Shang-Chi: A Marvelously Character-Driven Fantasy Epic

4 out of 5 stars (One of the best of its year)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is everything I come to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for.  It’s a smaller-scale story driven just as much by character emotions as it is awe-inspiring action that never lets its fantasy elements drown out the human drama at its center.  It has one or two slow points, but overall, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is Mighty Marvel entertainment that works equally well as a standalone adventure and a part of the ever-expanding Marvelverse.

Shaun (Newcomer Simu Liu) and his best friend Katie (Awkwafina) are directionless millennials spending their days valeting cars and their nights partying it up.  When they are attacked by mysterious assailants on a bus (one of Marvel’s best fight sequences), Shaun defeats them using long-dormant kung-fu skills taught to him by his father Xu Wenwu(Tony Leung), who happens to be the leader of a centuries-old army called The Ten Rings and that his real name is Shang-Chi.  Now, Shang-Chi and Katie must discover what Wenwu wants, causing the former to reconcile with his past and prepare for the future ahead.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of Marvel’s best blockbusters because it recognizes that we come to these things for the characters just as much as we do for the action.  But let’s discuss the action first.  The fight choreography and camerawork during action scenes is excellent, with each scene outdoing the previous one and having plenty of wide shots so we can see everything.  The acting is solid across the board, but screen legend Tony Leung stands out balancing sympathy and intimidation.  Themes of maturing and accepting ones’ heritage are handled with grace, and the climax thrills us without going on forever or ditching the themes and character relationships that guided us there.  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings combines fantasy action with character drama to deliver a karate kick of awesomeness.  See it.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Violence and Action, and for Language

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