Monday, September 13, 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (a movie review post)


I suppose I can't get into this review without at least mentioning that this is the first movie I've seen in the theater since 2019. It was a weird experience, and I think I have lost my love of "going to the movies" over the last year and a half and not just because of the pandemic, but that's a completely separate topic.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is quite possibly Marvel's most complex movie yet, not so much as far as the movie itself goes but its process for coming into being. Shang-Chi, as a Marvel character, has his own complexities, not the least of which is having nothing to do with the "Ten Rings."

And this is where I really want to get out into the weeds and talk about The Mandarin and things which, ultimately, have nothing to do with this movie yet which I find fascinating. Maybe some other post. Let me skip through all of that by saying this:
As an adaptation, Shang-Chi is a poor one. Other than his skill in martial arts, there is nothing to connect the character from the movie to the character in the comics. And I don't care at all.
From me, that's significant, because I am always looking at how adaptations stray from the source material. So a few things here:
1. I never followed Shang-Chi. His series had been cancelled before I seriously got into comics, and I think I probably don't own a single issue of The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, a cumbersomely long title if there ever was one.
2. Shang-Chi's origins are... problematic, at best. On the one hand, Marvel was trying to be more diverse. On the other hand, they were trying to capitalize on the Kung Fu craze of the 70s. Also, Roy Thomas, then editor-in-chief of Marvel, insisted that Shang-Chi be half white, over the objections of the character's creators. 
3. The Shang-Chi of the comics had no connection to the Ten Rings, which was supposed to refer to the Ten Rings of the Mandarin, but The Mandarin, as a character, has become problematic, despite his long history in Iron Man, and this movie became a way for Marvel to address some of those issues.

Looks like I'm getting out into the weeds anyway, so let's just get back to the movie: It was fabulous. Sure, you might say, it's Marvel; of course, it's fabulous, but they took a lot of risks with this one, and it could have flopped entirely, just failed to work, but Marvel is proving to be adept at going in new directions while holding course to their vision. Despite cameo appearances from Banner and Captain Marvel, this is an Asian movie, almost entirely. The only white actor of any consequence is a henchman.

Simu Liu is great. This is my introduction to him as an actor, as I'm sure is the case for most viewers, and he was a good choice. I can't say how good he was as an actor since I have nothing to compare the performance to, but he was engaging. Awkwafina was fun and a savvy choice by Marvel. She has such a distinctive voice and she gave resonance to another recent Disney movie she was in, Raya and the Last Dragon.

Michelle Yeoh was absolutely perfect. Have you ever left the salt out of a recipe? I think not having her in this movie would have been akin to forgetting the salt. It made me want to go back and watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon again. Which, you know, was probably an intentional consequence. Not watching it again, just bringing up the feelings, the magical realism, of that movie, because Shang-Chi has its own share of that, and Yeoh just brings it back to earth. I hope her introduction in this movie is just a precursor to future Marvel involvement.

Then there is Ben Kingsley. I'm not going to try and pretend that I was much in favor of what Marvel did with Kingsley and The Mandarin back in Iron Man 3. At the time, I was very much WTF Marvel. But I don't want to get off on Iron Man 3 at the moment. That will come later. Anyway... Kingsley is such a serious actor, pretty much all the time. His role as Trevor is just not like that, and, honestly, it's really refreshing to see him playing this character. It shows he does actually have range as an actor other than being super serious or being the super serious villain. I enjoyed him immensely.

Clearly, this post-Infinity War material from Marvel is dealing with a lot of new stuff. Marvel is redefining the MCU after the loss of three of its central characters. I have hypotheses, but I'm not going to throw them out in a this review. That would be going into the weeds in a different direction.

The take away is this: Shang-Chi is excellent. If you're into martial arts, there's almost no way you can't enjoy this movie. If you're into the mystical, you should love this movie. If you love Marvel, you will love this movie. And, perhaps most importantly about Shang-Chi: It's an excellent stepping on point for the Marvel movies. Being 25 movies in, I think it can be daunting for newcomers to the franchise. That's a lot of movies, and they're being augmented, now, by the various series on Disney+. You don't need any of that to watch Shang-Chi. The story itself is self-contained. There's just enough flavor from the rest of the MCU to make you curious but not enough to be confusing or make you feel like you're missing something.

My problem right now? I want to see it again, but I don't want to go back to the theater to do it.


  1. I've never read the comics so no idea if it strayed or not. But the film was really refreshing - something so different from Marvel. And yes, Kingsley was very funny in his role.

  2. We're definitely intrigued at our house, but not enough to go to the theater. We'll wait for video.

    Glad to know you liked it.

    1. If my daughter wasn't leaving for college this week, we probably wouldn't have gone to the theater.
      But there were hardly any people there, actually, and we were masked, so I think it was okay.

      It's hard for me to fathom the amount of money it made with as few people as we had in the theater here. I suppose that means that there are places where the theaters were packed, which scares me.

  3. I remember wondering how they'd show the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 considering what a huge racist mess the character is, and really, they didn't make him better. The whole thing was just racist in a different way. Shang-Chi being associated with the ten rings is better at least. It seems like there was a lot of Asian input in this, which is pretty much the only way you can make a racist mess not a racist mess.

    1. I'm going to have to re-watch Iron Man 3. I don't remember it being racist, but it's been a while since I saw it. They do talk specifically about that in Shang-Chi, though.