What to Watch Verdict
'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' showcases a type of action often undervalued in the MCU while offering a fresh origin of a hero we're yet to see on screen.
🐉 Exceptional fight choreography and action throughout the film's runtime.
🐉 Strong performances from Simu Liu, Awkwafina, and the whole cast.
🐉 CGI and creature design are both solid.
🐉 A retcon to the retcon when it comes to the MCU's Mandarin.
🐉 Some may not care for the fact that the third act is more CGI-heavy than practical fights.
🐉 The flashbacks are critical, but sometimes a bit clunky.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film to open exclusively in theaters in a post-vaccine world. Bob Chapek's extremely unfortunate "experiment" comments aside, Shang-Chi offers a different kind of action film than what we're used to from the MCU. Hand to hand combat has always played a role in past phases, but it's usually overshadowed by CGI and quick cuts that help hide any unfortunate choreography. The film's third act does involve a heavy does of effects, but not in the way you'd typically expect from a Marvel film.
While Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is every bit of the origin story you'd expect it to be — and one that's needed for a good number of viewers unfamiliar with the comics — but there's something that feels different here. Perhaps that's what happens when the origins we're telling aren't the same stories we've seen hashed out ten times on screen already. (Lookin' directly at you, Martha Wayne's pearls.) There's an excitement here because this story is one that hasn't been told yet. Add that to the fact that Simu Liu was made for the role of Shang-Chi and is joined by the incredibly impressive Meng'er Zhang as his sister Xialing and the ever-hilarious Awkwafina as his best friend Katy and you've got something really special.
This story isn't just refreshing because it tells us a story we haven't heard on the big screen before, we also get something more than your standard Americanized Asian-led action film. Martial arts are front and center here, but the reason Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings succeeds is because fighters aren't all these characters are. Each one of the main characters are three dimensional beyond their physical abilities, and everyone has their own story. Katy and Shang-Chi both start off as slack-off goofballs, but they have completely different histories between them. Xialing and Wenwu's (Shang-Chi and Xi's father, played by the incredible Tony Leung) identities are more rooted in their mastery of their art, but they're also given lush, full character backgrounds in addition to their physical prowess.
Marvel hasn't always succeeded with its longer fight scenes, with Season 1 of Iron Fist being a prime example (and with Season 2 being a very solid step up). However, there's no dodgy quick-cuts or overuse of clever angles in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Everyone here understands the assignment, including director Destin Daniel Cretton and cinematographer Bill Pope. Fans have already seen a bit of the bus scene, but rest assured that there are plenty more surprises in store in that location and more.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings doesn't get CGI heavy until the final act, most of which would be a spoiler to discuss. Some folks may not love that shift, but there are still plenty of physical fights between and the effects that we see are all pretty solid. The only real weakness of the film is the heavy use of flashbacks. They're narratively necessary for the emotional impact of the story, but a few of them play a little clunkier than the others.
Black Widow may be my favorite MCU Avenger, but Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like the real start to the cinematic Phase 4. A good part of that is due to the fact that we already lost Natasha by the time that the studio got its act together and gave us a Black Widow movie. But, all the same, Shang-Chi gave me way more of the "MCU is back, baby" feelings than its overdue predecessor. If you feel safe going out to see it in a theater, it's fully worth the trip.
Amelia is an entertainment Streaming Editor at IGN, which means she spends a lot of time analyzing and editing stories on things like Loki, Peacemaker, and The Witcher. In addition to her features and editorial work, she’s also a member of both the Television Critics Association and Critics Choice. A deep love of film and television has kept her happily in the entertainment industry for 7 years.