Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings review — hello, Phase 4

By Louie Fecou
Published: September 6, 2021 (Last updated: May 25, 2023)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings review -- hello, Phase 4


Another formulaic Marvel movie that loses direction quickly, and ultimately fails to satisfy or intrigue.

This review of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is spoiler-free.

Simu Liu stars as Shang-Chi in the latest Marvel offering that returns the viewer to the MCU with some tried and tested tropes. Let’s run through some of them for you. Mention the Blip? Check. A cameo from an established character from another movie? Check. B-rate villain from some Bronze Age comic? Check. Humorous snappy dialogue? Disposable CGI army of aliens in the third act? Check, check… you get the idea.

It’s a shame really, as street-level hero Shang-Chi could have taken the MCU in another direction. When I first saw the trailer I desperately hoped that we would get a grittier than usual hero, perhaps in the vein of Daredevil, and providing some more mature material for the franchise that might appeal to an older audience, however, this film could not be further from this ideal if it tried.

I was on board in the first act, and I didn’t mind the legend of the ten rings playing out through the ages, and the first major action set-piece, on a runaway bus, was ok, but after the action shifts to Macau, things start to get a bit sillier.

There’s no spoiler — it’s in the trailer — as we find Shang’s sister has somehow constructed a massive private fight club in an abandoned skyscraper where for some weird reason Wong from Doctor Strange is in a weird rigged cage fighting match with Abomination. Perhaps I have missed something here, but it just seems an odd situation. Perhaps it’s just a bit of an attempt at pleasing the fans, but it’s shoehorned in and serves no purpose whatsoever.

Shang then has to fight his sister, and she beats him, even though we know that he has been trained by his father, and she was self-taught. In fact, in his own movie, Shang actually fails to really drive his own story forward. We learn more about his best friend Katy than we do about him, and Shang seems to be swept up in events, reacting as he goes, rather than driving the plot forward himself.

There’s lots of exposition and flashbacks that explain his backstory and introduce us to his father, who controls the ten rings, and his deceased mother, who leads the cast to the fabled and hidden land of Wakanda, I mean Ta Lo, where he must save the village from his father’s army of assassins and stop him from releasing a monstrous demon, held captive in a mountain.

By this point in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, I’m afraid I had checked out. The hidden village is populated with all kinds of mystical CGI animals, including dragons and giant lions, giving me flashbacks to The Neverending Story, and Katy becomes an archer of immense capability, in one day, while Shang has his final confrontation with his father.

The tonal shift from the first to the third act is just jarring, and the film loses its way resorting to the usual Marvel third act tropes.

Perhaps cape fatigue is setting in for me, but Shang-Chi is a terribly misbalanced film that tries to be a martial arts thriller, and a fantasy adventure, and ends up falling somewhere in-between. It’s an unsatisfying watch, with a main character that lacks any real depth, and a reliance on CGI spectacle, even in the martial arts set pieces that should have been handled way better.

Had the story stayed more grounded, there could have been a chance that Marvel could have turned a corner, with a street-level hero for an older audience, but instead, it takes a neck-snapping handbrake turn that makes the whole thing look like two separate films stapled together.

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