So I hit the theater for the first time since last year’s rather mediocre The Empire Strikes Back re-release… to see Marvel’s latest: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Honestly I went into there expecting to be underwhelmed, if the earlier Black Widow was any indication.
Problem is, how do I even describe this movie and some of the totally wicked stuff in it without spoilers. If it’s gonna be spoiled, I don’t want to be the one to do it, at least not in this article, but I might possibly have an “after credit” scene of my own. (Oh, and let’s just say you might want to revisit Iron Man 3 before you go. Trust me.)
So I won’t describe the plot in great detail, except to say this…
Shang-Chi is essentially a Chinese fairy tale dressed up as a Marvel movie. It’s (initial) ties to the MCU are tenuous at best, but that’s what this is. And its a damn fine one, too. Whoever was in charge of “getting things right” did a fantastic job of not making this into an “Asian-washed” mishmash of random stuff. Instead, you’ll find a rather decent portrayal (at least on the surface, more in a sec.) of East-Asian Buddhist imagery and mythology. From wise guardian dragons, Kirin horse dragons, Shishi guardian lions, the grandmother saving a seat at the table for her husband during Obon (the Japanese name for it)… and the further Obon tradition of sending their loved ones souls back to the afterlife via lantern rafts after they’ve returned to Earth for a brief visit…. I’m no expert, and I’m not Asian in any sense of the word, but in my limited experience it just “gets it (more or less) right.” A decent and noteworthy attempt was made at least.
The movie is also a tribute to those old campy 1970’s “kung fu” movies, and nods heavily in the direction of Jackie Chan at times. From the “fairy tale” scenes where Xu Wenwu / “Shaun’s Dad” (Tony Leung) first meets Shang-Chi’s mother, Li (Fala Chen) and the strange “kung fu floating around” happens in front of a rather fantastic yet vaguely artificial set… Then on the side of the building in Macau, we see the highly choreographed fight that just screams Jackie Chan, right down to the “mousetrap” feel with boards and scaffolding becoming a part of the equation.
There are also times where you just go “hey, you stole that bit, man.” Such as Katy’s (“Awkwafina”) um, well, contribution to the end battle. (No spoilers, remember?) Let’s just say that Laketown and Bard the Guardsman have nothing on her. There were a few scenes and shots, too, that just seemed to be paralleled to other frames from for example Endgame.
None of this detracts from the fact that this movie didn’t even really need to be a part of the MCU. Shang-Chi would be more than capable of standing out on its own.
But, it does tie back to the MCU in a few ways. I don’t think any of these are spoilers at this point, except maybe one point, but if you saw the Eternals trailer before it, you should be able to put the pieces together…. before the mid-credits scene that essentially spells it out for you.
I can’t even describe the end-credits scene without spoiling a key plot point. Let’s just say the “Army of the Ten Rings” will be seen again.
Overall, though, Shang-Chi carries a few things over from its MCU legacy. One is the vibrant and incredible imagery and colors. Where DC seems content to place its heroes in a wasteland of dark cities, smog, crime, etc…. Marvels’ on-screen heroes (to me anyway) always feel right at home in their at times overly colorful surroundings. Straight from the pages of a comic book.
Speaking of those MCU colors, keep a sharp eye out for that “evil purple” and “strange orange” thing going on here, too, that we’ve been seeing from other Marvel shows. When you see it, you’ll know what I mean.
It also doesn’t take itself all that seriously, which is a trademark of the MCU. Full of humor (more in a sec.) and not afraid to laugh at itself, you’ll find more than enough moments to break the tension.
Shang-Chi also continues the over-arching message of pretty much the entire MCU: Be the best version of yourself you can be. Don’t be who you’re supposed to be, but be who you are, and do that well.
As for the performances, well, I can’t fault anyone. Everyone is just pretty damn good here. Simu Liu is humble yet powerful as Shaun / Shang-Chi. “Awkwafina” (whatever) however, obviously is there as his “Darcy” if you will, to provide encouragement, anchoring, and comic relief. However she’s just kind of obnoxious most of the time and just seems out of place. I know nothing about what she’s done before so that’s all I can say about it. Michelle Yeoh plays “Auntie” Nan expertly, and honestly its a bit strange seeing her pick up a different role after the last few years as the amoral Captain Georgiou on Star Trek: Discovery.
Even if you’re not “into” the MCU, I’d definitely recommend you checking out Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Yeah the title is a mouthful, but its nothing less than a damn good sci-fi/fantasy story set in Chinese/Buddhist tradition and mythology.
Oh, and if you’re gonna set an MCU movie in San Fransisco, you’re supposed to at least throw a nod to your super neighbors, coughAnt-Mancough. I mean, just having Scott pick up a dropped newspaper or something equally minor would have been way cool. Instead we get <SPOILER> which was nice.
I also was watching closely for any trace of an image of Stan Lee, and I didn’t see one. I hope they find a way to continue that tradition, it doesn’t even have to be obvious. Just some little easter egg someplace that says “we’ll always remember you, dude.”
I’m a little fuzzy on some of the early plot points and in which order they occurred, but overall I’m gonna stretch out and give Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings a maybe generous 4.2/5. Yeah I did like it that much.
A bit bummed they didn’t put the Spider Man: No Way Home trailer on the front of this. Maybe it was just my theater, I dunno. Venom (meh) and The Eternals made it there. Was really hoping to see that on the big screen.
Yeah, that was “Abomination” from way way back in the very first MCU movie The Incredible Hulk fighting Wong from Dr. Strange. If you pay attention when Wong takes him back to wherever, it almost looks like a “hulk cage” from the first Avengers movie. Maybe. I’m sure its already been analyzed to death on other sites…
OK, so I’m gonna spoil the mid and end-credit scenes here. So if you don’t want to know what they are, stop reading right now. Ready?
The mid-credit scene takes place shortly after the end of the film, where Wong opens a portal and tells Katy and Shang-Chi to follow him. He’s shown studying the ten rings, noting that he’s never seen anything like it, and it matches nothing in the archives. The Bruce Banner (NOT “Smart Hulk, you’ll notice…) hologram concurs that they’re actually on the order of many thousands of years old. And even the Captain Marvel hologram hasn’t seen anything like it… before she’s called away by another page from Fury. Well I’m just guessing on that last part but that’s what it felt like any way.
Its also hinted at that he’s been given an invite to the club, so to speak, from Wong’s line, “Welcome to the circus.” … It’s official now.
The end credit scene shows Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) taking over and modernizing the Ten Rings compound. Oooooo foreshadowing.
So yeah, its probably a given that the rings were brought to Earth by the Eternals, and that the “mega soul eater” was actually a “deviant” that’s been locked away for thousands of years. I’m wracking my brain trying to recall if it was ever said how dear old dad came into possession of the rings, either. If I blinked please let me know in the comments.