SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS Is A Relentlessly Enjoyable MCU Adventure - REVIEW

SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS Is A Relentlessly Enjoyable MCU Adventure - REVIEW

Marvel's latest Phase 4 release, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, is set to hit theaters next week, and we're happy to report that director Destin Daniel Cretton has delivered on all counts.

While the movies do vary in quality, most would have to agree that Marvel Studios has nailed the art of crafting an entertaining blockbuster. And yet, it can be easy to tell when a Marvel Cinematic Universe entry is happy to go through the motions and tick the boxes without really attempting to bring anything new to the table.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings does stick to the established formula to a degree, but it's imbued with enough passion to overcome a slightly by-the-numbers origin story blueprint and emerge as one of the MCU's strongest chapters.

After an intriguing flashback relaying the rise of seemingly immortal warlord Wenwu (Tony Leung), we meet "Shaun" (Simu Liu), a happy-go-lucky 20-something who works as a San Francisco valet alongside best friend Katy (Awkwafina). When Shaun is attacked by a group of assassins on a bus, he is forced to come clean about his past and reveal his true identity: Shang-Chi, son of Wenwu and heir to the magical rings of the title.

Along with Shang's estranged sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), our heroes return to China and embark on a journey to the mystical land of Ta Lo in an effort to prevent Wenwu from unleashing a powerful force of darkness in the belief that he'd be rescuing the spirit of his late wife and Shang's mother, Jiang Li (Fala Chen).

New Shang-Chi Images Show the Mandarin Training With the ten rings

The story plays out pretty much as you'd expect (though there are a few surprises here and there), but it's the performances that really stand out and bring depth to characters who might otherwise come across a tad one-note. Liu gives a star-making turn in the lead, effortlessly balancing Shang's laid-back persona with the darker edge that resurfaces when he's back at his father's side. Awkwafina provides most of the comic relief, but the actress ensures there's a lot more to Katy than the "funny sidekick" some seem to have prematurely pegged her as. Zhang also impresses, but we don't get to spend nearly enough time with Xialing for her to make much of an impact.

In a terrific ensemble, Leung is the closest thing to a standout. The veteran Chinese star is magnetic as the ruthless, but tragic Wenwu, whose vow to leave his criminal past behind is shattered by the death of his beloved wife. Driven by grief, not power, the complex Wenwu might be the MCU's most compelling villain yet.

Well-crafted action scenes are pretty much par for the course with these movies, but director Destin Daniel Cretton and his stunt team deliver several truly jaw-dropping martial arts sequences, and Shang-Chi features some of the most impressive fight choreography, not only in the MCU, but any action blockbuster in recent memory. It's somewhat disappointing, then, when this kinetic action gives way to more traditional CGI-infused battles in the final act, with dragons and other fantastical creatures joining the fray. It shouldn't take you out of the movie too much if you're invested in the characters and their respective arcs, but the switch to full-on fantasy may seem jarring to some - especially when the story has been (relatively) grounded up to that point.

The music is another issue. A film like Shang-Chi would have benefitted from an epic, sweeping score, and Joel P. West's work here is pretty forgettable we're sorry to say.

Honestly, though, these seem like minor nitpicks when you consider everything this movie does right, and while there are a few third-act problems, the very end all-but makes up for them. We're not going to give anything away, but the final scene and subsequent mid-credits stinger are an absolute blast, and lay the groundwork for Shang-Chi's future in this ever-expanding shared world.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a relentlessly enjoyable MCU adventure, and is right up there with Black Panther as Marvel Studios' best standalone outing yet. Not everything works, but there's more than enough humor, creativity and genuine heart on display to ensure this latest Phase 4 release soars way above its shortcomings.

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