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

DESTIN DANIEL CRETTON

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 2021. , . Story by , Destin Daniel Cretton, Screenplay by Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, , based on Shang-Chi created by , . Cinematography by . Produced by , . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by , , .

Marvel superhero adventures can all be divided in two sections for appraisal: the first half of the movie either creates an attractive world with enough mystery to draw you in, or suffers from tired character types and a self-righteous plot set-up to make up for its lack of creativity. The second half is always a climax involving multiple savvy warriors rushing each other in a huge, loud fight, with the differential being that it’s either just explosive and exciting enough to get you through the soup of non-stop CGI effects, or it goes on too long and overdoes the mayhem to make up for the fact that little else in the film was interesting. Each of the many, many stories of gifted saviours stopping the world from total annihilation is a mix and match of these two possibilities, and in the case of Shang-Chi, the first (and more important) half definitely sports the better option, while the latter part is easily forgiven for devolving into the lesser alternative.

Sean () works a job parking cars at a hotel with his best friend Katy (), the two of them spending their nights staying up too late in karaoke bars and drawing criticism and concern from friends and relatives about their relatively aimless lives. Things take a hard turn when they’re riding the bus to work and a group of tough characters attack Sean and he, much to Katy’s surprise, reveals himself to be an exquisite fighter who can handle them all as the bus careens dangerously through the streets of San Francisco. This is the first of a number of exciting sequences in this film, which kicks into high gear when Sean reveals to Katy that his father trained him to be an assassin before he ran away from him, and now he must go home to find his sister Xialing () and save her from what he believes is his father’s wrath.

Katy joins him on the trip to Asia where they find Xialing developed into her own brand of kick-ass fighter, running a Thunderdome-esque sports arena before it too is attacked by her father’s bad guys and they are captured and sent to his compound where they learn what the disturbing next step of their journey is. Their father Xu Wenwu (played by legendary Hong Kong superstar ) is in possession of ten mystical, magical rings that have allowed him to roam the Earth amassing his powers for almost a thousand years, his nefarious goals interrupted only when he met their mother and settled down into family life; after her death, his lust and ambition returned and he has resumed his plans to find his late wife’s enchanted village and open the gates to an alternate dimension that could spell doom for our planet.

The very fun action set-pieces (the best after the bus sequence is a multi-person fight on the scaffolding outside a Macao skyscraper) and the assortment of terrific actors in richly written roles make wonderful distractions to the same old superhero plot that we can all predict like clockwork, something’s coming to destroy the world and only one man can do anything about it (and he’ll let the gals in his life do something to help so that nobody thinks its sexist). Taking that very basic and unimaginative structure into account, however, there’s also the delights of the beautiful cinematography (particularly when we hit the neon lights of the Macao city streets) and characters that feel unpredictable, Wenwu in particular is a trickster figure and Leung, a master of underplaying performances if ever there was one, pulls off being a cold-hearted villain and loving father at the same time.

Liu, cast in his first lead role after his success on the CBC sitcom Kim’s Convenience, is steady and charming but is easily outshined by his co-stars, there’s just no stopping Awkwafina’s perfect rhythm and peppy charisma from stealing every movie she’s in, while makes a delightful return as The Mandarin/Trevor Slattery, and a regal appears in a key heroic role. If you’re not a fan of this particularly loud, large corner of the film market, this one won’t change your mind (none of them will change your mind, let’s face it), but however you add up its two parts, this one is in the top half of the better Marvel films.

Academy Award Nomination: Best Visual Effects

Critics Choice Award Nomination: Best Visual Effects

Screen Actors Guild Award Nomination: Best Stunt Ensemble

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