A fun romp through the Marvel Universe in the vein of The Black Panther.
Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings opens up a new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and breaks new ground just as Black Panther did back in 2018. When Black Panther opened, many doubted if a Marvel superhero movie featuring primarily Black actors would be accepted nationally let alone worldwide. It went on to not only knock down the doors in the United States, but was the second highest grossing movie in the world that year, making over $1 billion dollars ranking 12th ALL-TIME. In many ways, Black Panther opened the doors for other major blockbuster films to follow featuring people of color and the latest Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings is the first Marvel film to star a primarily Asian cast. Despite not being allowed to be shown in China, the largest film market in the world, the film is still the second highest grossing domestic film of the year (behind Black Widow) and in the top 10 worldwide in only its first month of release.
Shang Chi’s comic book origins came from a time of stereotypical kung fu movies and Asian tropes and is a reflection of those times. Director Destin Daniel Cretton, himself partially of Asian ancestry, said Marvel intentionally wanted to flip the script on those preconceptions and make a film that would meet today’s modern understanding of racial diversity and accuracy. “They wanted to tell this story in the right way and look at every character as a multi-dimensional human being to try to avoid every stereotype that has been hovering around Asian and Asian-American characters for a long time.” Judging from audience and critical acceptance of the film, it has done a spectacular job of doing just that. Especially in this time of racial division and increases in Asian hate, it is refreshing to see a company put its values and invest on the line to promote a film featuring a largely Asian cast and Asian leads. As Simu Liu, who stars as Shang Chi, said, “I think this film will go a long way in normalizing Asian faces on screen outside of Asia, and recognizing that diaspora Asians have our own distinct identity that belongs both to the East and to the West, but at the same time to neither. In that way, I feel we are pioneering those voices and those stories. I feel very proud and honored to be a part of that.”
But even if it weren’t such a groundbreaking film, it would still be an amazing addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As Phase Four of the MCU starts up, this film ties everything to the very beginning and the first Iron Man film that started it all. Featuring the Ten Rings organization, we finally get an inside look into it’s mysterious leader who also happens to be Shang Chi’s father, Wenwu. We find out Wenwu’s origins, what he’s been doing before and after we encounter him (by reputation only in the other MCU films), and what he is doing now. We also get to see good ol’ Trevor Slattery portrayed by Sir Ben Kingsley, who pretended to be the leader of the Ten Rings in Iron Man 3, calling himself The Mandarin. It is a great launching point into Phase Four as it not only establishes the world of Shang Chi and the Ten Rings but also brings him into the larger universe.
The film also reminds me of Ant Man in the sense that it is an origin story of a relatively unknown Marvel character. The film itself, like Ant Man, could easily be a stand-alone with its own sense of history and background, but still tying into the larger MCU. Plus, Shang Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings is a great blend of both comedy and action and will be one of those films you can watch over and over again and find more to be enthralled with each time. The fight sequence in the subway is only one of many intricate and beautifully choreographed scenes in the film, but it’s the rich characters and interesting backstory that really bring Shang Chi to life. If you haven’t seen it yet make sure to go and catch it on the big screen if you can. It’ll be the best two plus hours you’ve spent in a while!