Nothing is certain in this world — except death, taxes and a new Marvel movie. Like clockwork, Marvel is back once again with “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” The narrative around Marvel’s neck seems to always be that each of its movies are far too similar to one another. Now that the studio’s COVID-imposed hiatus has ended, “Shang-Chi” is just the second of four Marvel movies that will be released this year. If the movie is too much like its predecessors, it runs the risk of ushering in full-on Marvel fatigue. However, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” fortunately manages to hit different marks and provide a fresh take.
The biggest difference between “Shang-Chi” and other Marvel movies is in its action sequences. The titular Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is a trained martial arts expert and the plot of the film sees him square off against the Ten Rings, an evil organization of martial artists run by Shang-Chi’s father (Tony Leung). This setup provides ample opportunities for a different kind of Marvel action scene: hand-to-hand fighting. This film features some of the best action Marvel has produced in a long time, as the intricate hand-to-hand combat is far more exciting and grounded than what is typically seen in these movies. From the first action scene in a San Francisco bus, “Shang-Chi” sets the tone for its fight scenes which are going to favor punches and kicks rather than lasers and explosions. These combat scenes are well-executed and are the key to the film’s appeal. Unfortunately, the final battle is a lot closer to the CGI disasters that are typical of superhero action, but, on the whole, “Shang-Chi” gets a lot out of this different approach.
Another way the MCU can feel a bit too homogenous is how many of the lead characters act similarly snarky. Iron Man, Star-Lord, Spider-Man and later, occasionally Captain America, are constantly quiping and making jokes after every little thing. Here, Shang-Chi is far more stoic and serious than the average Marvel lead. This makes the character, and by extension the film as a whole, feel like it is taking itself a bit more seriously than other Marvel movies, which is a nice change of pace. Of course, it’s not without its jokes. Shang-Chi is accompanied by his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina), who picks up the slack, jokes around and acts as a foil to Shang-Chi. Having another character fill the comedy quota is a different feeling than other Marvel movies, which helps “Shang-Chi” feel distinct.
This new movie is also notable as it is the first major superhero film with a predominantly Asian cast. Representation is a key issue in the film industry today and it is important to tell stories from diverse perspectives. Not only do the actors themselves help with the representation of different ethnicities inside the MCU, the film also takes place in China and prominently features Chinese culture in its stories and themes. With the film also being directed by and written by Asian-Americans, “Shang-Chi” presents a new perspective in every way, while still feeling at home among other MCU films.
Audiences seem to be engaged with “Shang-Chi,” as well. It boasts strong critics and audience reviews alike. Not to mention, it has been a massive hit at the box office, seeing numbers far closer to pre-pandemic expectations. By just about any measure, the film is a massive success. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” has avoided retreading old ground and instead feels like a nuanced take on an overexpanded genre.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is now playing in theaters and is expected to hit Disney+ on Oct. 18.
By Ben Lindner