The Movie Guru: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” a refreshing delight
Sometimes, you don’t know what you need until you see a valet with a supervillain father get totally beaten up by his sister.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” opening this weekend in theaters, is nothing like any Marvel movie you’ve ever seen before. It’s hilarious, warm-hearted, and all about family, and though the script might have been a little bit messy it also delighted me at nearly every turn. I was grinning like a little kid through a good chunk of the movie, and has someone who has spent the last several years completely burned out on the Marvel universe I didn’t know that was even possible. There’s plenty of great action and a final battle that’s as epic as you could hope for, but it’s everything that happened between those moments that really made me fall in love.
I also fell in love with Shang-Chi, a man who loves karaoke, his best friend, and just happens to be able to beat up an entire bus full of thugs. Loosely based on a Marvel comic book character from the 1970s, this Shang-Chi is a man with a fantastic sense of humor who is mostly in over his head. That makes his surprisingly relatable, particularly for a Marvel character.
Simu Liu’s performance only makes him that much more endearing. He gives the character all the likeability of the best versions of Spider-man, then uses it to break your heart a little in more serious moments. He’s also quite funny, both with line delivery and physical comedy, which is important when Awkwafina is essentially your romantic lead.
As for Awkwafina, I want to kiss whoever cast her in this role. Though she carries all the narrative and emotional weight of being the character the hero cares about most, she’s also still just as brash and funny as we’ve all come to expect from Awkwafina. Her chemistry with Simu is great, and she gives the character’s harder emotions every bit of the significance they deserve. The script also makes the fantastic choice of keeping her in the thick of things throughout the whole movie, meaning she gets far more to do than your average Marvel romantic lead.
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Even if you’ve never seen another Marvel movie, though, it won’t stop you from enjoying this one. The mythology of the story – the “Ten Rings” of the title – is explained within the movie itself, which is refreshingly unconnected from the rest of the MCU. There are a few ties, the largest of which corrects an unfortunate narrative decision in “Iron Man 3,” but “Shang Chi” is mostly concerned with telling its own story. After years of Marvel movies that all felt like chapters of some endlessly long, overly complex mega-series, the difference is wonderfully refreshing.
I would love to see more of these characters, and I’m crossing my fingers hoping that Shang-Chi becomes a trilogy. Even if it doesn’t, though, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is the movie I never knew I always needed.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.