Marvel Studios has practiced their origin story formula since their break into Hollywood, usually setting superhuman stories in the spotlight. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) instead emphasizes the journey of self-discovery and what can be achieved through family ties (and CGI).
Eastern action marries well with the Westernized approach to a superhero's story. It isn't unusual to see martial arts being practiced through comic book media. Shang-Chi bridged the two together in 1973 as the titular character finds his greatest strength from a lifetime of studying the martial arts on an intense level. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is ready to combine the two archetypes through the studio's first Asian-led film.
Chinese and North American storytelling is brought together through defined themes from each and star power at play. The post-first-gen-Chinese-American experience is blended with traditional Chinese values of arts, culture, and philosophy. Mandarin Chinese is also frequently spoken, challenging the idea that subtitles are not welcome in Western cinema. There's also the look at American life from a non-white perspective. At its core, there is the celebration of culture, even if the high-energy fight scenes and the distraction of CGI snap attention away from where the heart of the story lies.
Shang-Chi is a tale centered around homecoming while profiting from Marvel's increasing desire to prioritize themes of magic and fantasy within the MCU. The pilgrimage home to China underscores the importance of Shang-Chi accepting his fate: facing his father, the thousand-year warlord Wenwu (Tony Leung). The relationships at stake value the traditional family structure. Most characters have their own paths to follow except for Wong (Benedict Wong), whose Doctor Strange sequel teases are just enough to spark excitement, but happens to have a disingenuous feel. Awkwafina's quippy, quirky, and lighthearted presence is on par with what can be expected from the actress, and her outre matches her established reputation.
The movie falls under the "comic book" genre while managing to avert the commitment to comic book accuracy. There are some notable changes to the Ten Rings in both their appearance and in their powers. There are some narrative altercations that are tailored to a more general audience. The writing is tame enough to appeal to a range of moviegoers. Long-winded fight scenes are drawn out and set to the thumping tempo of hip-hop music. Shang-Chi is indecisive in which path it wants to take, dividing itself up between a martial arts homage, a touching superhero origin, and a tribute to East Asian significance within media.
If the movie is one thing, it's entertaining. There is consistent effervescence that keeps in stride with Marvel's known cracks at humor. In this case, it works well for Shang-Chi as it introduces wuxia into the MCU. The movie is also overpowered by CGI to the extent that it nearly drowns out the authenticity of the plot. The undistinguished camerawork and the scattered jump cuts minimalize the quintessence at the center of the movie. It's disrupting what could actually achieve beyond green screens and graphics. There's such a reliance on propping Shang-Chi on the use of technical effects that it strips away from the fullest extent of quality that could be reached.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is obsessed with its backstory for the better. It's fun, it's exciting, and it's sure to rejuvenate the interest in youth practicing martial arts. 6.5/10.
*There are two post-credit scenes.*