Okay, okay. I am more calm than I was when I wrote that review *checks clock* 15 minutes ago. Let’s look at this more rationally and critically.
Guys, this movie is truly amazing. Just… I’m still floored. I want to turn around and go watch it again.
Okay, it turns out I am really bad at objectivity.
I am also saying “Okay” a LOT.
Let’s talk a bit about the flick! That will help.
Shang-Chi is NOT a character I have ever been super familiar with, even for as big of a Marvel fan as I am. What little I have read of the character have been his guest shots in books I did read, and even those were pretty sparse for the guy. I know he showed up with some small amount of frequency in Ultimate Spider-Man, but beyond that? Little comes to mind. If you would have asked me about the character before today, I’d have said “I think he fights karate-based crime?” and left it at that.
So does the movie do a good job adapting the comic book version of Shang-Chi? I couldn’t begin to tell you.
As for THIS iteration of Shang-Chi, he is the son of Wenwu and Jiang Li. The former, his father, is a ruthless gangster and the head of the Ten Rings. He found the rings a thousand years ago, and they make him immortal and give him vague ring-shootie kind of powers. The latter, his mother, was the guardian of the mythical Ta Lo. The two met, fell in love, and they each left their life behind to start a family.
Wenwu’s past catches up with them, though, as members of The Iron Gang arrive at their house and kill Jiang Li. They are really the most polite gangsters out for revenge you will ever see–they show up, announce themselves, and let Wenwu’s children go free so they can just kill Jiang Li.
This drives Wenwu back to his evil ways, and he starts training Shang-Chi to be a star assassin, finally tasking him with killing the man responsible for his mother’s death. Shang-Chi takes the mission, but never returns. He instead starts a life in America.
He has settled in as a valet parking agent in San Francisco at the start of the movie, but is quickly dragged into the plot–with his best friend Katy–by his father’s minions. Along the way, he reunites with his sister, Xialing, who has also grown into a fierce warrior.
Turns out, dad wants them back in the fold because the spirit of his wife has been speaking to him, telling him she was taken back to Ta Lo, resurrected, and imprisoned behind a gate for having left her home. Wenwu is marshaling his forces for an invasion on the realm.
Shang-Chi, Xialing, and Katy manage to get there first thanks to MOTHER FUCKING TREVOR SLATTERLY, in an appearance that almost makes Iron Man 3 worth it (Wenwu was the basis for his Mandarin character, cementing that we aren’t ever going to get a “real” Mandarin after all), and there they find out what Ta Lo is really all about… and get ready to meet Wenwu’s forces when they arrive.
I clearly loved this movie. So obviously, let’s start off by talking about the negatives.
First of all, I didn’t quite catch the names of Wenwu and Jiang Li in the movie, and until I looked them up for this article, just kept calling them “his mom” and “his dad”. When one of those two is the antagonist of the movie… it’s really kind of weird not to know his name or what to call him.
So that’s all of the negatives.
I mean… all right, it’s an MCU flick. It’s MCU meets Crouching Tiger, but it’s still MCU at heart. If you don’t like the MCU, this is unlikely to be the film that changes your mind too much. It’s got action scenes and a ton of CGI and a lot of humor that I wouldn’t call forced, but others might. It’s MCU jokes. Man, you know them by now. You either love the MCU light-heartedness or you don’t. It’s MCU trying on new pants, but it’s still MCU.
The movie is gorgeous. Easily the best fight choreography we have seen in an MCU movie, so I’m talking about the breath-taking fight scenes, sure. But aside from that, there are just gorgeous Eastern-inspired settings and creatures and costuming. You can get lost just looking at this film. Beautiful.
You’ve already seen clips of the Bus Fight scene in the trailers, so it’s not like that part of the movie will take you by surprise, but it’s even better than you think it will be. Jiang Li and Wenwu have a battle upon first meeting (Wenwu is trying to break into Ta Lo when he meets her), and it’s glorious. If you enjoy martial arts fight scenes, you are in for a treat.
Simu Liu and Awkwafina are both stars here, and everyone else is, at worst, perfectly good. But those two carrying the heavy lifting more than work out. Tony Leung brings Wenwu to life with one of the more more nuanced and sympathetic villain portrayals in Marvel’s movie history. Sure, he’s the villain, but you actually feel for him, and his motivations are easily believable. He’s not just the evil-for-evil’s-sake baddie we’ve seen before.
It’s just… sensational to look at, funny right where it needs to be, and the ending… I did not see the climax of this movie coming. I didn’t even mention it in the spoilers section because it was such a turn I wasn’t thinking of.
Let me see how to put this… I don’t give movies 5 stars on Letterboxd after one watch. I just don’t, almost as a rule. Since COVID-19 started, I’ve watched between 200-300 movies, the vast majority of which were first time watches.
In that time, I’ve given several 4.5 star reviews, knowing if I watched them again, they will probably bump up to a 5. The ONLY new watch I gave an immediate 5-star review to was Groundhog Day.
Until tonight. I feel entirely comfortable giving Shang-Chi the ol’ fiver.
I didn’t give The Exorcist a five.
I didn’t give Shawshank Redemption a five.
Now, am I saying Shang-Chi is better than The Exorcist or The Shawshank Redemption?
But there is something to be said for Results Vs Expectations. I EXPECTED The Exorcist to be great. I KNEW Shawshank would be fantastic. They both matched exactly what I anticipated.
For Shang-Chi, I just went in expecting a solid mid-tier MCU flick–and that’s still saying something because I LOVE the MCU–and it just wow’ed me.
So here I am, feeing wow’ed and honestly just wishing I could go watch it again right away. So, sure. Five stars. I regret nothing.
I know what I’m doing. I KNOW. I’m overblowing this. You’re going to see it now, and it’s entirely possible you will leave thinking “That’s not nearly as good as Stew told me”. That’s fair! But I really loved this movie.
I hope you do, too.