‘The sins of your past would have destroyed this place…’
I’ve already written to death about how as much as I admire them from afar, I’m not really a massive Marvel fan. I watch all the movies and normally enjoy them, but I feel no emotional attachment to any of these characters. I indulge the MCU as a distraction. They are an easy watch in a difficult world. One of my key complaints with the MCU is that a lot of their output feels samey and formulaic. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings attempts to move away from this formula, and is all the better for it…
Shaun (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) live perfectly humdrum lives as car valets in San Francisco. Following a (fantastic) encounter on a public bus, Shaun is forced to reveal his true identity.
Some elements of the Marvelification of cinema remain, of course. We have the origin story, we have the wise cracking and we have the familiar aesthetic of bright colours and loud noises. Shang-Chi… also takes its cues from classic martial arts movies and video game lore, as well as Chinese mysticism. This diverse melting pot and the lack of references to other MCU properties allows Destin Daniel Cretton’s movie to feel a little more unique in a franchise that often lacks originality. This is helped along by a winning performance from Simu Liu in the titular role and a scene-stealing turn from Awkwafina as his long suffering sidekick. Elsewhere, Ben Kingsley provides some welcome comic relief (although his scouse accent is unnecessary) and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung makes for an excellent sympathetic villain as Shaun’s father Xu Wenwu.
Cretton’s breakout film Short Term 12 was one of the best films of 2013, so it is satisfying to see him do such a great job with a film that probably had ten times the budget of that indie success. There are question marks as to how long Marvel can remain on the throne, but if it keeps churning out movies as good as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings they could remain on top for some time yet.