Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton is this latest instalment in the “fourth phase” of Marvel films. Legend of the Ten Rings stars Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, although we first meet him as Shaun, a parking valet alongside his long time friend Kate (Awkwafina). Both of them are smart but more interested in hiding from adulthood, partying and Karaoke than taking life seriously. This all changes when Shaun is attacked on a bus and we find out he’s not a mild mannered parking valet after all. Instead he’s the son of a shadowy underworld figure from whom he has hidden since he was 14. Shang-Chi and Kate head off to tackle the danger presented by his father leading them into a battle which encompasses mystical creatures, magic powers and family secrets.
This is the second standalone Marvel film of the year after Black Widow and one I enjoyed equally. As you can imagine it leans heavily on the martial arts genre, a bit like a Jackie Chan film with a $200m budget! But that is in no way a criticism, they use the balletic beauty, mysticism and magic often associated with far Eastern storytelling to great effect.
There are enjoyable performances throughout. The two leads have a great “buddy” chemistry, especially in the first couple of acts. They are well supported by Tony Chiu-Wei Leung, Meng’er Zhang and Michelle Yeoh particularly, while there is a couple of fun cameos from Benedict Wong and Ben Kingsley (with a nice Easter egg for Liverpool FC fans).
The film does suffer ultimately from the origins story effect, as the story has to manoeuvre itself into the bigger MCU plan and does lose some of martial arts and magical subtlety as it moves toward its inevitable CGI fest big battle ending.
But they are minor quibbles with, what is, a very entertaining piece of storytelling. At its best it is original with fantastically choreographed sequences and humorous dialogue. It’s well paced and never drags through its running time.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a refreshing, different, enjoyable and very welcome addition to the Marvel universe.