Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), was an instant hit making just shy of 100 million dollars over Labor Day weekend. Marvel has cracked the code, producing blockbuster after blockbuster as well as their growing array of Disney Plus TV shows. Despite the previous 24 Marvel movies, many following a similar formula, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stands out. An interesting and complex antagonist matched with enjoyable side characters and incredible action choreography is a recipe for success.
The primary antagonist of the film is Xu Wenwu, who has gone by many names including The Most Dangerous Man on Earth, The Last Kahn, and most notably, the Mandarin. He managed to discover a set of mythical rings which are a powerful weapon while also granting eternal life. He started a legendary army known as the Ten Rings which he used to conquer kingdoms over many millennia. His greed and desire for power led him to a mythical dimension known as Ta Lo whose portal resides on Earth protected by a constantly moving forest maze. In his search for the dimension he met Ying Li, the guardian of Ta Lo who protected the portal on Earth. They ended up falling in love and having two children, Xu Shang-Chi and Xu Xialing. Xu Wenwu vowed to store his rings away and swore off of violence in order to have his family, but after the death of Ying Li, he turned back to the rings and his army, even training Shang-Chi to be an assassin.
The side characters in the film are used as both comic relief and to enhance the plot. Katy (played by Awkwafina), is Shang-Chi’s best friend and is by his side for the entire movie. She provides comic relief while also having a more important role in the plot nearing the end of the movie. Xialing, played by Fala Chen, is Shang-Chi’s sister. She proves to be very influential in having a knowledge of their fathers castle and in being a skilled warrior. Other characters include Wong (played by Benedict Wong) from Doctor Strange, Jon Jon (played by Ronny Chieng) who works for Xialing, and Trevor (played by Ben Kingsely) who pretended to be The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. The various side characters strengthen the story and lead to a more interesting and fun movie experience.
What really makes Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stand out is the action. This is the first Marvel movie to have the main style of combat be martial arts, and it works wonderfully. The choreography is impeccable and the sustained camera shots make the action feel extremely real. Every strike is purposeful and there doesn’t seem to be action simply for the sake of having action. All of the action scenes have meaning and are influential to the plot. While the final climactic battle doesn’t have the same level of martial arts and relies more on CGI, it is still a satisfying conclusion to a very strong film.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fits in beautifully and paves the way for more to come in phase four of the MCU. It isn’t a perfect movie, with its middle feeling slightly dragged out and a few flashbacks that could have been placed earlier, but it is very enjoyable and endlessly entertaining. The action alone is enough to make this movie, but the compelling characters and mythical lore propel it to another level. It works as a stand alone movie as well as connecting to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a fantastic movie and is definitely worth watching, even if you haven’t seen any other Marvel movies.