Saturday, September 11, 2021

FCP Week 3--Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

 It's Saturday and I'm sitting down to write this while a great many people in the Ohio area are most certainly watching football. Does this discourage me? No. It only makes my conviction stronger. My crusade to put something else in your weekend social networks feed beside football is still going. And I won't stop.

This week, it's a continuation of the Marvel theme that I started a few week ago. This time it's a movie review for the newest entry in the MCU--Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

In case you aren't big MCU fans--or in case you just haven't been following entertainment news in the last months, a brief explanation.

Shang-Chi . . . is the 25'th MCU movie. But it is the first one with a majority (almost entire?) Asian cast. As the MCU moves into Phase 4 of it's decades-plus project, it continues widening its scope in character, setting, culture. Most definitely this expansion in representation is a very long time coming. But this story put a spotlight on that effort and raised the stakes in the movie's success.

Shang-Chi has a comics history. As I have learned in recent weeks of podcasts and blog post readings, his comics story originated in the 1970s when Marvel chose to capitalize on the kung-fu craze that the United States was experiencing thanks to Bruce Lee and Enter The Dragon. (Along with David Carradine's "Kung Fu" TV show.) In my own life, I remember these kung fu movies playing on Saturday afternoons when I was a kid. Such things were not my favorite types of entertainment, but over the years I've watched bits and pieces of these movies. In the 1980s, I loved the Snake Eyes G.I. Joe character. I'm certainly familiar with the stereotypes and the tropes that have defined and surrounded some of the Asian portrayals that have happened in my lifetime.

For a very illumination look at more of this history of Asian stereotyping and a in-depth intro (?) into the culture of it--and how it specifically relates to Shang-Chi, I recommend this Ringer post. It helps explain what hurdles the newly rebooted Shang-Chi comics and this movie in particular fought against.

So, how did I enjoy the movie itself? I really, really enjoyed it. After the movie, we discussed it and updated the MCU Rankings to reflect its score. As you can see, it ranked very high--into our top five.

What did I like about the movie? I really liked the characters! Shang-Chi was interesting and certainly his father (the villain--sort of) of the movie was also interesting and engaging and I felt more involved with his story than most MCU villains.

The cinematography of the movie was truly outstanding. Some of the scenes and the special effects employed was quite amazing and beautiful to look at. The music was good, if not the best MCU soundtrack that I've ever heard. And the movie was funny when it should be and serious when it needed to be. The story was engaging.

Even though it sounds bad of my to say this, I thought that the bus fight in the first thirty minutes of the movie was a stand out moment. Fundamentally, this movie is an origin story to introduce you to who Shang-Chi is and why his story is important. But it isn't a character drama. Its an action movie. And that bus fight scene was the most impressive action sequence of the whole movie. I have always liked the Lumerian Star ship fight scene at the start of Captain America: The Winter Soldier as my favorite action sequence in the MCU. But this Shang-Chi bus scene was much more impressive.

Some of the best choices made in the movie were also the most surprising. Including the return of Trevor Slattery--the MCU character played by Ben Kingsley in one of my favorite MCU movies, Iron Man 3. Kingsley's Slattery "portrays" the famous comics villain The Mandarin. And his version of that character is played for laughs and definitely opened up some interesting questions when the plot of this movie was first announced. But the return of Slattery provided Marvel a chance to apologize in a way for their whitewashing of the character. I thought Slattery's return was appropriate and interesting.

What I didn't like about the movie? That said . . . I thought that Slattery's involvement in the movie was longer than it needed to be. And I really didn't need more and more of Morris the magical cat/dog/bird thing that was Slattery's sidekick. Morris himself represented the third act shift of the movie plot that spun it from a street-level movie about a martial artist and the crime syndicate that he knew too much about. 

Instead it abruptly shifted into a magic, mystical, otherworldly story that has clearly become the focal point of MCU Phase 4. And if you didn't need too much of that, then your opinion of this movie likely dropped from that point forward. I didn't mind it, exactly. But it was the least interesting and least developed part of the plot.

I hope that you take some time to go and see this film in a safe and thoughtful way. If you like Marvel movies, I think that you will like this one. And if you don't like it . . . well, there is always football to take up your time. 

But I really hope you don't choose that route.

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