Shang-Chi Has So Many Cheer-Worthy Moments
Shang-Chi and the Legend of The Ten Rings is an incredible movie held down by only one thing: its hero’s journey parts. Unlike a lot of films dealing in mythical storytelling, its structure is a detriment. The placeholder plot points are unnecessary—a lingering piece of the Marvel formula only counterproductive to its greatness. The movie doesn’t delay in being a rollicking good time.
From minute one, Shang-Chi shows off some of its excellent aspects. First off, the Ten Rings themselves. They’re one of the coolest and most inventive fantasy/sci-fi weapons since lightsabers. After seeing them in action for only a few moments, their limits and uses are mostly understandable, and the power of them terrifying.
The Ten Rings Aren’t Even The Best Thing Shown
But, and this is crucial, the movie’s even cooler when fights happen with no “magic” involved. The bus scene is one of the best action scenes Marvel has ever put to film, only slightly lowered by some unnecessary comedy. The stakes, the fluid nature of the conflict, and stylish camera motions make for a pace that made me grin from ear to ear. One of my biggest complaints about Marvel fights is the individual moves are hard to follow—Black Widow had this bad—but that’s almost mitigated here. Only during the bigger battle scenes at the end do we lose a tight focus on momentum and impact. The fact Shang-Chi and his sister also don’t fight the same way most Marvel combatants do also improves this.
But that’s only half of the delightful content. I’m not Chinese, so I cannot speak to how authentic anything is, but this is the best pure fantasy setting we’ve seen in the MCU. Asgard never felt like a real city, and though I love the visual style of Doctor Strange, I can’t say it maintains any level of cohesiveness. But the way magic looks in Shang-Chi, the way the devouring forest moves, and every mythical creature looks incredible. Morris is perhaps my new favorite “cute animal sidekick.” Again, can’t speak to authenticity, but as pure cinema, it was a treat.
Shang-Chi Looks Incredible From Start To Finish
It’s the characters where this review gets a little more nuanced. A little less overwhelmingly rosy. The villains, though, were fantastic. Both the mystical and the human were done well and focusing on Shang-Chi’s father so much was a big plus for keeping the slower parts of the movie engaging.
But this does have a cost, and the cost is our mains. The opening scenes do such an incredible job of making Shang-Chi and Katy likable and fun. I love that the movie—at least seems—to be letting a male/female friendship exist with no attempts at romance. I hope they don’t get them together later, and let a solid dynamic be as it is. The issues come beyond that. Looking over the film, the actual scenes where our mains are the focus are low. It’s way more about Shang-Chi and Xialing’s parents. And the parent’s story is presented and acted well, but they’ll have work to do in the sequels to make our titular hero and his friend into distinct superheroes.
These Characters Have Such Wonderful Potential
The other issue with this movie I hammered on at the beginning: the moments of the hero’s journey or perhaps just three-act structure mandates. Specifically, “lowest point” scenes. The movie has such a sense of chaotic fun that stopping to introspect drags down the pace. The flashbacks function much better to establish motivation. The moments of honoring the dead are more poignant than any tearful talk. But even the group conversations work well as tense interactions because interpersonal dynamics between the family come out to play. That’s all fine, and enough. Seeing present-day Shang-Chi brood or reach his “low moment” feels like it was there because someone felt it had to be a distinct moment—but tragedy and loss inform scenes already, without bringing down the momentum and the enjoyment. The moments on the shore, the moments at the lake, were boring. Unneeded and overwrought. His fights with his dad—and the small snippets of dialog during—do more for their connection and the movie’s themes than any monologue and are great scenes besides.
But rather than lower my opinion of the movie, these few dips and misfires only highlight how much of Shang-Chi is pure gold. Once again, Marvel proves that its greatest strength is that within its world(s), almost anything can happen—and almost any genre or type of story could feasibly be done. Shang-Chi is the new template and high bar for how Marvel can handle its magical and fantastical elements. It’s a resounding recommendation from me and a fantastic addition to the current phase.
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