REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Marvel Studios started off strong at the beginning of 2021 with WandaVision, but quickly lost steam with Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Black Widow. However, it seems that Marvel is picking up the pace again.

Out of the newer MCU solo origin stories, I would rank Shang-Chi above most. I would consider Shang-Chi above Doctor Strange; both films closely follow Marvel’s cookie-cutter formula, however Doctor Strange feels more like a copy-and-paste of Iron Man (rich genius is humbled through injury and learns to keep moving and channel their pain into a newfound ability). Doctor Strange does have the upper hand on visual effects, but Shang-Chi does not always feel like an MCU movie – it’s refreshing.

Perhaps the strongest element of Shang-Chi is its action sequences. The use of well-choreographed martial arts makes the film a thrilling watch, even with the knowledge that all MCU films end with a massive CGI battle scene. I prefer these close combat fight scenes because I find myself zoning out when watching hordes of CGI aliens run across the screen. I am all for the suspension of disbelief, especially in Marvel films, but I still feel a massive disconnect the more fantastical things get. Shang-Chi does fight masses of nameless villains, but he confronts smaller groups of antagonists, making the combat feel tighter and making the audience feel closer to the action. Furthermore, location adds a new dimension to the film’s action, specifically to an early fight sequence on a moving bus, which is synced so perfectly with the score. You realize that Shang-Chi is just some guy who happens to be really good at martial arts, and you are inclined to root for him. 

The side characters are also worth noting. Awkwafina plays an Awkwafina character, contrasted with Shang-Chi’s sister, Xu Xialing, who is arguably the same character as Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne in Ant-Man (the underestimated daughter who was never allowed to fight when she was young and has become hardened because her family who was never there for her). Nevertheless, it is clear that both Shang-Chi and Xialing have a lot of potential for future MCU projects, though it is slightly disappointing that they were not fully developed in their own film. However, the standouts are the parents, played by Tony Leung and Fala Chen. Tony Leung’s character, Wenwu, is a re-writing of his racist comic book counterpart as a character who is driven by human and more relatable motives, and is not the embodiment of yellow peril. And Ying Li is not simply a mother – she stands her ground and makes decisions for herself. She possesses a kind of grace that makes her presence known throughout the entire film.

Ultimately, Marvel knows how to make movies that will perform well at the box office. Perhaps it would have been too revolutionary for the MCU’s first East-Asian-led film to omit the CGI-Fest at the end in favor of diving deeper into its central character dynamic, but I am happy that Marvel believed in this film’s success.

PREVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

The newest installment of the MCU, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stars Simu Liu, Tony Leung, and Awkwafina. The film follows Shang-Chi (Liu) who is forced to reckon with his past with the introduction of the mysterious Ten Rings organization into his life. Shang-Chi premiered last weekend and shattered Labor Day weekend records, collecting $94.4 million. 

Disney CEO Bob Chapek had previously called the film’s release strategy an experiment, as it would be exclusively in theaters for a 45 day window rather than a joint release on Disney+ – which had been the case for Black Widow – the source for another theatrical release/streaming service controversy. Chapek called Shang-Chi’s release an experiment, which caused Liu to take to Twitter and declare “we are not an experiment,” rallying fans to make history on the film’s release date. Evidently the film has performed well – president of Marvel Studios clarified that Chapek’s statement was a misunderstanding – which is exciting that the MCU’s first Asian-led and Asian-directed film is receiving so much support. This potentially bodes well for Marvel’s next release, Eternals, directed by Oscar winner Chloé Zhao, who is also an Asian filmmaker. 

The film has received generally positive reviews, with praise for the performances from Liu and Leung as well as the film’s soundtrack, though the visual effects have received mixed reviews. I am keeping my hopes reasonably high that the film is not extremely MCU-formulaic, as over 20 of similar projects in the MCU have lowered my expectations. Nevertheless, I am always excited to be in an audience at a movie theater, especially to watch a big blockbuster film. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is now playing at the State Theater. 

 

REVIEW: WandaVision

Is WandaVision the internet’s favorite TV show right now because it’s the best thing on TV, or is just the only thing on TV? WandaVision is a new Disney+ original series that follows the characters Wanda Maximoff and Vision, who had not been featured in their own solo MCU projects up until this point. Starring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, the series riffs off of TV sitcoms through the decades, depicting Wanda and Vision trying to fit in with suburban life, only to discover that not everything is as it seems.

What makes the series so enticing is that it provides a much-needed release from the worn-out Marvel movie formula. WandaVision sticks out from the rest of the MCU stylistically, but it simultaneously patches up pre-existing plot holes in the MCU canon. The series explores some of the direct effects of the events of “The Blip” in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, but mostly importantly, it proves Wanda and Visions’ each have a place in the MCU. Wanda and Vision have both been minor characters thus far, and their characters lacked personality and motivation as they were bounced around from director to director. I was excited when Wanda was first introduced as a new female character in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but she was subsequently pushed to the side and thrown into a seemingly rushed romance with Vision, who had just as little development. However, creator and head writer, Jac Schaeffer, has dug into the characters’ messy foundation, revealing their complexity and prepping them with compelling characterization for their future in the MCU.

Although Wanda and Vision are both fantastical individuals with extreme, otherworldly abilities, Schaeffer has highlighted their sense of humanity in this crazy fictional world by crafting a heart-breaking story about their bond. This transforms Wanda and Vision into characters that audiences can empathize with rather than dismiss as lovebirds that were thrown into the film franchise as an afterthought. Episode 8, “Previously On,” delves into Wanda’s past, explaining her choices that were previously glossed over, and provides context for her connection to Vision. The episode is seemingly specific to Wanda and the toll Vision’s death in Infinity War took on her, but the episode also acts as a general representation of grief. The episode is timely, showing that even something as silly as a sitcom can provide some sense of comfort during troubling times.

That being said, the penultimate episode of a miniseries is a strange place to insert a backstory episode. If the episode had not been so beautifully written or if it had not provided the much-needed backstory for the series’ titular characters, I would have been more upset with the pacing of the show. The show’s plot is rather slow most of the time with a sudden cliffhanger at the end of each episode. This has been upsetting for some fans, who have spent the past seven weeks developing elaborate theories, only to be underwhelmed by the show’s conclusion. However, I have come around to the way the series progressed – but only after I realized exactly what the show was about. The show is about wise Vision, who is an android created with artificial intelligence, yet he is the character who best understands human emotion and empathy. And it is about loving Wanda, who is not an object in need of protection, but someone who discovers strength in emotion.

PREVIEW: WandaVision

WandaVision is the newest Disney+ original series, starring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany in their MCU roles of Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch and Vision. The series is Marvel’s first Disney+ original, and it also marks the first piece of media from the MCU since Spider-Man: Far From Home. The series follows Wanda and Vision trying to assimilate into suburban life, with the series stylized as TV sitcoms throughout the decades.

 

The series is said to take place after the events of Avengers: Endgame, but based on the 50s and 60s nature of the show, it’s unclear how exactly this story fits in with the larger MCU. The MCU has hinted at big changes and never-before-seen tropes and storylines to come, and with Elizabeth Olsen set to star in the Doctor Strange sequel, I’m hoping that WandaVision will not fall into the worn-out formula of the MCU.

 

The first two episodes of WandaVision are now available on Disney+, and episodes will drop weekly on Fridays with the finale premiering on March 5.

PREVIEW: Avengers: Endgame

Marvel fans, the time is finally upon us. A year after Infinity War, its follow-up, Endgame, is projected to mark the end of a very long Marvel era and the dawn of a new one. The transition has been going on for a few years now, with newer installments like Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Black Panther beginning to take over the stage from the original core band of heroes. Captain Marvel made history only last month as Marvel Studios’ first female-led superhero film, and the first female-led superhero film ever to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Captain Marvel, played by Brie Larson (Unicorn Store), is expected to play a vital role in Endgame as the remaining heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rally in a last-ditch effort to defeat intergalactic villain Thanos once and for all.

Endgame was directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who were also at the helm of Infinity War, and features an all-star ensemble cast. It comes out this Thursday, April 25th, and will be playing at the State Theatre, the Quality 16, the Ann Arbor 20 IMAX, and Emagine Saline.