I think this is the first time I’ve seen an MCU movie out of order, having still not managed to get my ass in front of Black Widow yet. Honestly, I had to force myself out to go and see this one as well. Although I think that might have something more to do with the fact that my brain is still in that pandemic mentality and the idea of going out and doing things still seems so foreign to me.
Although the idea of going into a movie almost totally blind was intriguing enough that I felt like I had to get out and see this one. With the first Guardians of the Galaxy still somehow fresh in my mind as one of my favourite cinematic experiences of all time, I guess I’m still chasing that dragon and hoping Marvel can deliver again. Enough to get myself to the cinema again for the just the second time in a year and a half.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a brand new story set in the MCU, starring Simu Liu as the titular Shang-Chi and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Like Black Panther before it, this movie sets out with an Asian director and mostly Asian crew to add a little more representation to the MCU steeping itself in Chinese folklore and culture as major parts of its story.
Despite being a new story in the MCU, Shang-Chi is steeped in established MCU lore, involving the Ten Rings, an organisation first mentioned in the very first Iron Man and then followed up in Iron Man 3 with the introduction of their “Mandarin”. A bunch of stuff that all gets retconed into oblivion with the events of this movie.
I’m not going to break down the plot or anything of this one. I’m going to assume, if you’re reading this that you’ve already seen the movie and am wondering what my take on it is. Well: the movie’s fine. I’m writing this fresh from coming out of the cinema and quite honestly I feel pretty neutral on the whole thing. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but at the same time it didn’t blow me away.
I had the same feeling when I came out of Black Panther though to be fair. It felt like a movie not made exclusively for me, and it was only a few years later after listening to people talk about how important the movie was to them and their experience that I started to appreciate it on a new level.
Maybe that’ll be the case for this movie too, but honestly, right now it just feels like just another one of those MCU movies that ends up turning into a giant CGI battle for the final 30 minutes. Which feels like most of them these days.
I guess, the part of the movie I enjoyed the most was the dynamic between Shang and his father Xu Wenwu who is the wielder of the Ten Rings in this movie and leads the organisation of the same name. I’d say Xu Wenwu was a tragic figure, but considering he spent the vast majority of this 1000 years of life being a very bad man, then maybe everything that happened to him here was karma coming back to meet him.
Xu Wenwu meets Shang and his sister Xu Xialing’s mother Ying Li at the gates to an extra dimensional village of Ta Lo; a place where magical creatures of Chinese inspiration roam free, there to defend the dimensions from a soul eating monster sealed within a mountain. There he falls in love with her and eventually has his two children, vowing to give up the rings and become a new man, a better man.
Which all goes well until his past catches up with him and his wife is killed while he is away. Stricken by grief and a desire for revenge, he goes back to his old ways and reforms the Ten Rings, warping his son and training him to become an assassin and eventually his successor. A brutal regime that eventually breaks Shang and makes him run away, spending ten years hiding away in San Francisco.
Which brings me to what I saw at the main theme of the movie as I saw it; it was about balance. Shang-Chi is a man torn between two worlds, the tranquil and calming world of Ta Lo where his mother is from and the brutal world of violence and raw power that comes with his father’s world.
Constantly throughout the movie, he is running away from his father’s world while also having his mother taken away from him too early. As he is introduced to his mother’s world as he rediscovers Ta Lo he learns their ways, the ways his mother taught him as a child. But in his heart he can’t let go of the things his father taught him as he grew.
Now, I’ve watched enough anime at this point that I could very quickly tell where this was going. It was never about choosing one power over another, it was about embracing both sides himself and to stop running as he had been doing for the past 10 years of his life. Which is exactly what happens. He finally gives up on his hate and his doubts, he is finally able to reconcile with his father who has been in a lot of pain as well.
Who then quickly dies thereafter. Passing the Rings on to his son and giving us a final CGI action fest in which he wields the rings of his father on his arms and fights alongside the protector dragon of Ta Lo, a representation of is mother. I mean, I’m kind of shocked they didn’t just show the Yin and Yang symbol at some point to really drive that point home.
It would make sense that a movie steeped in Asian culture would use an Asian concept as the core of its film.
Overall though, it was a pretty enjoyable experience. The early parts of the movie had some great Kung Fu style action sequences, but as the movie progressed it started to delve more and more into mass battles that included an excess of CGI monsters throughout.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a little bit of trepidation about the MCU movies that came out this year. Between Black Widow, this and Eternals, I wasn’t super jazzed to see these movies on opening weekend like I would of in the past.
I know they’re starting a whole new phase and am building up to something new in the aftermath of the Infinity Saga’s conclusion. But right now, I feel like the T.V. series on Disney Plus are offering much stronger and more compelling stories than the movies are. Given I haven’t seen Black Widow or Eternals yet.
I don’t want to end this on a downer, but I just guess that’s where my head is at these days. I enjoyed Shang-Chi. But I didn’t love it. It’s a good movie and I’m sure Simu Liu is going to be a fantastic addition to the wider MCU roster. I just got to wonder how long it’s going to be until we actually see him show up in anything again. We’ve got a lot of stuff coming ouit that’s casting a very broad web in the world of the MCU and I can Imagine it’s going to be a while before we see Shang-Chi show up in anything again.