My thoughts on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings:
Pretty much every major actor in this film delivered. The performances are impressive and one of the reasons why the movie works as well as it does. I was honestly mesmerized by some of the sequences in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s the sort of movie that has me thinking about it for days afterwards.
When I first heard that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten rings was coming out, I knew basically nothing about it. He’s new to the MCU, and there have been no references to him previously. I don’t have a ton of history of the Marvel comics so the whole story and character was basically new to me. After all, most of the latest films have been sequels or stories about familiar characters (Black Widow, Spider-Man Far From Home, Avengers Endgame – plus the TV shows like WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki). I also didn’t really see many of the trailers and hadn’t heard it particularly hyped up, so I went into this movie with very little background information and no expectations either way.
Maybe sometimes that’s better than the hype because I ended up loving this one. While there are a few flaws overall I was very impressed. It’s got a lot of good things going for it: fantastic acting, well-choreographed fight scenes, an interesting enough plot with some good themes and moral dilemmas, and a nice balance of emotions. And honestly, it was refreshing not to feel like I was constantly racking my brain to try and remember what previously happened in some other Marvel movie.
What is the story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?
I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible, both to avoid major spoilers and because there are a lot of nuances to the plot. But to start, you have Wenwu (a warrior who discovered the ten rings, which also have immortality, and is now over one thousand years old) who meets Ying Li (a magical woman who lives in the beautiful, mystical land of Ta Lo) and they fall in love. They have two children but unfortunately in the past Wenwu used some of his powers for nefarious purposes and the past catches up to him.
In the present day Shang-Chi (who has been living in America under the name Shaun) and his friend Katy are attacked by members of the Ten Rings, his dad’s organization. They go to warn his sister and ultimately discover his father has a crazy plan that could possibly destroy all of Ta Lo, the land his mother is from. Of course being the hero he is Shang-Chi decides he needs to warn them and defend them before the land is lost forever.
Impressive Action and Fight Sequences
I will be the first one to admit that I’m not huge on the fight scenes normally. I’d much rather get a solid character piece and short fights that get right to the point and move the plot around more quickly. I don’t need to watch people punching each other and doing flips and such for extended amounts of time. That being said, even I was honestly mesmerized by some of the sequences in Shang-Chi.
The opening scene in particular had me completely captivated. It’s the moment when Wenwu and Ying Li first meet, and although they are fighting they are also going to fall in love. The way this was represented through both fight sequences and actual choreography and dance moves was stunning. It also perfectly captured their two different types of powers and magic. I wish people were talking about this more, but it seems most of the attention is on the “bus scene.”
Which I will say is just another fantastic scene. At this point you don’t know that “Shaun” is actually a trained fighter, but when he’s attacked on a bus full of innocent people it all comes out. The fight choreography is just tight and spot-on. It’s definitely a nod to the Jackie Chan style, but it’s visually interesting and much more than just people punching each other. Is it a bit over the top? Yes, but that’s what you expect from this sort of thing. My understanding is that Simu Liu did a lot of his own stunts too.
You’ve also got a nail biting fight sequence that takes place high in the air on building scaffolding (it was date night and I’m pretty sure I squeezed his hand to death during this part!), Shang-Chi vs. his sister, Shang-Chi vs. his dad, and a lot of fighting in the final battle scene (which I’ll talk about more later on).
Pretty much every major actor in this film delivered. The performances are impressive and one of the reasons why the movie works as well as it does. Pretty much every review I saw highlighted Tony Leung (Wenwu/dad) as the standout performance – and while I certainly thought he did a great job I was just as impressed by a number of others. Michelle Yeoh doesn’t show up until about the second half of the film but she has such a commanding presence and aura about her that really works here. I wish they had given his sister, Xu Xialing, a bit of a meatier part, but what Meng’er Zhang does in the role is done well. There are some cameos, including a bigger role for Ben Kingsley as Trevor from Iron-Man 2 – he’s fantastic and hilarious and provides some good comic relief.
Awkwafina as BFF Katy is a standout, and a character that I wasn’t sure how she would play out in the movie. It would have been easy for them to make her too much of the comic relief with no substance and it could have been obnoxious, but luckily that’s not the case. I will admit that I had to adjust for about the first 20 minutes of the movie, because the only other thing I really knew her from was Raya and the Last Dragon, so I had to try and get the image of a pretty awkward and humorous dragon out of my head first. While Awkwafina is definitely hilarious, she also shows a more emotional side to the character, like when she sits with Shang-Chi in Ta Lo and just lets him talk. She’s there for him and the emotion she is able to express just through her facial features is moving.
While there was solid chemistry between Awkwafind and Simu Liu in the sense that they worked well together, I was really grateful to see that they didn’t take it into a romantic territory. They are close friends but there is no kiss, no obvious romance. Simu Liu showed a lot of range in his character even though I think the script could have expanded on that even more – he’s somewhat nerdy and silly in his daily life, but then you see the real struggles he’s been through and how he copes with his past and figuring out right and wrong. Liu is the perfect combination of perhaps a bit nerdy, but charming and actually a total badass and I might have a big crush on him now. I also totally want to do karaoke with the two of them.
The final battle
Remember when I said I feel like in most action/superhero movies the fight scenes go on for way too long? That was definitely the case here with the last battle scene in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It really felt like it was never ending. There were just so many parts to it – once one thing was defeated there was something else to worry about. Because so much involves mystical creatures and CGI, I also didn’t find it as enthralling as some of the earlier fight scenes. I think this whole bit could have been tightened up and shortened.
There’s also a bit in the last scene where Shang-Chi has to save his sister, which kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The whole movie seemed to be building her up for a big climactic moment, and while she certainly does some cool things and has some great action, in the end she needs to be rescued. It just felt so against what her character dealt with. Her main plot line is about how her father trained males to become fighters but not the women, so she had to teach herself. I think by having Shang-Chi rescue her they were going for the symbolism of family sticking together, but it just felt really climactic to have her story kind of end that way (post-credits scene aside).
Themes in Shang-Chi
On the surface it seems like the movie is going after a pretty typical theme of good vs. evil… after all, there’s a moment when Shang-Chi and Wenwu fight using the rings and they are even two different colors depending on who is using them. But I really thought some of the themes were more complex than that when you started to think about it. It’s the sort of movie that has me thinking about it for days afterwards.
At least what I took out of it was a movie that asked some really interesting moral questions, including things like “can someone really change and be forgiven for their past sins?”, “Do people have any obligation to give benefit of the doubt to someone who is trying to change their ways… and if they don’t, what are the ramifications?”, and “Can you really leave your past behind you?”
All of these questions, and the themes of good vs. evil are intertwined with the themes of both family and grief. Why do people seem to handle grief in such different ways? What does it mean to be a family, and how can you support the family you have when something devastating happens? Grief is powerful and it can either connect people or tear them apart.
A good standalone film
It seems like a rarity in the MCU these days, but this actually works as a standalone film without any real knowledge of prior Marvel movies. Though there are a couple of references or cameos, nothing is really relevant to the plot (or if it is, it’s explained well). There’s a scene where Wong from Dr. Strange is fighting Abomination from the Incredible Hulk, but it’s really not relevant to the story and it’s mostly thrown in as fan service. Trevor, who plays “The Mandarin” in Iron-Man 2 also has a part in this film, but it’s explained very precisely who he is and why he’s there. It’s really the ending scene and the post-credits that start to tie in this story to the MCU overall, but that’s more hints of what’s to come rather than things you absolutely need to know to understand the movie.
The fate of movie theaters
Though not precisely related to the movie itself, going to see this film did have me thinking about the fate of movie theaters. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was released only in theaters (not available on Disney+ in the beginning) and it’s the first Disney movie to do so since the pandemic. Even pre-2020 movie theaters were not doing all that well, with the introduction of things like Movie Pass to try and make money which ultimately backfired. The interesting thing about the past year and a half is that it forced people to watch new movies in their home… and people seemed to either love it or hate it.
I enjoy going to the movie theater for a new film for a few reasons: it feels more like a fun event or activity, you have better visuals and sound, and it’s a rare opportunity to (hopefully) watch a movie without distraction. While I try to dedicate myself to watching certain movies at home without my phone, it seems to be rare for others to do the same. It’s a big selling point for me to feel like that movie theater is a way to really “get away from it all” and not take my phone out for a few hours.
Unfortunately not everyone views going to the movies that way. You have people who text or go on their phones during a film, and the bright light in a dark theater is very distracting. There are other distractions as well that were very prevalent during our showing of Shang-Chi. A baby crying and making noise for long stretches of the movie. The teenagers sitting a few seats down from us who not only kept talking through the movie but felt the need to make fun of certain aspects of the movie, like when the characters spoke in Chinese and these kids made fun of the language and how they sounded. This was not only very distracting but also really disheartening and disappointing, and I was very close to getting my teacher voice on and going over to talk to them.
If you combine these things with the fact that many families can pay to stream new films for less the price of tickets and they don’t have to worry about distractions (or disturbing others), you can watch in the comfort of your own home and make popcorn that costs less than $1 vs. the crazy $8+ the theaters charge, and you can pause these 2+ hour long movies to go to the bathroom so you don’t miss anything and there are some very appealing factors. We did see a Sunday matinee the third weekend the film was out, but the theater was probably at most 1/4 full at this point. So I’ll be curious to see how these theaters doing in the coming years.
Is there an after credits scene in Shang-Chi?
Yes – in fact, there are two. One longer scene occurs in the middle of the credits, after some of the main ones and before the long scroll. Then at the very end there is another post-credits scene with some interesting information. I won’t spoil anything but stick around til the end!
What other MCU characters appear in Shang-Chi?
While most of the characters in this movie are new and they haven’t interacted with the Avengers or other MCU characters yet, we do get a few small nods. Benedict Wong and Abomination are seen fighting in a fight ring at one point, and Wong comes back at the very end. Trevor “The Mandarin” has a decent role in this movie. And the post-credits scene has brief appearances of Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner.
When does Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings come to Disney Plus?
If you’re holding out to see Shang-Chi when it’s available to Disney+ subscribers, you’ll have the opportunity to watch it starting on November 12th, 2021 (as Disney celebrates the 2 year anniversary of the release of Disney+!).
Have you seen Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? What do you think of it?