Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 12 minutes, Director – Destin Daniel Cretton
After believing to have remained hidden for years Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is brought back into his father’s (Tony Leung) ancient kingdom and dynasty-toppling organisation, The Ten Rings.
Marvel’s big action sequences have become things of punch-the-air spectacle. Cheer-inducing battles of increasingly grand scales. It makes the response to the opening stages of their latest feature, Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, perhaps, even more unexpected. You sit there in open-mouthed wonderment as Tony Leung’s Wenwu and Fala Chen’s Ying Li appear to performed a smoothly choreographed dance together rather than an actual fight. Set against the backdrop of a peaceful, brightly lit, pool in the middle of a secluded forest it’s visually striking in multiple ways – as is the case for many of the fight scenes throughout the film, all paying tribute to martial arts classics in their slight American blockbuster-ised way.
Much of the entertainment value is pushed by the likability of leading man Simu Liu. Having hidden out in San Francisco as Shaun for the best part of a decade, he is brought back to his life as Shang-Chi, heir to The Ten Rings; a kingdom-destroying organisation set up by his father (Leung). Initially tagging along for the journey is best friend Katy (Awkwafina). The two everyday figures (perhaps the most the franchise has seen in central roles up until this point, perhaps discounting Tom Holland’s Spider-Man) make an enjoyable pairing and provide plenty of entertaining humour along the way. It contrasts well with the action and more dramatic content of the film – particularly in regards to the darkness surrounding Leung’s finely performed antagonist. It’s a shame that there are occasional clashes between the comedy and the more serious elements of the film. Humour, while being successful, does seem somewhat misplaced at times and acts as a slight snap away from the film for a brief second when placed in the middle of a scene.
Where the film succeeds in terms of its narrative is in the fact that it doesn’t feel like a general original story. The fact that Shang-Chi is already aware of his background and is re-entering a world allows for a feeling that we’re already aware of some of these characters, requiring less formalities and that things can get going much quicker while still not moving without the audience. From there the stylised fight sequences and the family story at the centre form something rather compelling and engaging. An interesting new step within the MCU that begins to show its more Marvel style colours in the third act. Things begin to feel much bigger during the final major battle of the piece. While not anything that removes you from the onscreen events or causes a distance there does seem to be a slight shift in style and tone – even if one of the final fights still has a real energetic push behind it and that martial arts tone back. Such events, despite their creativity and continuation of the idea that this is all indeed part of legend, do also feel as if they push the run-time on a bit.
Particular character flashbacks in the later stages of the film do cause some slight disconnect, and its perhaps these that truly make the film feel that little bit longer. Not by too much, perhaps 10-15 minutes, but enough to make it feel as things could be that little bit tighter. And yet, for the issues that do arise there’s still plenty of inspired action taking place in this latest entry into Marvel’s universe. Simu Liu, alongside Awkwafina and the many other new entrants into the franchise – including Meng’er Zhang as Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing, perhaps the most surprising thing about the film is that this is her debut role! – is a welcome figure and you’ll be awaiting what he does next, both in and out of the franchise. In fact, this is echoed for much of what appears in Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. There’s plenty of scenes, ideas, content and sequences that stand out amongst the rest of the MCU that show a continually changing landscape for the franchise, experimenting with different genres in each new entry. And while it might have some slight structural issues and dip into more conventional areas for the franchise in its final stages, there’s plenty of style throughout this film to keep it powering through.
Perhaps a bit on the long side as it begins to dip into more conventional action and stakes, there’s still plenty to enjoy within the style and energy of Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. A film filled with plenty of great performances from largely newcomers to the MCU who you’ll definitely want to see again.