Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Marvel takes a turn

Review: The latest offering from the MCU is pleasingly snappy and energetic

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings
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Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cert: 12A
Genre: Action
Starring: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong
Running Time: 2 hrs 13 mins

Now, here is an unusual fellow to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. First arriving in 1973, the vaguely remembered Shang-Chi fronted Marvel’s response to the kung fu craze then dominating popular culture. It tells us much about how times have changed that the original incarnation was son to Sax Rohmer’s offensively stereotyped, “inscrutably” evil Chinese genius Fu Manchu. It’s a little as if the MCU has embraced an emanation of The Black and White Minstrel Show.

It's not really. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings works hard at showing respect to its Asian characters and settings. Borrowing moves from Jackie Chan and the "wire fu" school of martial arts movie, the picture rattles along with an unpretentious vigour too rare in the Marvel universe. The character's father – now a centuries-old warlord named Wenwu – still has his issues, but he is sufficiently fleshed out to be played by the veteran Tony Leung (as opposed to Boris Karloff with a beard made from dried spaghetti).

Inevitably, Shang-Chi grinds off into the usual massed apocalypse in its final half hour, but, to that point, it has been impressively light on its feet.

There is a great deal of plot to ignore. Shang-Chi, played with charm by Canadian polymath Simu Liu, has been trained as a mighty killer by Dad before making his way to a relatively normal life in San Francisco. The irrepressible Awkwafina steals every scene – that is her special power, after all – as his best pal Katy. One odd day, Katy is thrown against Shang’s implausible past when super-powered assassins attack him on a bus and, as he flings them hither and thither, she is required to pilot the vehicle down the city’s famously vertiginous streets. It is a super sequence characteristic of a film that favours slapstick over bombast.

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Thank all the relevant deities that we are spared too much winding in of narratives from the larger Avengers universe. The most direct connection with the earlier movies comes courtesy of an unexpected supporting turn that will delight even those who have no idea where the relevant character sprang from (is that sufficiently vague?).

Destin Daniel Cretton, director of Just Mercy and Short Term 12, continues Marvel's reasonably successful practices of unlikely hires from the indie sector. The dialogue is snappy. The action has real kinetic clatter. What a strange industry this has become.

Opens on September 3rd

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist