Is anyone suffering from Marvel fatgue? It just feels so overwhelming to be a fan of the MCU these days. Not only are all the films pretty formulaic right now but they are trying to do something huge. It doesn’t help that I was reading about Dr Strange 2 today and the prospect of characters from Fox’s X-Men movies finally arriving in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s become so big. So much has changed since those early days when there were only about 6 superheroes to contend with. This general fatigue is part f the reason that it’s taken until now to watch Shang-Chi. I just needed a break. What with WandaVision and Loki ending in such cliched Marvel ways, I just wasn’t ready to go back to the big blockbusters. Now that it’s on Disney+, I figured it was time to see what it’s all about.
A big problem with the Marvel franchise is that you can never trust the hype. When people praise the newest release, it’s hard to tell if the film actually deserves it or whether it’s just the same Marvel fanboys enjoying themselves. Shang-Chi had more riding on it than the usual comic book movie. This would be the first film in the MCU to truly celebrate Asian characters and culture. It would be their first comic book movie with an Asian protagonist and a predominantly Asian cast. It was important that this film worked out not only for the future of these characters but for the young people who deserve to be represented on the big screen. So, does Shang-Chi live up?
Thankfully, this film does get a lot of things right. It manages to create real and interesting characters. It is funny but showcases emotional bonds. Shang-Chi deals with a lot of lore and fantasy elements, so it could easily have lost all sense of reality. What really grounds the film is the relationship between Shang-Chi and his school friend Katy. Their silly conversations and genuine affection for each give the film a new dimension and it really works. Shang-Chi works well when it is placed in the real world. The action sequences set in the film’s first half are more impressive and memorable than those in the latter half. It’s a refreshing change from some of the MCU films that have come before.
In terms of the storyline, it’s not exactly original stuff but it’s a story that is situated in family melodrama. After being raised as a deadly assassin by his crime-lord father, Shang-Chi runs away and assumes a new identity. These days, he’s living his best life in San Francisco and working as a valet with his best friend, Katy. Until his father comes looking for him and his estranged sister. He needs their help on a mission of revenge and wants them to join his terrorist organisation The Ten Rings. Will Shang-Chi and his sister, Xialing, follow their father or go their own way? And if they go against their father, can they stand up against the power of the 10 rings that give him his power?
Shang-Chi is unlike any other film in the MCU and is very refreshing. The action sequences are incredible and pay homage to great martial arts movies. The choreography looks so different to the usual brash and hectic fight sequences. It’s more like dancing than fighting and it utterly memerising. Of course, one of the greatest stand out moments is the fight on the bus seen in the trailer but there are plenty of examples of how well the fight coordinator has done. I’m no expert in martial arts or Asian culture but this is a film that certainly celebrates what it is.
If I had one complaint it would be with the pacing. There is a lot of explaining to do in order to set up the new world and various new societies. It sometimes feels a bit bogged down with it and means that the final act is a little rushed. This, in turn, means that certain storylines are rushed. For one, Katy’s arc has all sorts of Mary Sue energy when it deserved to be explored further. Then there is Xialing who never really gets to do as much as I wanted her to do. These problems don’t ruin the fun but they do exist. As does the slight disappointment that Marvel just decided to stuff default to dragons in their first Asian movie. It’s not a big deal but it doesn’t feel as though much thought went into it.
Overall, this is a fantastic debut for this character and this cast. Simu Liu and Awkwafina are both outstanding leads and their chemistry really does make the film. I can’t wait to see more from them in the future. Hopefully, Marvel will see how much potential these characters have and will give them more chances to explore this other side of the comics.