If you have seen Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings go. Go now. Unless you have not been vaccinated. Then wait. Otherwise, get on a mask and go see a mask-less hero deliver shifts to the MCU more subtle than Loki, but just as important.
I conducted my usual background research via various Marvel-oriented websites. I knew the basics. I also knew that Marvel would necessarily simplify the character and bend him to their cinematic will. And that presumption turned out to be true. Marvel transformed the complex, multi-faceted world of Shang-Chi into a most straight-through line that made sense on first viewing. Plenty of exposition helps the audience along, but there is nothing mind-numbing or counterintuitive, save the usual Marvel suspension of belief elements like magic, magical creatures, and science experiments gone wrong.
It is interesting the Shaun/Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) confront his “I am Ironman” moment early. The mild, backward slacker who seemingly only aspires to chief car parker, finds himself confronted by a gang of Marshall arts thugs on a San Francisco City bus. Along for the rough ride is fellow car parker Katy (Awkwafina). After a rather extensive challenge, the destruction of the bus, several cars, and Katy’s initiation as an emergency replacements bus driver, she asks her slacker friend, “Who are you.”
The remainder of the movie goes on to answer that question for the audience, and for the main character, who doesn’t fully embrace his inheritance until the future of the world hangs in the balance, as well it should in a Marvel flick. If the world isn’t coming to an end, then what’s the point?
The heart of Shang-Chi revolves around the heart. Around the dynamics of a family—a Marveleque family, comprised of a master magician of incredible powers derived from the ancient ten rings, and his wife, mother of his children, a sorceress, and protector of a dark secret.
The couple meets as Xu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) seeks the ultimate in power. On his way to conquest, he meets Li, who not only bests him but steals his heart. They both put down their ambitions in favor of family. Xu’s past, however, eventually finds the family, and Li perishes at the hands of dozens of henchmen bent on revenge.
This leaves Shang-Chi and his sister to live under the crumbling dreams of a broken father who seeks to not only reclaim his previous glory but to also bring back his lost wife. A mysterious opportunity arises which compels Xu back to Li’s homeland, with Shang-Chi and Katy determined to stop him.
The rest of Shang-Chi engulfs the audience in pure Marvel spectacle, along with a bit of humor, a dose of heartbreak, and heartfeltness—and a lot. As you leave the theater chances are, even if you only say it to yourself, you will quip: “That was a lot. A lot a lot.”
A new kind of Marvel
Marvel comics were early in expanding their roster of heroes and sidekicks to include a wider variety of races and lifestyles—religion was often as invented as it was the subject of observation and reflection.
The depictions of non-whites in the books was often less than complimentary, crossing the line into stereotype. The role of women was mixed with superpowers competing against misogyny as much as evildoers.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is Marvel for the modern era, a film for the post-Me Too world, for a post-Black Lives Matter. Powerless women discover and assert their power. The most powerful of men find grace and temperance through love, love that ultimately cleaves so deeply that when it is lost, reason gives way to vengeance with no hope for redemption, save perhaps the release of a soul that proves a false manipulation.
A deep history releases, washes over the present, empowering a new generation of superheroes. Hundreds of years of threat fall as the world are redeemed by ancient magic—evil succumbs, and it is Shang-Chi, his friend Katy, and his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) who, the support of an ancient community and their wisdom, reinvent, flip the script, and create uncertainty for a supernatural world until recently ruled consistently by Xu.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings leaves viewers with more questions than they entered with. The film, its characters, and how Fiege and team would interpret the comics were answered, but what kind of leaders the next generation would become, and how they fit into the MCU, remain a mystery. After decades of stories, a new property coming to the screen always elicits speculation but making up your own story is part of the fun of being a Marvel fan.
And Ben Kingsley. Nice to see an academy award-winning actor having fun in a film his Gandi self would likely have never imagined.
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