‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ introduces an intriguing new character to the Marvel world.
If there’s one thing the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taught us, it’s that heroes come from unexpected places. That location is valet parking for their 25th film submission.
When we meet him as an adult, the eponymous hero of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is surviving on tips as a hotel parking valet in modern-day San Francisco. He does not fly to work; instead, he rides the bus.
But at the conclusion of the movie, he’s a magnificent addition to the Marvel world, a proven and true warrior whose bravery has been tested in more than one realm, and he’s accompanied by a mostly Asian ensemble. He’s no longer on the bus; he’s instead riding dragons.
Simu Liu portrays our hero with a Spider-aw-shucks Man’s sweetness, but with a ferocity in his fists.
Shang-Chi has apparently escaped from his tyrannical father, who is a complete jerk: he’s over 1,000 years old, obsessed with conquering the world, and in possession of ten mystical rings that grant him superhuman abilities.
Shang-Chi has escaped rather than become the cold-blooded killer his father desires, which is why he’s parking vehicles. That is until the family summoned by their father (Tony Leung) on a quest to resurrect his deceased wife, which pushes the boundaries of truth and believability and culminates in a Shakespearean battle.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” might have rode this bleak coming-of-age backstory like a DC movie, but that’s not what Marvel does best, and it finds its lightness in Awkwafina and later by relying on the Disney brand for some mind-blowing computer monsters and a bizarre world.
Shang-buddy Chi’s Katy played by Awkwafina, who serves as a comedic anchor to reality, often remarking on the craziness. She’ll remark, “I’m very puzzled right now,” when a stone dragon vomits a chart into the sea (seriously). “You’re heading toward that noise?” she asks later when she and our hero hear a horrible sound. She makes fun of our hero’s anglicized name change to “Shaun,” and her rendition of the Eagles’ “Hotel California” is fantastic.
The picture, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, is crowded and lumpy in places, and the last surreal third is badly integrated into the rest of the story, but it’s all hard to anticipate, and you’ll leave the cinema pleased, if a little befuddled at times.
The filmmakers appear to be throwing everything they have at the screen
including an adorable chicken-pig with no face named Morris, a hitman with a machete for an arm, the return of Trevor Slattery to the Marvel universe, a plot detour to an underground fight ring, thrilling forests, and two epic fight scenes on a skyscraper’s scaffolding and a city bus.
The script, written by Cretton, David Callaham, and Andrew Lanham, recognizes when the audience is becoming tired and adds a dash of craziness, whether it’s a man live-blogging the bus brawl or a bizarre flight attendant. There are references to “Avatar” and martial arts tangos worthy of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” with Michelle Yeoh appearing as one of the film’s leads. However, the father’s crucial position, Xu Wenwu, is hazy, erratic, and unsatisfactory.
A tale of sibling relationships, fatherly expectations, the contemporary world’s demands vs. traditions,
and our own legacies lie underneath the beauty and brutality. Did we mention there’s a cute chicken pig named Morris who has no face?
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Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, and Michelle Yeoh star.
Destin Daniel Cretton is the director.
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