iReview | Marvel Studios' SHANG-CHI and The Legend of The Rings
Mon, 6 Sep 2021
by JC Alvarez
The ever-expanding MCU is about to chart all-new territory with the introduction of SHANG-CHI and The Legend of The Ten Rings bringing to the forefront a mystery that dates back generations and has a link to the very first Marvel Studios hit!
It’s a brand new day in the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Audiences are about to embark on an adventure that will broaden all expectations of what the mega-franchises emerging from Marvel Studios is going to be. The first decade has come to a close with the high-stakes Avengers: Endgame since its indoctrination to the serialized narrative that was launched in 2008 with Robert Downey, Jr. starring in Iron Man fans of the superhero genre was suddenly validated for their lifelong dedication to what was unexpectedly revered as the exception to the lot.
Sure, there had been superhero films before (and really good ones at that) some dating as far back as Richard Donner’s landmark Superman: The Movie and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, even the very first X-Men was an exceptional adaptation to the big screen, but Jon Favreau tapped into the world in a way that few filmmakers had done before. Under the watchful eye of Kevin Feige, the pair set out on an ambitious pilgrimage that would forever evolve the blockbuster! What followed was unprecedented. A mythic god of thunder and an out-of-time war hero, that would take us to infinity and beyond.
That was then. Entering into the next phase of the MCU is going to take some fancy footwork! The future will depend on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange to connect audiences to what came before, with Captain Marvel continuing to chart the path forward, but the cinematic world has continued to push the boundaries and with SHANG-CHI and The Legend of The Ten Rings the studio takes one of the comic’s more obscure characters and thrusts the Master of the Martial Arts into the spotlight! Starring Simu Liu as the film’s headliner hero and elevating the profile of the Chinese-American hero to the forefront.
Finally, diversity is on full display with a cast that also stars Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, and legends of Asian cinema including Tony Chiu-Wai Leung and the extraordinary Michelle Yeoh, with none other than Ben Kingsley reprising one of the franchise’s most misunderstood characters, pushing the expectations for this martial arts heavy foray, that also explores the mystic origins of the East and are intricately fascinating under the expert eye of film director Destin Daniel Cretton. Shang-Chi is everything a blockbuster should be and perfectly sits alongside its MCU contemporaries.
Dating back to that first Marvel Studios release, fans will recall that industrialist weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.) is taken hostage by a group of terrorists who call themselves the “Ten Rings”. It wasn’t until Iron Man 3 that more was revealed about the organization, but it appeared as little more than a front to a master plan that utilized Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery, an actor hired to portray the role of “The Mandarin”, the head of an international conglomerate dedicated to subversion and terror. Unfortunately for Slattery, the true master of The Ten Rings was not amused.
The legend of the mythical Ten Rings is realized in Shang-Chi. The first act sets up Tony Chiu-Wai Leung’s Xu Wenwu, the true Mandarin and wielder of the powerful artifacts. Worn like a pair of gauntlets, the Ten Rings grant the bearer power to level empires and destroy dynasties, as well as longevity. Xu Wenwu’s power extends generations and thousands of years, and with every passing century he becomes more obsessed with accumulating power, that is — until he meets his match and falls in love. Chasing after the legend of the mythical land of magic, Xu Wenwu is challenged by its guardian and is defeated.
Xu Wenwu’s lust for power prevents him from entering this mystical region, and instead, he and Li (Fala Chen) abandon it all to begin a life together; forsaking his thirst for power and the gifts of The Ten Rings, at least for the moment. The two get married and begin a family, but it isn’t long before Xu Wenwu’s underworld past catches up with them, and it costs Xu Wenwu his most cherished treasure! In order to exact his revenge, he reestablishes his power base and begins to train his son, Shang-Chi to become the weapon that he’ll need to defend his legacy!
Entering the Ring
When we meet Shang-Chi (Liu) he’s simply “Sean” and has a job as a valet driver in an upscale San Fransisco hotel. His days (and nights) are made all the more special as he shares in misadventures with his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina) who is as unpredictable and daring, as “Sean” is ordinary, but when the pair are attacked by a team of highly trained assassins in a transit bus, Shang-Chi must reveal the truth to Katy. His father, Xu Wenwu has sent his soldiers to retrieve a pendant given to Shang-Chi by his mother; he doesn’t turn it over easily and expertly fends off the attackers — but loses the pendant.
Now he knows that he needs to find his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) before their father’s mercenaries can grab her half of the pendant and stop Xu Wenwu from fulfilling his dream of conquering the power hidden in the mystic land. Shang-Chi, Katy, and Xialing learn the truth about what terrible secrets are hidden in that sacred land and the home of their mother, and if they don’t stop Xu Wenwu, he might succeed in unleashing a centuries-old evil that will consume everyone on the planet! The stakes are high and for Shang-Chi and Katy, this is their one chance to rise to their potential and become heroes!
Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings expertly crafts its epic origin story to not only sit well within the established MCU timeline and tapestry, it weaves elements of what’s come before without making it feel like a stunt but a welcome revelation and exceeds at standing distinctly all on its own. Like its predecessors, it works from the beginning on the pretext that the audience will immediately fall in love with its lead characters — and we do! Both Liu and Awkwafina become effortlessly endearing from the start and you would follow them anywhere on the globe.
The story is replete with storytelling and legends that are indicative of the Marvel Universe, but most of all works well to introduce an entirely new avenue and experience that feels as much a part of the bigger picture as a segment of a landscape that is still much left to explore. Shang-Chi’s place of importance in the MCU is established by the film’s end, but exactly what it all means for what is in the works for our heroes in this next phase is anyone’s guess; in any event, audiences will find themselves hooked and ready to rumble with this latest superhero ready to save the day!
Marvel Studios’ SHANG-CHI and The Legend of The Ten Rings starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang with Tony Chiu-Wai Leung and Michelle Yeoh is in theaters now.