but it’s just as easy for her to crack wise as it is for her to be amazed at the ever expanding world before her eyes. My daughter and I are torn on whether or not they should become an item. I am all for it, as her energy is anything but typical for the role.

The casting of Leung is crucial for this film. His depth of character helps inform the plot as much as anything. He’s anything but a “look at me” antagonist. His reasoning is at least as good as Killmonger from Black Panther. It doesn’t make him a good guy, necessarily, but it gives a depth that very few nemesis are allowed in the MCU or anywhere, for that matter. If they had done anything less with his character, the film would have suffered greatly.

And thank you for Michelle Yeoh. Always and forever.

Thankfully, we are allowed to grow with Feige’s vision and this bodes well for life after Endgame. If one is wondering if the MCU has legs at this point, to this viewer, the formula seems fresh as ever with all of the new ingredients.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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