Marvel: ‘Shang-Chi’ Review

Screenshot of Meng’er Zhan and Simu Liu from ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’. Copyright goes to Walt Disney Pictures and Marvel Studios.

Hey! Hallie here!

‘Shang-Chi’ is finally on Disney+ and that means that those of us who missed it while it was in theaters can finally watch it! I’m extremely glad that a large amount of fans decided to go to the theater to see this film, but due to some concerns regarding the place I live and the current state of the world, I couldn’t see it when it came out. But now I’ve seen it and I can confidently say that it deserves all the hype! It’s a gorgeous movie with excellent characters, plot, and fight choreography. Before I go in depth about what I thought about this movie though, here’s your SPOILER warning. If you haven’t seen this movie, do that right now and come back to this post later. I promise it’s worth it.

What I Liked:

Shang-Chi: When everyone came out of this movie talking about how amazing Shang-Chi is as a new main character for the MCU, I was extremely excited to see what he was like. He didn’t disappoint. In an MCU where we’ve seen a mix of main characters who have huge egos and major moral issues, (Tony Stark, Peter Quill, Stephen Strange) and heroes who have large amounts of morality and insane leadership skills (Steve Rodgers, Thor, T’Challa), it’s nice to see characters who reflect the audience a bit better. Shang-Chi is definitely one of those characters. He’s extremely kind and capable but his incredible martial arts skills don’t immediately give him confidence. He doesn’t really know what’s going on for most of the movie and his past makes him question his own actions at every turn. He gets through most plot points by simply trying to be the best person he can be. That’s exactly what makes him so charming. When his father starts to track him down again after many years, his goal isn’t to go after his father, or even to stay away from him. His goal is to find his sister and make sure she’s alright. When he reunites with his father, who was basically abusive to him growing up, Shang-Chi isn’t combative. Despite having seen his mother die before his eyes, he hears his father’s crazy theory out and battles with the fact that he still cares for him. Even when Shang-Chi is pushed to the point of nearly embracing the assassin his father made him, when he finally faces his father, he confesses that he just wants his dad to be there for his family. His story isn’t one of a righteous battle between good and evil. It’s about confronting his past trauma, accepting all aspects of himself, and becoming more confident because of it.

Xu Wenwu: Marvel has a horrible history of making villains who are completely irrelevant and mostly unimportant to the hero. Xu Wenwu instantly broke away from that once he was introduced as Shang-Chi’s father. But this fact wasn’t the only thing that made Xu Wenwu interesting. As the movie unfolds, it reveals just how complicated of a man Wenwu is. Wenwu starts out the movie as an immortal conquerer who essentially tortured his son into an assassin. But it’s revealed that he made every effort to change his ways when he married Shang-Chi’s mother. He put aside his horrific past to make a real attempt at being a good husband and father. It was his wife’s death, and the guilt that brought, that made him decide to turn back to his previously shady ways. But even throughout the movie, it’s his wife who is his major motivation. An evil being makes him believe that his wife is still alive and he is unwilling to let her go. It surprisingly has nothing to do with the evil organization he runs. Not only that, but Wenwu sacrifices himself for Shang-Chi at the end of the movie, revealing that his love for his family never left by giving his son the Ten Rings. We’ve seen some pretty solid villains in the MCU recently and Wenwu is one of them.

Xialing: What a badass. She’s better at fighting than Shang-Chi, and the plot proves it by both making her kick our hero’s ass and save a giant dragon at the end of the film. She also took the trauma from both her father’s indifference and Shang-Chi abandoning her in order to build herself up. She builds her own empire off of a fighting ring and proves that she can control just as much power as her father does. I do have some issues with the way this character was treated, and I’ll get to that later, but I ultimately loved this character and wanted to see more of her.

Shang-Chi and Katy’s Friendship: These two genuinely felt like real friends. Their banter bounced pleasantly off of each other, simultaneously demonstrating their familiarity with one another and providing amusing dialogue. They also worked well as a team. Shang-Chi was more capable of protecting the both of them and getting them out of frightening situations, but Katy kept him grounded and thinking in crisis situations. Katy also provided support whenever Shang-Chi needed it, reminding him that he was right to feel hurt because of his past. And through it all, the two were never forced into a strange romantic relationship. Their friendship was wholesome and I’m so glad the movie didn’t feel the need to mess it up.

The Fight Choreography: Don’t get me wrong, I like a good MCU fight scene. But sometimes it gets frustrating to see so many fight scenes centering on CGI suits and superheroes. Shang-Chi changes all of that. The real martial arts used in each fight scene feel impactful and exciting. Something about the intimacy of this fight style put me at the edge of my seat in every scene. This film has by far the best fight choreography in the entire MCU. And the CGI effects were only used to amplify their movements and add some gorgeous colors to each sequence. This movie is gorgeous on its own, but it never looks more beautiful than it does when a fight scene comes along.

What I Disliked:

Xialing and Katy’s Development: I liked both of these characters, Xialing especially, but both of them seemed to get the short end of the stick in this film. Katy’s outsider position to Shang-Chi’s family drama made her obsolete for some of the movie. When it came time to finally address her character development at the end of the film, it felt rushed and not entirely satisfying. Her problems with her family at the beginning of the film were tied to her feelings of aimlessness, which was briefly addressed towards the end of the film but never wound up resolved. She learned how to use a bow and arrow, but what that did to give her a direction I’m not certain. Especially because she stayed out of most of the final battle all together until her “big” and only contribution at taking down the giant monster. Katy wasn’t a slate of nothing, but she was never developed well enough to draw audience interest away from those who were more involved with the main plot. As for Xialing, she was involved with the main plot and proved to be a very interesting character. But the movie used the fact that her father mostly ignored her to take her out of many major family drama scenes. And the feelings of abandonment she harbored from when Shang-Chi never returned to her was solved in one line with no real scene to pull the two characters together and resolve her trauma. In fact, the end credits scene revealed her as the new leader of the Ten Rings, apparently unaffected by her brother’s influence at all. More work needed to go into both of these characters.

The Ending: After an entire movie about Shang-Chi coming to accept the past he buried and the family he left behind, it was a bit bewildering that the movie would end with his return to San Fransisco. What about his aunt? Why didn’t he stay with his sister to deal with the organization his father left behind? Why would he just abandon it all again? It didn’t feel like they put a lot of thought into the wrap up of the movie.

Trevor: I don’t dislike Trevor, but considering the fact that Shang-Chi viewed an entire map to his mother’s village right before meeting Trevor, I still have no clue why they needed him to take them there. The plot sometimes didn’t seem to know why he was there either. He was only briefly shown playing dead during the final battle and he was nowhere in sight during the epilogue. Why was he in this film?

Those are my thoughts on ‘Shang-Chi’! Though I did have some issues with the movie, I enjoyed it immensely. I can’t wait to see these characters pop up more in the MCU. I also really want to see the director pair Katy and Xialing together. With ‘The Eternals’ opening up a new door for LGBTQ+ characters in the MCU, we can hope!

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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