Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: A Weak Start to the Phase Four MCU.
Disney/Marvel's Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings aka Shang Chi and the Unnecessarily Long Title is the newest release for the Marvel Universe, the first showpiece for what is to be expected and to get people hyped for what Marvel has in store for people next. Going to Rotten Tomatoes, the score for this movie would be at the time of this article being written has a critic-audience score of 92-98.
Rotten Tomatoes is full....of.....shit....
Shang Chi and the Unnecessarily Long Title is not a movie worth such high praise. It is not a great movie, it is not a good movie. At best, it is an average movie that shows that Disney/Marvel has been on the decline in recent years. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and written by Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham, this movie was made on a budget of 150 million dollars and as of the writing of this article, it has made roughly 130 million dollars. So, it may make it's budget back but it will not be breaking records anytime soon, despite what lead actor Simu Liu says.
Watching this movie, I was a mixture of emotions but not the emotions the film was intended. Watching this in a theater with about 30 other people, I was bored, angry at times and questioning "Why did I pay nine dollars to see this?"
The Story and Writing
The story would follow Shang/Shaun Chi (Simu Liu) a trained killer/young runaway who is living a casual life with his friend and love interest (?) Katy (Awkwafina) as a valet in San Francisco until he is pulled back into his former life by his father Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), the leader of the terrorist group, The Ten Rings, along side his estranged sister Xu Xialing (Meng'er Zhang) to 're-unite the family'. So, Shang Chi, Katy and Xu Xialing have to work together to stop the Ten Rings, their father and save the world.
If this movie was disconnected with the rest of the Marvel movies and kept as a separate entity, then the film would not have as many problems. But because the film is connected to the expanded Marvel Universe, it creates a lot of problems and plot holes that raises many questions that the film doesn't answer. There are also numerous plot holes in the film that makes you question what the writers were thinking. Some of the plot holes in the film would include:
Warning: There are plot spoilers here. If you do not want to read them, please skip past this next section.
The necklaces that are introduced as the film's macguffin were hardly mentioned or talked about in the film.
Where do the Ten Rings come from? How does Wenwu find them? Why does he immediately use them for evil?
How does Xialing learn martial arts just by watching her brother to the extent that she can easily kick her brother's ass later in the film?
Why do none of the main characters think that magic is real when they live in a universe where there is video footage of Thor, Dr. Strange and other massive events online for anyone to see as well as Shang Chi seeing his father using the rings?
How and why is Abomination in a fight club in a skyscraper in Macau? Why does no one react to a massive mutated monster and why doesn't the military get involved with it? Why are Wong and Abomination on talking terms?
Why are the no cops or military on scene after the bus fight sequence when it was being live streamed to a global audience?
How does the leader in Ta Lo know what a car is when they live in what is an isolationist community?
Why is Wong in a fight club?
How does Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh) know English if she never left this isolationist community? All the people there speak Chinese and it is unlikely that Wenwu would have used it when he first went to the villiage.
What is Katy's Chinese language skill even at? She says early on that her Chinese is awful (despite coming from a bilingual home) and yet she understands what others are saying in Chinese? So what is her comprehension level?
How long is Xialing's rope dart weapon? When she first has it, the rope is not that long, but it is later shown to be able to go a far distance. They say the weapons are made with dragon scales, but what is the rope made of?
And the plot holes go on and on. But the biggest problem with the film is actually relating to the prior films and that problem is 'The Blip'.
For those who might not remember, 'The Blip' was the return of all the people who were lost from Thanos using the infinity gauntlet to snap away half of the universe. It was the largest event in all of the movies, something that was building up to a climax and had ramifications on the rest of the movies. Characters had PTSD, there was grief and loss, people after The Blip had to readjust to life after being brought back into existence. With this movie being the first in phase four, you would think that there would be more mention of it. Do you know how this movie handles it? There have a single, solitary throwaway line in the movie referencing it. I nearly said out loud "Are you f**king kidding me?" in the theater. So, the largest event in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not worth fully mentioning? It didn't affect Shang Chi or Katy or any of the other characters at all? They never knew a single person who was snapped away? You cannot just ignore the largest event in the entire series and treat it like a 'no big deal' thing. That is the same as having the Death Star in Star Wars being no big deal or the the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones being no big deal.
Plot holes aside, this movie was intended to serve as a superhero origin story for Shang Chi, but it doesn't really give us anything to look forward to. The story is standard fare, with nothing to make the audience invested in the characters, their plights or their growth. Having Shang Chi learn to take responsibility and become the hero is something that we have seen in previous Marvel movies and done better in those movies. There are also major tonal shifts in the movie that do not mesh well together at all. The film starts off as something close to a romantic comedy, then shifts to a martial arts movie, then to a fantasy movie and then back to a romantic comedy. It is not consistent in tone and can be jarring at times. If they kept the film as one specific genre like keeping it as a strict martial arts action movie, it would have worked better on screen.
The humor also falls flatter than a scallion pancake. A lot of the jokes simply do not work or they try to stretch the joke too far. One of the best examples of this would be an interaction between Katy, Shang Chi and the flight attendant over their airline food. It is a joke that lasts far too long for it's own good. Awkwafina and Ben Kingsley try to be the comic reliefs of film but their jokes do not work. During the movie, the audience around me had two laughs at most and they were lines that were in the trailers.
The characters of this movie are in the best of words, surface level characters. We are told what they are like and we see a little bit of their personalities, but they do not give us any reason to actually care for them. These characters have a troubled past, but that alone is not enough for us to actually care whether or not they live. For example, Xu Xialing, Shang Chi's sister, is shown to have a strained relationship with her family and started a fight club but apart from that, we know nothing about her character. We don't know what she is like, what she likes or dislikes, what her goals are, why she does things, we are not given any real reason to care for her as a character. This is for a majority of the characters in the movie. The only characters that actually have some semblance of personality are Shang Chi's father Wenwu and surprisingly, Trevor Slattery/The fake Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). When the villians of the film are more developed that your heroes, you know you have a problem.
Simu Liu, despite what he and Disney/Marvel say, is not Shang Chi. Simu Liu is someone who does not fully embody the character of Shang Chi and does not have a screen presence to accurately portray him. He does not come off as the martial arts expert that is capable of fighting off any opponent, especially when he doesn't actually win any of the fights that he has in the movie, with the climatic fight with his father being stopped by the appearance of the 'Dweller in Darkness' (that resembles nothing like his comic book version). He also is fearful when riding in cars with Katy, which if he was raised to be an assassin, why would he be scared of intense driving? It makes zero sense.
Awkwafina as Katie is an attempt at having a secondary protagonist/potential love interest/comedic side character that does little to help the story. She has some growth in the film, but it doesn't show much. From the start of the movie, she is pressed to take more responsibility in her life, but towards the end of the film, she is more or less the same. Also, Awkwafina's humor does not translate well into this film. Funny enough, before this film was released, there was a reignition of controversy relating to her use of the 'blaccent' in the past and it shows up in the movie, so yeah....
The character who fares best in the film would have to be Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), Shang Chi's father, who actually has real motivation, development and emotion. We see him from different perspectives from him being a loving father, to being in grief, to being angry about his children's rebellion and then some. But that being said, he still could have used more work. In the film, it says that he has been alive for one thousand years. It doesn't really show how living that long has changed him or why he would easily fall for the Dweller in Darkness' tricks.
The other characters in the film such as Shang Chi's aunt, Razor Fist, Death Dealer are given little development and do not have a lot of impact when it comes to the story or development of other characters. A lot of the side characters could have been cut from the film and nothing would be lost. Another note worth mentioning would be how the film tries to prop up the female characters more than the male characters, such as Xialing saving Katy instead of Shang Chi or Katy saving Shang Chi from the Dweller in Darkness.
The Cinematography and Fight Sequences
The cinematography in this movie is okay at times, but at other times are a cluttered mess. During the opening and ending sequences, the excessive use of CGI and quick cuts make it difficult for the audience to tell what is going on on the screen. Cinematographer William Pope did do some decent work when it came to the more intimate moments of the film where the characters are talking to each other, but the scenes that involve a lot of action become cluttered and messy. The best example of this would be with the final fight between Shang Chi and his father. There were too many cuts and edits in the scene to be fully invested in the fight. If the scene was shot differently, maybe as a one shot sequence where the camera stayed in one position and we could clearly see all of the action taking place, it would be amazing.
Speaking of the action scenes, the action sequences are a bit of a mixed bag. One of the more advertised scenes, the bus sequence, is pretty good with it paying homage to earlier martial arts movies and stars, and the skyscraper fight between Shang Chi and Death Dealer is also good. But for a movie about one of the greatest martial artists in the MCU, there wasn't enough. There were long stretches of the movie where there was not much happening on the screen and it was boring. For a movie about Shang Chi, you would expect it to be more like The Raid or Rumble in the Bronx, where it is off the walls action. But no, there are roughly four major fight sequences in the entire film and they are stretched far and in-between.
Shang Chi and The Unnecessarily Long Title is a movie that is not what the critics at IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes or Polygon claim it to be. It is not a 'Genuine Triumph' , 'Spectacular' or a 'Masterpiece', it is an average movie at best. There are a lot of flaws in this movie that hinder it from being good. The writing with continuity errors and massive plot holes, poorly written characters, average CGI and more, has Shang Chi punching softly. If you want a good martial arts movie, watch Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon or Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx.
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is available to watch in theaters.