Let’s talk about Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.
With cinemas struggling to draw people in due to fears over the pandemic, many are wondering what can get people in those seats. This goes back to an issue which has gone on for long before Covid-19 entered our daily lexicon. There is very few reliable draws. The actors used to be the draws but pretty much every big name has got a few flops to their name now including Tom Cruise and Dwayne Johnson. This is why so many studios resorted to rebooting everything as thought name properties could keep people coming in but not even that is working anymore. However there is one thing that can get people into the cinemas. Marvel. This brand, specifically MCU Marvel, will get bums in seats no matter what. And so they hope it’s the case with the practically unknown property, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.
Shaun lives in San Francisco working a normal job with his friend Katy. However it turns out he is a runway from his father Wenwu, the feared leader of the Ten Rings, who is now wanting him to come back into the fold along with his sister. Wenwu is hearing the voices of Shaun’s dead mother and is determined to find her, even if it means the end of the universe.
Let me get back to Marvel being the only reliable draw at the cinemas. Marvel has put out films which by rights, should have failed. Guardians of the Galaxy for instance. It was an unashamed sci-fi film, which often struggle, with no major stars attached. The lead was a side character in a cult sitcom and the biggest name in the main cast was either the one from Avatar or the wrestler. No I’m not counting Vin Diesel as the tree. Yet it was a massive success because at that point, people trusted the Marvel brand to give them quality. This continued with films like Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel, movies which could have easily failed but with the Marvel name they brought in the money.
But even with those risky ventures which have succeeded, this is probably the maddest one yet. Shang-Chi is barely known even in comic circles, never mind the mainstream. Worse yet if you do go and do the research on those early comics, you’ll find some quite racist stuff. In those comics, Shang-Chi’s father is Fu Manchu and yes that was a racist caricature of a Chinese man written by white writers. Considering we are in an age where you can get cancelled because of the edgy tweets you made when you were 14, it was definitely a risky move from Marvel to bring this one up. And then you get to the genre it fits into. This is a martial arts movie and while we certainly love films inspired by that genre, especially if they star Keanu Reeves, they don’t tend to rake in the sort of money that the budget given to this need to make money. You don’t even have any big stars to back it up. Only Awkwafina and Michelle Yeoh are known quantities but neither could be called box office draws.
But as always, Marvel do the one thing which keeps people coming back to their movies in droves. They make it really really good. Firstly, we have to talk about the action. This is a martial arts movie so it needs to be very good and this certainly is. It feels weird to say but there’s a gracefulness and majesty to the action scenes you don’t tend to get in other movies. Dance and fight scenes have often been compared because both have essentially the same ingredients and outcome, pre-choregraphed moves which are taken in order to elicit an emotional response. This definitely feels like that because all the fighting moves feel like they are part of one elegant dance, albeit an elegant dance where you eventually get clobbered in the head. I want to say the style they are mostly using here is wushu, though I’m a complete idiot and am probably wrong. Whatever it is, it’s very cool and marks this out as very different from other Marvel properties.
And we also have a brilliant villain. Long gone are the days where I could do a paragraph on Marvel doing weak villains, they are now reliably great and Wenwu might be one of the best. I feel for the time being Marvel are moving away from the world conquering villains as they would all be in the shadow of Thanos and Wenwu is certainly different from that. He’s a villain whose already won, he has his massive assassin syndicate and can do what he wants with it. But he hasn’t got the love of his wife after she passed away and that is the one thing he wants and needs. I know it’s cliche to say this, but at times I didn’t feel like he was the villain. There was a point in the movie where I thought that he would end up being an anti-hero figure because the film made a very good case for him. Things don’t end up that way for him but he’s incredibly engaging and Tony Leung puts in an incredible performance.
But for a large part of the film, it’s your usual Marvel fare. By now you will know if you like it or not. Lots of big action scenes, plenty of humour and quips, a post-credits scene which you wonder if it was worth waiting ten minutes for at the end. While there’s a bit more visual flair and individuality than there was in those early Marvel films, they do still follow a formula which like I said back in the Black Widow review could be tiresome to many. I’ll insist that the pandemic enforced break Marvel were forced to take was probably a good thing in terms of them not exhausting their audience. But considering this has been a big financial success and the reviews have broadly taken the same tone as this one, it is obviously a formula that still works.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is another big risk by Marvel that they pull off. The martial arts action scenes separate it from the rest of the MCU as they lead to some very cool fights before ending in a very fun climax. There are a lot of great characters with Shaun being a fun new hero and I want to see more of Katy in pretty much every Marvel property that is coming out from now until around 2034. There is very little to complain about and I cannot wait to see what happens next with this strand of the MCU.