With the upcoming release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel now has 25 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). After so many film releases, most people know what to expect when going into a Marvel Studios movie. While early reactions to Shang-Chi make it seem as though this film breaks some sort of mold, the truth is that it’s just like most other Marvel origin films, except with some Chinese culture sprinkled in. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a decent Marvel film, but it lacks the cultural impact of Black Panther and falls short of greatness.
The comic book version of Shang-Chi didn’t have a well fleshed-out origin story. That gave Marvel Studios plenty of room to bring the character into the MCU in whatever way they desired. The result is that Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is now the son of The Mandarin (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), who also goes by Wenwu in the film. This change immediately brings Shang-Chi into the MCU by giving the character loose ties to the Iron Man series — where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) was captured by the Ten Rings criminal organization, and actor Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) played a fake version of The Mandarin.
With the power of the ten rings, magical bracelets from another world that provide immense power and prevent aging, Wenwu has been amassing power and wealth for thousands of years. On a quest to obtain even more power, Wenwu meets Jiang Li (Fala Chen), falls in love, and they have two children, Shang-Chi and Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). After this introduction, we meet Shang-Chi in San Francisco, CA where he’s been killing time with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina), after running away from his evil father.
Most people were hoping — even expecting — Shang-Chi to bring Asian culture to the MCU, similar to how Black Panther brought African culture into the fold. While Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a solid addition to the MCU, it lacks the style and cultural influence of Black Panther. Where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and the rest of Wakanda were steeped in African culture and stylistic flamboyance, Shang-Chi feels more like a second-generation Asian-American’s story.
Young Asian-Americans will surely be able to relate to parents who question their work ethic, grandparents who want to know when they’ll be married, and late-night karaoke sessions, but is that really enough? Throughout the film, audiences will venture to China and other mystical lands, but it’s all a far cry from our prodigious introduction to Wakanda. Perhaps Marvel Studios was not looking to have the same cultural impact, but Asian-American audiences definitely were, and certainly deserved it.
Despite the partially muted cultural flair, Shang-Chi does make several nods to popular martial arts films. While there aren’t as many fights as a traditional martial arts movie, each one seems to hone in on a different style. One will remind you of Jackie Chan films, while another borrows inspiration from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. None of these fights would make a top 10 list when compared to legends like Jackie Chan or Donnie Yen, but they’re still entertaining in their own right and help to give Shang-Chi a bit of personality within the MCU.
As an MCU movie, Shang-Chi is similar to other origin story films. There’s very little interaction with the greater MCU. You can easily compare Shang-Chi to the first Guardians of the Galaxy in that regard. The film establishes the world Shang-Chi lives in but doesn’t do much to delve into the MCU aside from a few very brief moments.
Having just recently watched some of the early MCU films, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings isn’t as good as Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger. However, it is a step above Captain Marvel and the recently released Black Widow. Shang-Chi falls squarely in the middle of the 25 MCU movies. It doesn’t reach the highs of great MCU films such as Avengers: Infinity War or Thor: Ragnarok, but it’s much better than the lowest tier of MCU films like Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3.
There are two scenes during the end credits of Shang-Chi. They won’t be spoiled here, but as you might guess, we’ll be seeing more of Shang-Chi in the future of the MCU. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings give us a glimpse into the mystical side of Marvel’s world, and it will be interesting to see how the character fits in with other superheroes.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a decent film, but it never achieves greatness. The jokes are fairly bland, Awkwafina’s character doesn’t have much to do throughout most of the film (reminiscent of Pepper Potts in the first Iron Man film), and Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) is a big snooze of a villainous sidekick, with questionable CG effects on his arm.
The fight scenes in Shang-Chi were good but still fell just shy of being great. Overall it felt like a very safe Marvel Studios film. The writing team may have had something to do with the lack of greatness (Dave Callaham is partially responsible for the extremely disappointing Wonder Woman 1984 and the terrible Mortal Kombat movie), but it really felt as though everyone involved just wanted to play it safe. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it means the final product is just good when it could have been great.
About Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Synopsis: Shang-Chi, the master of unarmed weaponry based Kung Fu, is forced to confront his past after being drawn into the Ten Rings organization.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writers: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Stars: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Meng’er Zhang
Run time: 2 Hours, 12 Minutes
Releases: September 3rd, 2021 (USA)
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.