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

The Jubilatious Monthly Review of May 2022

Of course, May had nothing to do with the jubilee (other than some precursor events), and the actual long weekend doesn’t start until tomorrow, so this post title is… not the best. But we’ll probably have forgotten it ever happened in 30 days’ time, so I’m not holding back the reference ’til June’s review.

Anyway, let’s put largely irrelevant naming issues aside and get on with last month’s viewing…

This month’s viewing towards my yearly challenge

#31 The Monolith Monsters (1957) — Decades #11
#32 Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) — WDYMYHS #4
#33 Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022) — New Film #5
#34 On the Town (1949) — Rewatch #5
#35 To Be or Not to Be (1942) — Blindspot #5

  • I watched seven feature films I’d never seen before in May.
  • Four of them counted towards my 100 Films in a Year Challenge, along with one rewatch.
  • Those are less than ideal numbers — I should be at #41 by now, really. Next month marks the halfway point of the year, of course, but I’m really going to have to step things up to get to #50 by then.
  • One of the films I watched this month that didn’t count was Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s part of an ongoing series I’m watching — the MCU — so why doesn’t it count for Series Progression? Well, my personal rule when I count ‘series I’m in the middle of watching’ is that they’re series that have already finished, or where I’m catching up. Series where the next instalment isn’t even out yet can’t count because it doesn’t ‘exist’ yet. Sometimes, however, a new release can count, as with Encanto for Disney Classics last month, because I’m still watching older films as part of my catchup, so new releases get added to the end of the list. Does that make sense? Is it fair?
  • This month’s Blindspot film was Ernst Lubitsch’s anti-Nazi satire To Be or Not to Be.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film was Woody Allen’s comedy-drama Hannah and Her Sisters. Regular readers may remember I needed to watch two WDYMYHS films this month to catch up. Well, I didn’t, so that goal is now bumped to next month.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched The Monolith Monsters (from Eureka’s Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror set).

The 84th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Nothing truly exceptional this month, as is perhaps given away by the fact I’m going to choose an MCU film as my favourite. Obviously Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ticks the usual MCU boxes, but it mixes in a healthy dose of martial arts action-fantasy filmmaking — another (sub)genre I enjoy — making for an all-round entertaining MCU debut for the eponymous hero. It’s not the kind of film that’s going to convert nonbelievers, but it’s good fun.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
This is easily This Means War, the action-adventure/rom-com mashup starring Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as BFF CIA agents who both fall for Reese Witherspoon. It’s kinda adequate as a movie desperate to appeal to both male and female viewers, but kinda fails both by trying to be two different things at once and nailing neither.

Monster That Isn’t Really a Monster of the Month
I guess The Monolith Monsters was so titled to cash in on the popularity of monster movies in the ’50s, but the titular terror isn’t really a monster at all — it’s an extraterrestrial geological phenomena. On the bright side, at least that’s something a bit different.

Most Aspirational Lifestyle (for Some People) of the Month
In my review of tick, tick… BOOM! this month, I wrote that it would appeal to some people who dream of living that lifestyle. The same could absolutely be said of Frances Ha, which is about twentysomethings failing at life… but coolly, in black & white, in New York City. Well, if you only dream of failure, at least you’re less likely to be disappointed by reality, right?

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
A series of posts I started this year has been growing in popularity month on month… Well, I say that: I’m not sure its actual numbers have been going up, so much as the rest of the viewing chart has been falling away around it. Anyway, for the first time, this month’s most-viewed new post is a ‘failures’ post; namely, April’s Failures (of course). I guess people are more interested to read about what I didn’t watch than what I did. Weird.

Every review posted this month, including new titles and the Archive 5

…marks the halfway point of the year — yes, already! — so I might indulge in a few bonus statistics.