Shang-Chi review: cool enough to forget it’s a Marvel movie

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Shang-Chi uses cartoon kung fu to refresh the MCU.

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There was a point in Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings when I forgot I was watching a Marvel movie. It seems odd to say that one of the biggest strengths of this latest Marvel movie is how not Marvel it is, but maybe it’s fitting that a film about conflicting identities has a dual identity. Because from the opening of the battle to the inevitable post-credits scene, Shang-Chi is packed with Marvel’s strengths and weaknesses while also feeling like something new and winning.

Unlike July Black Widow, this latest Marvel adventure won’t air on Disney Plus (at least until October). Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings premieres on September 3, only in theaters. Check your local guidelines and follow COVID precautions to protect your health if you plan to see this movie or any movie at the cinema.

Simu liu plays Shaun, an adorable goofball who loses his life parking cars in San Francisco and karaoke with his girlfriend Katy, played by Awkwafina. Except that his name is truly Shang-Chi, and he’s actually trained to be an assassin by his millennial warlord father, who shows up with a plan to conquer a magical village hidden deep in a Chinese forest.

The film is carried by the legend of Hong Kong cinema Tony Leung as Wenwu, patriarch of both Shang-Chi and a dark ninja army. Leung is extremely convincing as a villain who is alternately aggressive or romantic, in love or driven by revenge. Wenwu is one of the most nuanced and intriguing antagonists of all recent blockbusters, let alone the Marvel franchise.

I partially forgot that Shang-Chi was part of the Disney-owned comic book franchise due to how little it relies on connecting to the MCU at large. Even when Marvel previously introduced new characters to the big screen, like Black Panther, Ant-Man, or the MCU version of Spider-Man, they tended to overlap with other films. While it’s fun in its own way, it’s truly refreshing to watch a movie stand entirely on your own two feet, without viewers having to remember other movies – and yes, I appreciate that it’s a low bar, but hey, it’s the sequel / spin -off / reboot the culture we live in.

OK, so there are nods to the old MCU. Without going into spoilers, these nods are OK because you don’t have to remember a complicated story, they have narrative sense, and most importantly, they’re funny.

Shang-Chi’s fight choreography is unlike anything else in the MCU.

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But in addition to resting the big name of the Avengers, the film itself is visually and narratively distinct from the rest of the franchise. Shang-Chi is Marvel’s first Asian star, and the style of the film draws on the rich history of Asian cinema, from martial arts movies to gangster movies to romance, and in particular the visual style and lush emotional of wuxia epics. Like recent Disney Plus shows WandaVision and Loki, Shang-Chi’s greatest strength is his power to surprise. Drawing inspiration from the superhero-style myths and legends of a new culture gives the Legend of the Ten Rings a freshness that more familiar dishes like Black Widow lack.

From the moment Shang-Chi first demonstrates his martial arts skills aboard a runaway bus, the Legend of the Ten Rings is all about the action. The fight scenes were coordinated by the late Brad Allan, a frequent collaborator of Jackie Chan, and the play’s punches are teeming with a zest too rarely seen in Hollywood blockbusters. Each character and each fight has a personality that is expressed through a fighting style. In fact, the hero’s personal growth is symbolized by his changing fighting style, skillful and satisfying visual storytelling.

At the same time, Shang-Chi is truly a Marvel movie, which is both good and bad. If you thought that Black Widow’s highly anticipated villain, Taskmaster, turned out to be an anticlimax, wait until you meet the hopelessly uncharismatic and undercooked villains of Shang-Chi (except Leung, of course).

Visually, when not inspired by the vibrant style of Chinese cinema, cinematography suffers from the same blandness that plagues all Marvel films. And the use of computer-generated images adds a fluorescent touch but also leads to a kind of visual numbness. Sure, it’s nice to bring mythical creatures and fancy superpowers to life with computer-generated animation, but even when the background is clearly CG it takes away the impact of the action. There are times when the characters are just chatting in a field, and the field is clearly not real. The finale in particular is too reliant on a CG light show and lasts too long.

And when the awe-inspiring fights unfold against the cartoonish glow of the CG backgrounds, it mutes the skill and athleticism of the performers. As fun as the fights are, they can’t match the breath or grimace of Jackie Chan’s fight scenes, in which you know the star and the stuntmen are really jumping around a moving vehicle or to the side of it. a building.

But the strengths of Marvels are also fully exploited. The film is very funny, with Awkwafina and various other guest stars stealing almost every scene. And the film buys itself a license to use familiar or overly serious genre conventions (like ominous voiceovers) while also gently poking fun at them.

Above all, the film is animated by endearing characters. The MCU has rarely dealt with the core superhero genre of the Secret Identity (except, it seems, in the upcoming Spider-Man: No Path Home), but Shang-Chi recontextualizes the challenges of experiencing two different versions of yourself through the prism of the Asian-American experience. In the hands of director Destin Daniel Cretton, The Legend of the Ten Rings conscientiously corrects past flaws in Marvel portrayal and offers a portrayal of Chinese family and culture that Asian-born viewers hail for its warmth and authenticity. (check out Asian reviews and POC reviews at IO9, Film marker, Color geeks and Following).

The character dynamics, however, leave Simu Liu in a difficult situation. Leung is an unbeatable actor, Awkwafina is funnier, Meng’er Zhang has a more compelling emotional conflict as Shang-Chi’s sister, and Michelle Yeoh is just more coldly charismatic. A surplus of flashbacks and voiceovers means that Liu himself disappears from the limelight for periods in a row. Luckily, he’s charming enough (and looks great without his shirt on) as an ass-kicking lunk wandering wide-eyed in the MCU’s prominent male status. In its first adventure, you might forget you’re watching a Marvel movie, but Shang-Chi is destined to be a memorable part of the Marvel mythos.



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