Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings retcons Marvel history to strengthen the MCU

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe movie Shang Chi and the legend of the ten rings starts like a fairy tale. Long ago, an ancient warlord discovered 10 magical rings that gave him immense power and immortality, which he then used for conquest. For a thousand years he accumulated power, until one day he fell in love and put the quest aside. Then his love was lost and he returned to his warmongering in secret, losing his family in the process. The story continues in a current setting, when he decides it’s time to reunite his family – violently.

This mythical opening sums up all the many aspects Shang Chi attempts to retreat, mostly successfully. In its first half, it’s a remarkably well-paced action movie and a useful family drama with elements of comedy. In its second, it is a surprising but languid fantasy film where, as for Black Widow before that, expectations of a Marvel finale clash with the rest of the story. That said, while the first MCU movie takes place firmly afterEnd of Game since 2019 Spider-Man: Far From Home (a Sony production), Shang Chi is refreshing in how little it cares about the details of building the large-scale universe. Instead, the film focuses on an extremely personal story that also involves exciting things about the future of Marvel movies.

At first glance, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) seems like the most normal guy to headline a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He leads a low-key life in San Francisco under the anglicized name “Shaun”, parking cars at a boring hotel by day and drinking with his best friend Katy (Nora “Awkwafina” Lum) at night. They’re a bunch of slackers capable of so much more, something their friends and family constantly remind them of, to no avail. Then, assassins come for Shang-Chi on a bus, and the audience and Katy learn that Shang-Chi was trained from childhood to be one of the deadliest fighters alive – and he still is. extremely good in battle.

Shang-Chi draws the yellow magic power from the ten rings

Picture: Marvel Studios

The bus battle happens surprisingly early in Shang Chi, and it’s a solid synthesis of what the movie is best at: a long spectacle that merges heavy-hitting action with thrilling fight choreography and personal stakes. With a few small exceptions and one very large one, every fight scene in Shang Chi advances the audience’s understanding of the characters and their relationships. Often the fight scenes do this better than the plot, which is heavy on exposition and eager to move its characters from scene to scene, from San Francisco’s Chinatown to the neon nightlife of Macau, in China.

The narration introduces the audience to Wenwu (Tony Leung), Shang-Chi’s father, but viewers get to know him through combat – first as a warlord who single-handedly humiliates entire armies, then as a as a man on the threshold of a forbidden land. When he meets his tutor, Jiang Li (Fala Chen), their blows gradually become the steps of a dance they fall in love with. Likewise, the bus fight reveals who Shang-Chi really is. Throughout the film, physical confrontations are how he grapples with his family history and the tragedy that forced him and his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) to leave home and not see each other. for a decade.

In his heart, Shang Chi is not a tale of heroes and villains, but a family drama about three people dealing with long-repressed anger and grief. Director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy), who co-wrote the screenplay alongside Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham, unfolds this drama tenderly and with great humor – anchored by a terrific performance from Tony Leung, who brings a level of subtle humanity to every moment he is on screen.

When the color drains from the frame and it’s time for the cliched CGI battles of the third act, it feels a bit like a betrayal. In its second half, the film pivots into a fantasy film that takes its heroes to a beautiful land of myth, at the cost of gradually introducing a threat removed from the story’s personal stakes. It’s all in the interest of an extended fight against CGI creations which, while unlike anything on screen in a Marvel movie thus far, still engulf human characters at the peak of their respective arcs.

Wenwu and Ying Li fight and fall in love in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Picture: Marvel Studios

The change also does a disservice not just to Leung and the other performers (some of whom will come as a shock and surprise to longtime MCU fans) but to the work of cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix), who presents the action clearly, without succumbing to Marvel’s impulse to shoot battles with wide shots and without subjectivity. Fights are observed through windows, against lights, from behind and from above and below. The stellar work of Shang ChiThe international team of combat coordinators is not lost on the screen.

When Shang Chi has its place in the Marvel Universe, it’s more interested in retcons than future developments. The film picks up plot points from the Iron Man films regarding the Ten Rings terrorist organization and its puppet leader, The Mandarin. It develops a cohesive new status quo that pokes fun at the racist stereotypes of the source material, while offering a new, less problematic path. It’s a fascinating part of managing IP to turn an embarrassing product of its time into a viable 21st century franchise, and credit goes to Cretton and Callaham for crafting a storyline that achieves those goals while by telling a human story. His lightweight world-building reinforces the idea that Shang-Chi isn’t just a character in this universe; it’s tied to his future in a way that could be made more explicit in future movies.

Shang Chi and the legend of the ten rings also ends like a fairy tale. Some of the characters, returning home after their miraculous journey, return to their mundane lives, wondering how they will ever live in the drab, everyday world from which they came. Then the obvious answer presents itself: they don’t have to. Things are going to be very strange and exciting for them from now on. I hope that’s true for us too.

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings premieres only in theaters on September 3.

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