Oscar Lavitt ’23
Lately, I’ve had a problem with Marvel films. Walking into the movie theatre to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, I thought to myself: “I hope it’s not another cookie-cutter Marvel film.” Marvel tends to follow the same beats, using the same snarky comedy while also trying to be meaningful. Luckily, Shang-Chi uses its unique tone to differentiate itself from these lesser Marvel films in a fresh and entertaining way.
Simu Liu, who formerly starred in Kim’s Convenience, plays Shang-Chi. He is introduced to us as Shaun, a valet parking cars at a San Francisco hotel. While taking the bus to work with his best friend Katy, played by Awkwafina, Shaun is confronted by assassins sent by his father, Xu Wenwu. Xu Wenwu is the warlord previously referred to in the MCU as ‘The Mandarin.’ Shang-Chi’s father has harnessed the power of the Ten Rings, a mystic artifact that bestows great power and unnaturally long life.
Shang-Chi breaks from the aforementioned Marvel Formula. All too often we are presented with the hero’s training arc, filled with training montages and lessons learned. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, Shang-Chi emerges from the beginning as a fully-fledged Kung Fu master, allowing the plot to flow much quicker than a normal Marvel movie. This is not to say there is no build-up. The backstory is presented in short flashbacks, which allows for more time to focus on the events of the present.
Another thing I’ve always found distasteful about Marvel films is how they add new elements to their universe without meaningfully exploring them. I recognize that it’s difficult for Marvel to be seamless, as things can get cancelled or shelved at a moment’s notice. But it still bothers me when a universe just appears without prior mention and is never explored again. When this happens, I am always left confused as to where this fits in with the whole MCU. This, unfortunately, is a problem Shang-Chi suffers from. The opening monologue gives us the history of the Ten Rings, and I am left wondering: how have we not heard of this before?
The martial arts presented in Shang-Chi is like a dance. Coming from a dance background, I noticed elements in the choreography in some of the fight scenes that would not be out of place in contemporary dance. This elegance is thanks to Shang-Chi’s deep connection to Asian culture.
There are a few parts of Shang-Chi that were not well-developed. We only find out about certain key plot points halfway through the film. The film would be much better if these details were presented in a less jarring fashion. There were also a few gratuitous call-backs, such as the appearance of Ben Kingsley’s character Trevor Slattery (The Mandarin from Iron Man 3). Marvel’s habit of having characters’ make cameos in each other’s films often ends up as a weak attempt to add some semblance of continuity to the confusing franchise.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a good film. The fight scenes are great, the story is good, and the characteristic Marvel feel is there. It’s not a life changing movie, but it’s not intended to be. Casual viewers as well as diehard Marvel fans will both enjoy it, and isn’t that why we go to the movies?