Shang-Chi: A Thunderous Kickoff to MCU Phase Four
I’m not gonna lie – as details about Phase Four of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe started leaking, I was nervous.
Sure, ‘Black Widow’ was kicking things off, but given Natasha’s fate, that really felt like an oddly placed epilogue to the Infinity Saga. But Shang-Chi? The Eternals? I might not be a top-tier comic nerd, but I know a fair amount, and both seemed to be odd (obscure) choices to kick off the next phase of a franchise that’s putting some of its most popular (lucrative) out to pasture.
Marvel set my mind at ease by bringing Chloé Zhao on to direct ‘The Eternals.’ But should we really feel great about ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ bringing in the guy who wrote ‘The Shack’ and directed the thankfully forgettable ‘The Glass Castle’ (Destin Daniel Cretton) to write and direct?
Turns out the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Simu Liu as Shang-Chi in ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.’ (©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.)
‘Shang-Chi’ starts out one thousand years in the past, when Wenwu (Tony Leung) finds the titular Ten Rings, which grant him incredible power and immortality. Along the way to present day, Wenwu essentially conquers the world, topples empires, cultivates massive wealth, and forms his own army (cult) that spans the globe called, you guessed it – the Ten Rings.
Along the way he also crosses paths with a warrior who is not only his equal, but whose home (the village of Tao Lao) is as mysterious and powerful as his rings. Oh, and she also turns out to be the love his life and he leaves his powers behind to be a family man.
In the present day, Wenwu’s family – namely his son Shaun (Simu Liu) – is living in America, not meeting the expectations of his friends or the family of his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina).
That, however, changes when Wenwu sends a group of mercenaries to retrieve Shaun from his life of leisure to complete a mission that is decades in the making, and he’s forced to reveal some huge personal and familial secrets to Katy.
(L-R): Katy (Awkwafina), Jon Jon (Ronny Chieng) and Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) in Marvel Studios' ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.’ (Photo by Jasin Boland. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.)
First things first – my tips for watching ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’:
1. Go in as blind as possible. With all the delays of the last year, there’s going to be an urge to watch the trailer 100 times and to read everything you possibly can. DON’T. DO. THIS. The best parts of the movie – action sequences aside – are things that people will want to spoil in comments sections.
2. Pay attention to the details. I don’t mean you need to obsess over every little thing – ‘There’s a scene where Shaun drinks orange juice, therefore Captain Citrus (trust me, it’s a thing) is confirmed for the MCU’ – but there are plenty of things that tie this story into the rest of the MCU. Some are huge, some are subtle, but all are pretty satisfying.
3. Stay through the credits. This should be common knowledge by now, but a whole bunch of people left the screening the other night as soon as the credits started rolling. There’s not only a mid-credits scene, but there’s a pretty important one at the end.
Having said all that, after being relegated to heavier MCU content (relatively speaking, of course) like ‘Wandavision’ and ‘Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ since the start of the pandemic, it felt really good to see a Marvel story that was long on laughs and action, while also tackling the more serious themes (legacy, parental and societal expectations, etc.) that any successful origin story needs.
As is the case with most Marvel fare, the story (likely) isn’t going to be competing for Best Adapted Screenplay and its cast isn’t going to be taking home Oscar gold, either. But the cast – Liu and Awkwafina, in particular – are likeable and have great on-screen chemistry, and even the villains are sympathetic in that they’re doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. And the story (the part that doesn’t include acrobatic martial arts) is, or at least should be, relatable to anyone with an imperfect family or anyone that’s “failed” to live up to expectations.
Wenwu (Tony Leung) and Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) in Marvel Studios' ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.’ (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021.)
In terms of action, ‘Shang-Chi’ is right up my alley. I grew up studying Taekwondo, and there was a period of time where martial arts movies (‘Enter the Dragon,’ ‘No Retreat, No Surrender,’ ‘Best of the Best,’ etc.) were it for me. Even 30+ years later, having forgot virtually everything I learned, they still hold a special place in my heart … because they’re a helluva lot of fun.
And that fun is why I have ‘Shang-Chi’ among my very favorite MCU origin stories – behind ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Captain America’ and ‘Ant-Man,’ and in front of ‘Doctor Strange,’ ‘Thor’ and ‘Black Panther.’
‘Shang-Chi’ is the over-the-top summer blockbuster that we needed in the middle of the summer rather than at the end, but at least it’s here and it’s worth a trip to the theater for.
★★★★ of ★★★★★