Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Destin Daniel Cretton | 132 mins | digital (HD+3D) | 2.39:1 | USA / English & Mandarin | 12 / PG-13

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool fan, keeping up with the MCU is beginning to feel more like a chore than entertainment. There’s just so much of it! No wonder it can feel like its fans never watch anything else, because getting through the myriad TV series and movies could conceivably fill most of your free time. That said, it’s obviously not doing the movies any harm (yet) based on the spectacular box office performances of No Way Home ($1.89 billion, the 6th highest grossing film of all time) and Doctor Strange 2 ($935.3 million and counting). And getting round to everything does have its benefits, because occasionally you find a diamond, and it’s not always one the critics or other viewers have flagged up. I mean, most of what I heard about the first Doctor Strange was that it was just the standard superhero origin story over again, but it’s one of my favourite films from the studio’s output, primarily thanks to the stunning visuals and a few other clever developments. Being another iteration of something isn’t always bad, especially if you’ve iterated closer to perfection.

Shang-Chi is the latest Marvel movie to fall into that camp for me. It is, again, a superhero origin story; but, again, one that’s been refined to a place where the hints of familiarity don’t really matter. It’s about Shaun (Simu Liu), an ordinary guy working as a valet in San Francisco… who it turns out isn’t such an ordinary guy, but is really Shang-Chi, the son of the magically-powered leader of a global crime syndicate known as the Ten Rings. Of course, events conspire to bring Shang back into contact with his estranged family, where he must choose whether to stand against his father’s evil plans.

The MCU publicity claim that any given film is “not just a superhero movie, it’s a [1970s conspiracy thriller / John Hughes comedy / whatever]” has, rightly, become a bit of a laughing stock. But I think Shang-Chi might be the first time it’s actually true. Yeah, it’s undeniably set in the MCU and, as such, plays by some of those rules (there are Blip references from early on, with the requisite cameos and mid-credit teaser scenes to follow), but the bulk of the movie itself is not really a superhero film as we normally think of them. Rather, it’s a martial arts fantasy-actioner. Now, maybe those are in the same ballpark — people with impossible abilities fighting each other — but I’d argue the style of it in Shang-Chi feels closer to something like Detective Dee or 47 Ronin (except good) than Iron Man or Captain America, or even the other fantasy/magic-based MCU sub-series like Thor or Doctor Strange.

A sticky situation

And for that, I loved it. Unfortunately, where it’s most like the MCU is in an ‘epic’ battle finale that, a few show-off moments aside, is mostly realised through CGI that looks like swirling mud. If it weren’t for that disappointment (and, to be clear, it’s not a disaster, just a bit of a let down), I might have given the film an even higher score.

I was also glad I bothered to track down the 3D version (only released on disc in Japan, I believe. I also believe Japanese imports are expensive. I wouldn’t know from experience, I’ve never bought one). I’m aware that 3D is an ever-dwindling format and that’s why major labels aren’t bothering with disc releases anymore (though it must be worth it at theatrical level, because they’re still shelling out for these post-conversions that cost millions of dollars a pop), but it’s a shame for those of us who enjoy it and still have the kit, because it’s as enjoyable as it ever was when done well. Shang-Chi may not be the height of the format, but lots of it looked nice with the extra dimension. Sadly, unlike many previous Marvel 3D releases, it didn’t have the bonus benefit of a shifting IMAX ratio. There is an “IMAX Enhanced” version of the film (it’s on Disney+), but, like the last two Avengers movies, it presents the entire film in IMAX’s 1.9:1 ratio, so no luck for us 3D fans there (or anyone bar Disney+ viewers, because it’s not included on the film’s 2K or 4K Blu-ray releases either).

4 out of 5

4 thoughts on “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

  1. I haven’t seen any Marvel films since… oh, Avengers Endgame maybe, unless one counts the recent Spiderman films as Marvel, which I suppose they are… so yeah, maybe that’s a bad point to make, except that I watch those Spidey films out of morbid curiosity of what they are doing to my favourite Marvel character (and ugh, its not good), rather than any interest in Marvel films.

    So anyway, I haven’t seen Shang-Chi nor The Eternals, and its almost scary how little interest in them I actually have, considering I grew up with and used to read so much Marvel stuff in the 1970s. You’d think I’d be their target demographic, so maybe that indicates the pull of the MCU is starting to wane.

    Mind, I’m curious regards that second Dr Strange film, but that’s mostly because of Sam Raimi. Ah, I see what Marvel did there. The buggers. I feel like Al Pacino in Godfather 3 right now “They pull me back in!” etc).

    Have you seen The Batman? Considering its relentlessly dark, it still felt like a breath of fresh air.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Endgame already feels so long ago… It has been 3 years, but most of that was swallowed by the pandemic, which in my experience usually makes things feel more recent than they were. But then, in that time the MCU has released 6 theatrical films and 6 miniseries on Disney+, plus a 7th series currently partway through, so…

      Honestly, it’s probably healthier not to invest in all of it. And whilst they are leaning more heavily on continuity, many remain standalone — there are references and whatnot here that you’d miss, but nothing vital. On the other hand, Dr Strange 2 is explicitly following on from events in at least 3 movies and 2 of the miniseries, so I don’t know how that plays if you haven’t seen them all. It’s gotta collapse under its own weight at some point…

      I haven’t seen The Batman yet, frustratingly (because, on paper, it sounds like it’s going to be my favourite film ever made. No pressure!) I managed to miss it at the cinema, but of course I preordered the 4K, but finding 3 hours of an evening (even at the weekend) always seems to be a challenge. I watched Escape in the Fog last night, which as you know is barely an hour long, and suddenly the evening was over!


      • The beauty of some of those noir is that barely hit 70 – 80 minutes sometimes so are ideal for nights that suddenly get short. A pleasure after some of these modern looong films with hardly any narrative, plot etc- those noirs pack a lot of story etc in their running times and modern film-makers could learn a lot from them.

        Liked by 1 person

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