Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings
Over a decade since he escaped the harsh upbringing of an assassin, Shaun (Simu Liu) leaves his own life as a valet in San Francisco, working alongside best friend Katy (Awkafina) and trying to forget the past. But when operatives of his father Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) attack him in search of an amulet gifted to him by his deceased mother Ying Li (Fala Chen), he is drawn back into a world of magic and martial arts, that will lead all the way to a fateful confrontation in a world far removed from our own.
The latest Marvel Studios addition to their ever lengthening canon is a welcome blow for diversity in Hollywood and in this genre, that at its worst tells an enjoyable action-adventure that is mired in structural mundanity. There’s little here that I would call truly objectionable really. But Shangi-Chi And The Needlessly Lengthy Title is a film that made me very conscious of a recent trend in these kinds of films, namely that we are very far from a time when a character could hit another character and not have the camera revolve around 720 degrees while they are doing so.
By this I mean that it is an example of a film-making method where the battle against samey-ness – inevitable when we are 25 films into the canon – is waged by those who are always looking for new stylistic ways of depicting things, and sometimes those stylistic choices cross into the realm of making the film visually incomprehensible. Only on rare occasions during action scenes could I say that I fully understood what was going on, that my eye was being consciously drawn to what it needed to see, and not to something happening left of centre, or to a giant neon billboard in the back or any number of fantastical monsters filling a frame. In trying to make Shang-Chi stand out, I feel the production team has only made it seem like an unpalatable kaleidoscope of principal movement, camera swings and messy CGI. That’s when there isn’t some laughable choices, like slow-mo for a fight scene early on so the two characters can gaze at each other in a manner that instantly made me think of Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers, and pardon my language: “Girl in the hat just eye-fucked the shit out of me”.
I’m talking about the visuals – which are mostly fine outside of the action scenes, though this may depend on how far you’re willing to accommodate the idea of a Cthulu dragon – a lot because there isn’t really all that much else worth talking about. Everything about Shang-Chi’s plot is regimented, between the rising hero, the daddy issues, the MacGuffin, the fight pit, the family secrets, the big battle finale – the last 40 minutes or so really suffers from a tired sense of upping the stakes to stupid levels – and the MCU cameos tailor-made to keep Youtube reaction videos coming hard and fast. Trying to tie in a family drama with the martial arts only really works to a point, and isn’t enough to mark Shang-Chi out. It’s frequently funny, is paced OK and will leave your mind as easily as it enters it. This belies the importance of Shang-Chi in terms of its racial make-up – it really should be on the same level as Black Panther, so it’s important to “show up ” for this one if we want to see the increasing diversification of Hollywood continue – and I’m inclined to pull my punches.
I did find it a bit underwhelming though. I think director Destin Daniel Cretton wanted this to be the MCU’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and not just because Michelle Yeoh is in it. But it’s more Mortal Kombat really, even if it has more of a brain. There’s a lot to enjoy about Shang-Chi, like its soundtrack which is one of the more memorable to come out of the MCU as of late, and at times its world-building is also to be admired. But there really isn’t any stand-out performances – Leung as the villain, who just wants his idyllic family life back, is probably the best but others, like Awkafina, really struggle – the action scenes are hard to follow and where something like Black Panther felt like it was taking risks and challenging the status quo at least a little bit in every scene, Shang-Chi seems rigidly adherent to the formula, even in the little details. I’m sure we’ll get a sequel at some point as the MCU continues its effort to move beyond the fundamental characters of the comics, but not sure I’ll be taking it in. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures).