Despite the Marvel Studios intro having been more or less the same since 2016, Phase 4 has kicked off with some exhilarating highs and some genuinely disappointing lows. From the experimental, character-driven ‘WandaVision‘ and ‘Loki‘ to the poorly executed and ultimately unsatisfying ‘Black Widow‘ and ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘, Phase 4 seems to be fighting against the franchise it is set in. After a game-changing event like ‘Endgame‘, it almost feels necessary that this franchise evolves beyond the usual party tricks they’ve offered so far. ‘Black Widow‘ was arguably demeaning as a send-off with a lack of character focus and lacklustre action. ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘ resorted to go the safe route and turn what was once a dark, complex character into a cheesy, comic-relief action hero. On the other hand, ‘WandaVision‘ and ‘Loki‘ resonated with the fans because of the bold, experimental visuals and the effective deep-dive into the protagonists’ psyche. Despite being beloved, they also suffered from some last-minute MCU cliches. Now, however, out of the blue, comes a new hero with an origin movie that is arguably what Marvel has been searching for, ever since 2008. ‘Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings‘ is everything I wanted a Marvel movie to be and more. This is what Phase 4 should aim to be.
When you think of a superhero, the concept mostly revolves around a superpowered individual in their bright and vivid suit saving the colourful fictional city they’re assigned to. It’s colourful and imaginative and despite it being so radiant, it always balances out with a complex story with depth, nuance and maturity. It’s a combination that has always proven to be successful, with Amazon’s ‘Invincible‘ seemingly being the rebirth of this concept as these movies have always preferred a duller, more realistic look. The era of unnecessarily dark and gritty comic-book movies seems to be coming to an end. The MCU movies have definitely been brighter (literally and figuratively) than others but it’s no secret that they’ve always been scared of a little colour and imagination. The insanely huge climax of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ did not need to look like a dull renaissance painting. The entirety of ‘Black Widow’ and ‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ didn’t even carry a colour palette. This is why the visual-heavy sequences in ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’, ‘WandaVision’ and now ‘Shang-Chi’ are so memorable, it’s because they actually feel like comic-book fiction, they carry that excitement and wonder that we associate with superheroes. ‘Shang-Chi’ isn’t just colourful, it infuses that excitement into its very being. It feels like the most animated of the MCU movies and I mean that in the best way possible.
As someone who prefers animation over live-action in terms of cinematic mediums, it was genuinely breathtaking seeing a live-action blockbuster feel limitless. There was never a moment where I feel like the movie could’ve gone too far creatively and that in and of itself was very refreshing. Even outside of the action sequences, the world of ‘Shang-Chi’ is incredibly colourful and vibrant. The world-building embraces the cultural and mystical history of China with the stunning Ta-Lo. The costumes leapt off the screen with gorgeous colour and detail. The creatures were a very welcome shift into the MCU lore. I loved every second I got to spend in the world this movie created. The action sequences were also something truly amazing to behold. The instantly iconic Bus Sequence is unironically my favourite action sequence in the entire MCU. Seeing the fight unravel into such chaos was equally as fun as it was genuinely thrilling. The entire third act was pure action spectacle and I am so impressed by the fact that Marvel didn’t use CGI for the entirety of it. It was definitely present but it was only there to support the actors instead of replacing them. There was an actual sense of physicality to Shang-Chi and Wenwu’s fight. I appreciated the fact that it wasn’t just two CGI models going at each other. There was an actual sense of practicality to this movie that made it stand out and ultimately left it feeling more effective.
It also helps that this movie is led by one of the most charismatic casts in recent memory. Simu Liu is great as Shang-Chi, he presents a very relatable and likeable lead, exactly the type of lead the MCU is known for by now. That being said, he does the job well and I cannot wait to see him interact with this universe even more in future projects. Awkwafina steals every scene she is in, she was such a delight to watch. Every joke she made landed with memorable impact, the MCU hasn’t had this funny a character since Luis in the first ‘Ant-Man’. Tony Leung’s Wenwu was definitely one of the many highlights of the movie but I do feel like we could’ve seen a bit more of him. Leung gave every scene of his the utmost of potential and he definitely made a huge impact. He presented a tragic antagonist who you couldn’t help but empathize with, even though he is a literal killer. Meng’er Zhang has a fantastic presence as Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing. Her slick action sequences and utter intimidation and badassery were a delight to watch. I cannot wait to see where they take her character in the sequel. Michelle Yeoh also gave a strong impression with the little she was given. It was very important to see what other people would call a “feminine” style of fighting be portrayed with such elegance, respect and hard-hitting effectiveness. Seeing Shang-Chi use the good and bad from his parents and implements in a way that he makes his own was genuinely beautiful to see. He never dismissed his father but instead learned from his mistakes and I think that was very mature of the movie to do.
Following Disney’s push for more Asian representation with movies like ‘Mulan (2020)’, ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ and now ‘Shang-Chi’, this movie had the unfortunate pressure of feeling like it had to be successful. After two considerable duds from Disney and even worse results with movies like ‘Snake Eyes‘, it felt particularly special seeing people actually support and put respect on an Asian-American cast. It’s actually insane the level of trust Marvel now has from the public as there were people who had no idea who Shang-Chi is buying multiple tickets in advance. It genuinely felt like I was witnessing cinematic change happen right in front of me. Seeing the movie itself in theatres also added to that phenomenon. It felt like such a blast seeing a big blockbuster get everything right by actually having good representation, strong and versatile male and female characters and a careful blend of action, comedy and heart. Every piece of the blockbuster formula falls perfectly into place with ‘Shang-Chi‘.
Overall, ‘Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ manages a truly epic blockbuster scope with genuine fun, depth and representation. It goes outside the MCU comfort zone creatively and introduces new and exciting elements we have never interacted with before. The bold visuals and slick action are executed in jaw-dropping fashion making this a clear highlight in a 25-movie franchise and that alone makes this movie worth the hype. It goes above and beyond the creative limits Marvel has put upon themselves in favour of something truly original to the franchise. Go support ‘Shang-Chi’ in theatres and / or on Disney Plus on November 12!
‘Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ is now exclusively showing in theatres.