4 out of 5 stars
For over ten years, Kevin Feige and company have set the standard for how shared universe storytelling should be done. Many have tried to imitate Marvel’s success, but none have approached this studio's scope, scale, or success. This is an achievement that is nothing short of remarkable. Even in all Marvel’s success, admittedly, the formula had started to feel stale. How could Marvel possibly hit the reset button after the monumental success of the previous phase? If one thing has proven true over ten years, never bet against Feige and the Marvel team. Where Black Widow was the transition between these eras, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings sets the tone for what is to come.
Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy) directs this martial arts spectacular about Shang/Shaun, played with star-making likeability by Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience). He is an unassuming hero who must confront his past and a mysterious group known as the Ten Rings, a terrorist organisation bent on destroying world peace. The world is introduced to the latest addition to the MCU, as an underachieving parking attendant with his best friend Katy who is played hilariously by Awkwafina (The Farewell). Despite the pair’s magnetic chemistry, Shaun seems nothing more than a lovable loser until confronted on a San Francisco bus. Then a switch that is reminiscent of Jason Bourne occurs and he transforms into a martial arts master. Along with an unassumingly strong lead, Cretton has a deep bench of incredible warriors to pull from, including Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen and Tony Leung Chiu Wai.
When it comes to kung fu, many notable names come to mind, like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen. Now add Simu Liu to that prestigious list. As a fan of the genre, this new addition to the world of martial arts is that good. It is not just Liu’s skill as a martial artist, since the production team has supplied the newest Marvel hero with fantastic choreography and cinematography. The camera holds on wide shots and lets the viewer see the action with every frame with a visual eye that proves to be intentional and exhilarating. The sumptuous and breathtaking visuals are complemented by equally strong special effects that show how Marvel continues to establish the benchmark.
Over the past decade, if there are any flaws in Marvel origin stories, three have garnered attention from their critics. The first two would be a lack of compelling villains and a strong dependance on humour at the cost of dramatic heft. Marvel seems to have addressed these issues with nuanced humour and stronger ties to their adversaries in this new phase. While the third weakness still remains with the over-reliance on big action set pieces in the third act that sideline primary character development. Shang Chi is not the most egregious example of this aspect of the studios’ formula. Cretton manages to keep the heart beating in the third act. Still, Liu seems to become a supporting character in his own movie after a while. Yet, this project is exceptionally entertaining and subtly hilarious, making fans hope for Shang’s inclusion in the newly reassembled Avengers table.
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a wonderful, heart-felt and engaging story of the family and the struggle of fathers and sons. Parents should be aware that this Marvel film does contain intense action and some minor language.
Reel Dialogue: We are more than material beings
Shang Chi does not shy away from presenting humanity as bodies inhabited by living souls. In a world absorbed with materialism (the philosophical belief that only material is real) it is interesting to see a major studio dive into the spiritual deep end (Reminiscent of Doctor Strange). The newest addition to the MCU opens up important questions about the nature of who we are as humans. Are we nothing more than withering husks of flesh doomed for the grave? Or are we eternal beings inhabiting temporary vehicles?
The biblical account tells us we are eternal creatures made in the image and likeness of our Creator. We have value and purpose because of the infinite worth of the God who formed us in his own likeness. Our bodies matter to him, as do our souls. And for this very reason, God sent his Son to rescue us, eternal beings, to ensure we could spend that eternity with him bodily.
John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life.