As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to evolve and grow in terms of scale, storytelling and new characters – it’s always fun to see them also dip their toes in the water of new genres they haven’t yet tackled. And with the character of Shang-Chi being introduced in his first film ever, it seems appropriate that Marvel goes all the way with delivering their first martial arts film. This isn’t just a film that borrows or pays homage to martial arts/kung-fu, it delivers genuinely spectacular and visually stunning fight choreography and set-pieces that make it stand firmly within the genre while also being an excellent addition to the MCU.
The film follows Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), a young man who is living life paycheck to paycheck and avoiding any deeper responsibilities with his friend Katy (Awkwafina) – but one day while on the bus on their way to work, the two of them are attacked over something from his past and it sends them down a rabbit hole into eventually crossing paths with his father Wen-Wu (Tony Leung) and sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) who he left many years prior.
On top of all the glorious action set-pieces, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings delivers both immaculate world-building and an intimate story about family at its core. So many of these films have surface-level themes that are bogged down by the greater world-building and spectacle on display. But Destin Daniel Cretton, who made one of my favorite films of all-time in Short Term 12, clearly cares about this project and makes sure that the themes are as equally polished and realized as the action and world-building.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a lot like Black Panther or Guardians of the Galaxy in the sense that it creates a sub-world within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is so well defined and unique that I could see countless spinoffs and sequels developing from this film alone. It’s a truly impressive film full of wonderful characters, unique creatures and settings, hilarious humor, and jaw-dropping action sequences that is all wrapped up in a bow of telling a nuanced, intimate story about family. It’s one of the better outings Marvel has had in a while, and one that I can’t wait to watch again for many reasons.