‘Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings’ has the winning charm and confidence of a new performer stepping into a much-vaunted arena. It may be a big budget Marvel production, but like ‘Iron Man’ before him in 2008, not too many people have heard of the titular character.
Yet for the uninitiated there is no need to fret, Director Destin Daniel Cretton paces the movie well, parcelling out flashbacks, action scenes and comedic beats with assured grace just where they are needed. Ultimately you do feel the film’s run time but for the most part it keeps you entertained throughout.
Essentially the story is about Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) coming to terms with who he is and choosing where his destiny ultimately lies. His best friend Katy (Awkwafina) comes along for the ride providing an audience surrogate to comment on this new world. Alas, there is no time for a love story and that kind of makes sense, given that at its heart this is a story about family and the ties that bind. About how shadows from childhood can loom over your adult life until you choose to make peace with them.
To that point, a few more scenes with some characters and their relationships might have helped to increase some emotional payoffs in the third act. The story revels in its mysteries, choosing to gradually reveal them leading to some important characters entering in the third act and making it difficult to care about them. While the director and script take the time to establish them, it may also be why this blockbuster feels a little long in length. Still ‘Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings’ does prove the theory that all films become better straight away when Michelle Yeoh appears in them and so it is here.
Lead Simu Liu has a bright future ahead of him, selling the action and underplaying but never failing to convey the emotional scars of his character. Shang-Chi is a pretty laid back kind of guy but still, waters run deep. Awkwafina remains a star that shines bright but gets to be more than just the comic relief here and seems to relish the opportunity. The rest of the cast are filled out by a Meng’er Zhang as Zialing (Shang-Chi’s assured and kick-ass sister), Hong Kong legend Tony Leung, Fala Chen, and an absolutely delightful surprise of an appearance that won’t be spoiled here.
The action scenes are well choreographed with some inventiveness shown in the choreography and use of space – an early scene on a bus is rollicking good fun and Destin has fun with the use of some well-placed slow motion even if he overindulges. Some of the CGI is a little weak suggesting the scope of the filmmakers’ ambitions were not able to be fulfilled by time and money, but this remains pure spectacle.
If there is a point where you might not be familiar with what kind of creature that is, or how this weapon might work, you can sit back and let it wash over you. At least here, care has been taken to make you aware of who each character is, their internal conflict and what the stakes are.
Shang-Chi – well, you’ve heard of him now and you’ll soon be hearing a lot more.
‘Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings’ is in cinemas 2 September.