Review by C.J. Bunce
As much as any movie has been able to keep its secrets in the past few years, it’s hard to beat the surprises in the epic fantasy film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first film of Phase IV of the Marvel Cinematic Universe without an Avengers headliner. And when I say fantasy, I mean it–it’s got it all, a combination of the magical realm of Doctor Strange, the ancient, secret country hidden from the rest of the world like Black Panther, a mix of Asian lore, Shakespearean family squabbles (including a famous, Oscar-winning Shakespearean actor), and a plot–and dragons–right out of The Lord of the Rings (after all, Ten Rings are better than One Ring, right?). It has action, it has ties to the old and new, and, thanks to co-star Awkwafina, it’s the laugh-out-loud funniest of all the Marvel movies. And it’s finally arrived on Disney+ so mass audiences still staying away from movie theaters finally have a chance to see what they missed.
As those who paid close attention to the first MCU movies know, the Ten Rings was the organization behind Tony Stark’s capture in Iron Man, further elaborated on in the (mostly forgettable) third Iron Man movie. Director Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy) and writers David Callaham (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2, Mortal Kombat, The Expendables) and Andrew Lanham (Just Mercy, The Kid) leaned into that connection for one of the movie’s best ideas: resurrecting the great Ben Kingsley’s man behind the Mandarin as a key to unraveling the secrets of the Ten Rings. Complete with a great new animated fantasy character, Kingsley’s new role is brilliantly conceived. Kingsley, along with Benedict Wong’s character Wong from Doctor Strange, provide the fuse between the first major Marvel story arc and this next universe of films. It’s brilliant, it’s fun, and it works.
Shang-Chi or Shaun is played by Canadian actor Simu Liu (Orphan Black, Warehouse 13), with Tony Chiu-Wai Leung (Once Upon a Time in Hong Kong, Forced Vengeance) is Shaun’s father, Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek Discovery, Guardians of the Galaxy 2) is Shaun’s aunt, and Florian Munteano (Creed 2) is a strange new cyborg, who actually doesn’t add a lot to the movie, except for setting up the film’s biggest action scene: an improvement upon the bus ride in the original movie Speed. Providing the kickass heroine action are newcomer Meng’er Zhang as Shaun’s sister, and comedian and comedic actor Awkwafina (Nora from Queens, Jumanji: The Next Level) as his friend (or is it girlfriend?) Katy. Shaun and Katy have a very modern, real chemistry between them back in San Francisco, which sets the groundwork for one of the best (one of two) of the film’s trademark Marvel post-credits codas. Awkwafina is the next comedian making her mark on big franchise movies, and she does it better than predecessors Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, and Jim Carrey before her.
The biggest win of the movie is the casting, but the classic fantasy tropes in the script are a close second. Just as Guardians of the Galaxy was a strange tangent that became seamlessly enveloped by the MCU, it’s easy to see how the events of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings can be built on in coming films like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is available on Vudu with deleted scenes and four behind the scenes features, and it’s now streaming for all subscribers of Disney +.