Movie review: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
"Let's get Tony Leung."
Those four words amount to the best decision Marvel has made in a long time.
Just five minutes into Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, which is currently showing in cinemas here, I was already hoping to get a prequel with the Hong Kong acting legend.
It may seem odd to highlight the films' villain rather than title star Simu Liu – but that is the difference Leung makes.
He exudes an assured, though sinister, calm you would expect from someone who is, in effect, invincible. But this is no bad guy to boo and hiss at.
His portrayal of Xu Wenwu is another example of a Marvel villain you cannot help but empathise with. Leung's soulful portrayal really makes you feel for the guy and makes you as invested in his path as much as the title character's.
For the film itself, this could be the best individual outing since Captain America: The Winter Soldier changed the Marvel game in 2014.
It packs a lot in and does not completely follow the Marvel formula, which is a good thing.
After all, it does begin with a wuxia love story in Mandarin (and the use of the language is very refreshing for a Hollywood film).
What is really admirable – especially for a film set to relaunch the MCU – is the maturity of the tone and the turns the story takes. Not all is black and white and in places, it smartly plays with your assumptions to create some impressive rug pulls.
Okay, there is a brief diversion to a treasure hunt caper – but that does yield some of the funniest moments.
Marvel has yet again pleased the casting gods. While he did not seem the obvious choice, Liu is perfect for this version of Shang-Chi.
Humble in nature, even awkward about having to show off his ripped physique, then switching instantly into – as the comic version was labelled – Master of Kung Fu.
The chemistry between Liu and Awkwafina (as Shang-Chi's best friend Katy) strikes a perfect balance between strictly pals and old married couple.
With these films, the quiet moments need to stand out from the action. No issue here.
That said, Shang-Chi takes Marvel's action choreography to a new level of thrilling and the camera dances with the movement.
It's also good to see gongfu legend, Yeun Wah, as a curmudgeonly warrior.
However, the film is not perfect.
As we saw with Black Widow, there is a danger with recent Marvel films for the story to demand too much from the CGI, and here there are points where you can see the join. As the more fantastical moments built up, this reviewer felt more detached and wanting smaller, more intimate battles.
But overall, Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is still a grand return for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, the Disney+ shows are good, but those were side servings. The main course has been served.
Not only does this feel like Phase 4 has been kicked into gear, it also gives hope that Marvel is ready to evolve.
FILM: Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings
STARRING: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Benedict Wong
WRITER-DIRECTOR: Destin Daniel Cretton
THE SKINNY: After years of living a civilian life in San Francisco as Shaun, Shang-Chi (Liu) finds out his dad (Leung) wants to reunite. But his father is the head of the Ten Rings crime syndicate, who trained his son to be a living weapon, and has an ulterior motive.