Since the end of the Infinity Saga, we’ve been treated to Marvel Cinematic Universe projects that felt familiar. “WandaVision” centered around two main heroes, Wanda Maximoff and Vision. “Loki” was about Loki. “Black Widow” was about Natasha Romanoff. And “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” told us about Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes.
We’ve known many of these characters for the better part of a decade. Though we met new characters along the way, all of these stories felt like extensions of the old Marvel storylines. Though billed as the new phase of Marvel, it still felt tied to events of the past.
But “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is our first foray into the unknown and something new. It’s a film with a new character with a new story to tell in a new, complex environment. And if it’s an indication of where we’re heading in the MCU, we’re about to see some top-tier storytelling.
What to expect from ‘Shang-Chi’
At its heart, “Shang-Chi” is a family story. It centers around Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), who learns that his father, the Mandarin/Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), is seeking out Shang-Chi and his sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). The film discusses grief, family connections, legacy and what it means to be a member of your family, even when you don’t always agree with your family’s decisions.
It’s different than your typical Marvel film. Suspension of reality is definitely needed to understand all of the aspects. Though it starts out as a Marvel film, you’ll eventually forget you’re in the MCU, which is totally fine. It has a lot of callbacks to the old MCU that remind you of the universe, though. The Easter eggs are fun — and probably more blatant than older MCU films. You’ll love it. The film is packed with surprises, shocks and excitement. It’s easy to stay invested in this movie.
And the film becomes something bigger than it seems about 75% way through — and that’s for the better. You can see strings to recent Marvel projects like “Loki” and “WandaVision.” But at the same time, this universe of characters is completely new.
The film’s excellence supersedes “Black Widow,” though they are vastly different films that make them hard to compare. “Shang-Chi” is like “Doctor Strange” on steroids with a hint of “Loki” and “Thor: Ragnarok” thrown in. It’s really unique in so many ways.
I want more of this universe. I want more of the “Shang-Chi” characters. The characters deserve a trilogy like “Iron Man” or “Thor.” And Shang-Chi, as a hero, deserves Avenger status. He should be a central character of the MCU moving forward against whatever villain comes next.
Let’s talk about the ‘Shang-Chi’ cast
Liu, who plays Shang-Chi, is absolutely excellent and he needs to be around for Marvel films for the foreseeable future. He’s a perfect addition to the Marvel universe. His charisma and poise fit right alongside that of Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), among other stars. They totally nailed the casting. As Shang-Chi, Liu walks the line of a young man trying to find his way and a vulnerable young boy trying to find his family.
But Liu is helped by a solid supporting cast. Comedian Awkwafina plays Katy, a good friend of Shang-Chi. It’s not Awkwafina’s best role, though. Though her character develops throughout the film, I don’t feel like Awkwafina could show off her full range. She’s a better main character than a sidekick, to be fair. Still, she adds a level of comedy throughout the movie that breaks up the drama. She totally nails her lines and delivery. But it feels like a low-discount version of her comedy.
Meng’er Zhang, who plays Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing, is a breakout star of the film. She could easily be a new superhero in the MCU moving forward. She would actually fit right into the “Black Widow” set of characters, too. Sometimes the sibling thing can be a little repetitive and annoying in movies and television shows, but Zhang nails the role as a younger sister betrayed by her brother, giving depth to both characters and the family story within the movie.
Is ‘Shang-Chi’ good?
All of that said, “Shang-Chi” may have been 10 to 15 minutes too long. It started dragging toward the end before the final battle. And there were more characters I wanted more of without question, like Jon Jon (Ronny Chieng), Shang-Chi’s friend. They could also let Awkwafina dish out more comedic lines in a follow-up film since her delivery was kind of limited.
“Shang-Chi” might not hold up well if the characters don’t contribute to the bigger MCU story. There’s a chance it’ll end up like “Doctor Strange” — a vital, important film for understanding the Infinity Stones and the mystic elements of Marvel — or it’ll end up like “Age of Ultron” — good, important, but sort of a skippable adventure. I hope that doesn’t happen with “Shang-Chi.”
But believe me — the hype is real. The excitement is real. Believe the hype and psyche yourself up for it because this movie is just as good as everyone says it is.
And yes — I want to see this again. I want to see this three more times, four more times, six more times. I can’t wait to see it again. It’s that good, and it deserves your attention. And it’s our first step into the larger world of the MCU, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us.
(Oh, and the mid-credits scene — you need to see it. Trust me. The post-credits scene is good, too.)