Shang Chi
Marvel Studios | Disney

Shang Chi: A Refreshing New Direction for Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios' 'Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' is finally here. Was it worth the wait? Does it do its title character justice? And, most importantly, what does it say about the future of the MCU?
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This is a spoiler-free review (as long as you’ve seen the trailers).

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is technically a Marvel movie. It’s got the big CGI battles and the post-credits scene. In many ways, it’s clearly cut from the same cloth as movies like Iron Man and Thor.

However, the film is easily one of the most original and refreshing adventures to hit the MCU in years, lifted by stellar performances from its central cast.

The film is inherently about nature versus nurture. The title character, played here by an endlessly charming Simu Liu, is living in San Francisco and enjoying a mundane life with his friends when the film opens. Things swiftly change for Shang-Chi when he and his friend Katy barely survive a dangerous run-in with kung fu assassins on a bus.

What will strike most viewers is how swiftly the action gets underway. The film is interested in exploring its characters through fight choreography. Often, we learn more about our heroes and villains by seeing how they engage in the deadly dance of a kung fu showdown than we do by hearing them engage in banter.

Stellar Performances

By the time the film’s antagonist, Shang-Chi’s estranged father, Wenwu, makes his first appearance, it becomes clear that this film is operating on a different level from the standard MCU fare. Wenwu is no Kaecilius or Ronan the Accuser: he’s a genuinely compelling and tragic figure, lifted to cinematic greatness by an unrelenting performance from Hong Kong legend Tony Leung.

Leung is the glue that makes this fun adventure movie work so darn well. Everything just gels when it’s underpinned by Wenwu, who is, at turns, tragic, romantic, villainous, and loathsome. Leung steals every scene he’s a part of and provides the emotional heart of the entire story.

Standalone Story

Shang Chi Screenshot
Marvel Studios | Disney

Since the film introduces so many new characters and explores a barely-tapped region of the Marvel universe, it doesn’t overlap with the wider MCU much. This is a good thing! As fun as it is to see lots of crossovers and hero team-ups, sometimes you want to just watch a fun story that doesn’t come with homework.

You don’t need to be a comics expert or a dedicated MCU fan to jump in and enjoy the fun adventure at the heart of Shang-Chi. The film does feature some fun cameos that firmly plant it in the MCU, but these are background details for fans to pore over, not plot-critical elements that have any bearing on Shang-Chi’s journey.

Wuxia-Style Epic

I’d be remiss not to mention that the film clearly pays homage to the greatest Asian cinema experience: the Wuxia epic. The choreography is tight and engrossing, the lead character is as likable as they come, and, importantly, Marvel has finally given an Asian superhero a leading role in a standalone film.

What’s even better is that the film is a blast. Fans of martial arts films, Marvel movies, and the Master of Kung Fu comics alike are all going to be delighted with Shang Chi, which is now playing only in theaters.