Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Genre: Martial Arts and Superhero Running Time: 2 hrs. 12 min.

Release Date: September 3rd, 2021 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton Actors: Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, Yuen Wah, Florian Munteanu, Andy Le, Benedict Wong, Ben Kingsley

 


 

F

or centuries, with the aid of ten, glowing, metallic bracelets that grant their wearer limitless strength and eternal life, Wenwu (Tony Leung) conquered countless nations in his quest for ever more power. But when he encounters Jiang Li (Fala Chen), the guardian of a bewitching settlement hidden deep within an enchanted forest, Wenwu discovers something he desires even more: true love. The two soon wed and have a son (Shang-Chi) and daughter (Xialing), and for a time the four know peace and happiness, with Wenwu even putting aside the ten rings in order to grow old with his family.

The warlord’s past catches up to him, however, placing Wenwu back on a course of vengeance and bloodshed, into which he drags Shang-Chi, to be trained as the ultimate weapon against all who wronged him. In time, both children manage to escape from their father’s rigorous clutches and go their separate ways. Decades pass, with Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) hiding behind the alias Shaun, now living a jovial though purposeless life as a San Francisco valet alongside his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). When the two are targeted and attacked by highly-trained assassins, Shang-Chi and Katy travel to Macau to warn his sister, embroiling the duo in a fantastical adventure that will decide the fates of multiple worlds.

Right from the opening moments, actual martial arts combat takes a major backseat to wirework and CG-augmented, elemental thaumaturgy. Swirling, electrical bolts of neon-colored energy work tirelessly to paralyze the stunts; the wuxia style (like in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) is apparent, but it transforms every modicum of sincerity into pure fantasy – and silliness. And this is combined with the magical woodland village of Ta Lo, where mythological creatures roam utopian fields from another dimension – and the environment can be summoned to aid in defense, thanks to empowerment by the magic of the Great Protector.

It’s no secret that fantasy components drive Shang-Chi’s trials (burdened by a mother who inexplicably falls in love with an evil, insatiable conqueror), but it certainly stifles the impact of a present-day setting in the U.S., especially when those locales and people are introduced as if in a rom-com. A fight sequence aboard a careering bus is somewhat better, but the choreographers can’t dispense with over-the-top mussiness for long; a woefully unrealistic duel emerges, complete with gravity-defying maneuvers and a sizable brute with a retractable machete for a hand. The climax, too, is big and boisterous, resorting to a Cthulhu clash of sorts, so overblown with flailing limbs and eely appendages that it’s difficult to sort out the pandemonium. “Now I have no idea what’s real.”

Fortunately, the picture knows how to make fun of itself, smartly casting Awkwafina as a comically down-to-earth sidekick (her path is routinely more interesting than Shaun’s), and boasting Ben Kingsley in a spectacularly funny nod to “Iron Man 3.” Despite the opening premise feeling a bit like “Mortal Kombat,” “Snake Eyes,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and the various Narnia adventures all rolled together (somehow, even underground cage fights make their way into the plot), the halfway point begins to mold this yarn into something more noticeably akin to Marvel’s other productions; repeatedly, every good action scene is ruined by undefined sorcery without boundaries or rules, while heaps of humor are utilized to counteract the random injections of yet more ancient history that must be chronicled (oftentimes through flashbacks) mere seconds before it becomes relevant onscreen. As the film progresses, it’s not Shang-Chi and the various supporting characters that are unamusing, nor is it the ludicrous action shots or the vehicle chases overloaded with computer imagery; it’s the legend of the ten rings, brimming with meaningless, devised-on-the-spot lore, that really bores. Not surprisingly, by the end, the characters and the spontaneous jokes tend to be more memorable than the powers and purpose of the titular wrist ornaments, which serve as a generic super-weapon that can do pretty much anything needed in the heat of the moment.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10