Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is living a normal life with his best friend, Katy (Awkwafina), when his past suddenly comes back to haunt him. He is reunited with his father, Wenwu, (Tony Leung), and his sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). Shang-Chi struggles to pick whether to side with his father on his delusional quest or to go against him.
The first act of this film is electrifying. I was locked in from the first scene between Shang-Chi’s father and mother that harkens back to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The subsequent fight scene that takes place on a bus harkens back to Jackie Chan films. This film, by far, has the BEST action that Marvel has ever put on screen. I was in utter awe and by the end of the first act, I thought to myself, “Wow, did this just become my new favorite Marvel movie?”
The answer to that question is unfortunately no. The second act of the film does drag, mostly due to the exposition dump and the large number of flashbacks used. Not to mention, the third act of the film, while exciting, is definitely different from what I was expecting. The third act showdown moves away from the martial arts fighting that the film established in the first act and incorporates fantasy elements into the climax.
Another gripe I have with the film is the return of Ben Kingsley’s character from Iron Man 3. I found his humor did not work for me at all, plus he was the exposition dump character. Honestly, the Marvel tie-ins in the film felt forced and I think it would have been preferred if they were left out so the movie could stand more on its own.
Simu Liu does impress as Marvel’s latest new hero. His journey is a bit more internal as he must grapple with his family history and discover who he really is. Awkwafina’s character isn’t a kung-fu master by any means, but she is really funny in the film and is willing to help out in whatever way she can. Meng’er Zhang was also captivating and impressive as Xialing, but I wished we actually got to see a bit more character depth from her. Who really stole the film though is Tony Leung as Wenwu. Wenwu is presented as a typical power-hungry man, but his motivation here is driven by love, not world domination, which is what the villain usually wants in superhero films. His motivation in this film is also cliché, overall, but his drive was enthralling. He did not hold back at all even when facing his own children.
Overall, I was kind of impressed with Destin Daniel Cretton’s (Just Mercy, Short Term 12) direction here. This film proves that having diversity both behind and in front of the camera delivers exciting, innovative films and it helps Marvel feel fresh again. I am looking forward to seeing Shang-Chi again and hope that Marvel takes care and continues to raise the bar in terms of action.
I give Shang-Chi a B-