Before we get into this review, I want to say something very quickly. It has been twenty months since I’ve been to the cinema; the last film I saw was Disney’s Onward, back in April 2020, just before the full lockdown was in place for the public sector. It has been tough, and I have missed the cinema terribly, but while here in the UK we are still struggling immensely with the virus (for really, really stupid reasons) I was determined to get back this thing I love.
It was quite daunting to go back. You may have to forgive a lack of promptness from Cinema Cocoa for some time; I am probably not seeing anything on day one for a while yet.
But it was delightful, after the anxiety wore off a bit.
Thank you, dear reader, for continuing to read this blog of mine. Even after all this time. It is more appreciated than you know. I hope the review finds you safe and well.
Anyway, onto the review.
An enjoyable rollercoaster, and while some Marvel formula is present, the film feels refreshing and gives a more promising outlook to the MCU’s future.
A tyrant who has been gifted long-life and incredible power, seeks out his children so that he might rescue his lost wife from an ancient spirit realm. But when his children, now adults, are hounded by assassins, and learn more of the mystical world, not everything is as it seems.
While Black Widow technically has the spotlight as the first film of Marvel’s “Phase 4”, Shang-Chi is the literal start of Phase 4, and they are certainly raising the amount of magic and mysticism! This movie is filled with magic and otherworldly images, and plenty of inspiration from Asian folklore and myth.
Our hero, Shaun (played by Simu Liu) is a valet in L.A, along side his good friend Katy (Awkwafina), and despite the disapproval of his family and friends he seems quite content with what he has. But when they are both attacked by assassins, wanting a pendant that his mother gave him, Katy is shocked to discover Shaun’s real name is Shang-Chi, and he has spectacular martial arts prowess.
The film benefits from the core relationship between Shang-Chi and its antagonist, Xu Wenwu (played by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) and not sticking to the usual formula that Marvel movies always have. We meet Shang-Chi after his troubled past. We only learn about him and his motivations as the film evolves. This makes for some character-based surprises and twists that not only push the story, but are also believable.
Xu Wenwu is immediately introduced at the film’s opening. A powerful tyrant who can battle armies single-handedly with the power of “The Ten Rings”. Magical, otherworldly artefacts he had found. But, even he is not a cookie-cutter villain. In fact, Xu Wenwu could easily be mixing it up at the top of any “best MCU villains” lists soon.
The film is packed with action sequences, as you would expect. With Shang-Chi and Katy (Katy playing the role of comic relief) doing a good job at pulling the audience along with them during the carnage. But the fight choreography is another impressive aspect of the film. While it does sometimes (especially towards the end) become more CGI heavy, the film does make an effort to show that its actors can actually fight. A battle taking place within a moving bus was most notable in all of the MCU.
(although how that bus driver didn’t notice. I mean, sure, he was wearing headphones, but that doesn’t excuse the fact he should be checking on his passengers!)
The film’s core values are about family. In fact, as much as he grumbles it constantly in his films, Vin Diesel might want to learn how films (let’s say blockbusters in this instance) about family could actually work. A single scene towards the end of the film, featuring none other than Michelle Yeoh, was emotionally engaging, as Shang-Chi struggles with his heritage.
The film also tackles a personal bugbear. Iron Man 3. With Kevin Feige and director Shane Black’s woefully mishandling of a prominent Marvel villain “The Mandarin”. In fact, in classic MCU style, Xu Wenwu actually makes light of it; that stupid Americans would fall for a terrorist named after an orange. For a film that actually required Marvel to make a short film explaining (read: backpedalling) that this wasn’t the real villain, Iron Man 3 has finally been acquitted. Not only that, but it shows a sign of positive change in the creative process.
A final good point for Shang-Chi. It uses subtitles. Yes, the audience are going to have to read. The horror. Characters speak their native language regularly, and it is used to great effect with characters not fully understanding what is said at times. For example, a character speaks to Katy, who isn’t as fluent, and there is an omitted subtitle. We the audience are with Katy. We don’t know either.
It was a nice touch. A shame that massive films like Spielberg’s Warhorse couldn’t match a Marvel movie in authenticity.
Perhaps a twenty-month drought from cinema has biased this review. It is safe to say that Shang-Chi is a good Marvel movie, and you should watch it. It has good characters across the board, good visuals and good action.
It promises more from the MCU, and that is likely exactly what it needed to do.
Additional Marshmallows: This trailer isn’t very good.