Movie Review: ‘Shang-Chi’ is a Solid, if Belated, entry into the MCU

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues its 2021 streak with the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Rings in cinemas. After being understandably hampered in 2020, our beloved superhero franchise has been inevitably hyper-active this year, with Shang-Chi coming less than two months after Black Widow, in between four series that Disney+ has already brought forward.

Shang-Chi is the MCU’s 25th release, and is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Simu Liu stars in this pic as the titular (ish) character, as do Tony Leong, Meng’er Zang, Awkwafina, and Fala Chen. Michelle Yeoh, Benedict Wong, and Ben Kingsley also appear in this film.

It’s been a while since the MCU introduced a different world into its on-screen feature-length universe. Perhaps not since Black Panther in 2018 has this franchise, with its movies at least, taken us somewhere unfamiliar. Shang-Chi definitely falls into that category, as it introduces us to a world we don’t know, and tries to explore it.

MCU Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

But the slight snag with that is the way that it gets introduced. For much of Shang-Chi, it feels like a street-esque coming-of-age film for our main character. Shang-Chi, the character (also known as Shawn), is having to confront a life he’s left behind and a past he tried to do away with. But not only does this film turn itself primarily into a mystical thing, there’s little evidence of a character struggling with a life he was keen to leave behind.

Perhaps it also has much to do with the MCU’s new phase. In the past, pre-2018 the latest, buzz and dramatic changes would have been enough. But as the franchise has shown, with Endgame and with its series, it’s seeking (greater) depth. Conversations are happening that are poignant and reflective. Characters are evolving and wrestling with what they were told they were and what they think they should be.

In Shang-Chi, we get little of that. Sometimes, it feels a bit too hasty. Other times, it’s too reconciliatory, while not being reconciliatory enough, and yet it’s too confrontational without really working out the crux of the confrontation. As a story, this film doesn’t quite hit the bullseye. In some cases, the entirety of Shang-Chi feels like a long-drawn out middle part of a movie.

Shang-Chi Movie

This also kind of sullies the development of our main character here. In terms of the act, Simu Liu doesn’t just work for the role, he very much embodies it. The MCU hasn’t gotten a new face that is leading proceedings in a while, and it’s not often you see a less-than-heralded name buzz into a known franchise as a new action star. But it’s testament to both Marvel’s casting and Simu Liu himself that both of those things are notable here. In fact, the acting in the entirety in this film more than works.

But the issue with the characterisation is that it almost expedites the growth of our leading man. To draw contrast with previous MCU heroes, they’ve always been given time to come into things. Sometimes, it’s three movies, sometimes it’s two. Sometimes, they’re second fiddle in them, but the growth feels more organic and more genuine.

MCU Shang-Chi

For Shang-Chi, it’s different. This may be down to the fact that – given what we’ve seen in earlier projects this year – our main character here doesn’t have the same amount of time as the rest from the past. Danger is much more imminent, and chaos isn’t just lingering, it’s about to knock on the door, as current and upcoming MCU projects have shown and will show. But the fact that Shang-Chi< /em> crams the development of its main man – he goes from reluctant kid to mastering the ten rings – in two-thirds of a film feels very rushed and unconvincing. The rushed and unconvincing bit also shows with the resolution at the end, with the use of Katy (Awkwafina), which is also a character development that was expedited and hastily rushed.

Praising MCU movies for their cinematography and action feels like doing the bare minimum. Yet, Shang-Chi possesses incredible cinematography and action, even by the franchise’s standards. The choreography of the fight scenes is as brilliant as they come. It’s not just skill, it’s also jeopardy. Shang-Chi does an excellent job of making the martial arts cohesive and believable, so much so we don’t lose sight of its sense of danger and its realism while we also take note of some high quality, high-stakes battles going on. Sometimes, there was the danger of it falling into pure martial arts mode, but it still makes for magnificent watch.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi is a good watch. It’s as fun as it is upbeat, and most importantly, it’s a solid introduction into the MCU, and has bearings for things to come. But should it have come much earlier in the franchise?

From Sodas and Popcorn, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings gets a Popcorn and Hotdog.

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