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‘Shang-Chi and the Legend’ review: Marvel’s best since ‘Black Panther’

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One of Marvel’s best loved films, “Black Panther,” is based on a comic book most moviegoers barely knew anything about when they walked into the theater. Didn’t matter. The flick made $1.3 billion at the box office and was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.


movie review

Running time: 132 minutes. Rated PG-13 (sequences of violence and action, and language.) In theaters.

Don’t expect “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” which is also not quite a “Spider-Man,” to become the cultural phenomenon that “Black Panther” did (not every superhero movie gets its own New York Fashion Week party, ya know) — but the effect is much the same. It’s fresh, it’s alive, it’s not the same old Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There are also awesome dragons.

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) starts out as dinky Shaun, an unassuming San Francisco layabout who parks cars with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Then, one day while the duo is riding the bus home, a group of martial arts thugs attacks Shaun in an attempt to steal a pendant off his necklace. 

Not as lazy as we thought, he kicks their asses.

It’s an exhilarating, unforgettable sequence that mixes the jokes-meet-danger fighting style of Jackie Chan with the Keanu Reeves movie “Speed.” 

The bracing scene establishes director Destin Daniel Cretton, whose biggest credit to date is the courtroom drama “Just Mercy,” as an emerging force in the action genre.

Shang-Chi's true identity is revealed during an exhilarating fight on a San Francisco bus.
Shang-Chi’s true identity is revealed during an exhilarating fight on a San Francisco bus.
©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Evere

Shaken, a confused Katy can’t believe the friend she thought she knew is, in fact, a deadly kung-fu master. Awkwafina sells her shock hilariously with her incredulous faces.

She learns that Shaun is really Shang-Chi, and his estranged father is Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), a k a The Mandarin — a centuries-old being who controls the magical ten rings device and the terrorist organization of the same name.

“You changed Shang to Shaun?,” Katy asks as they head to Japan to rescue Shang-Chi’s sister. “It’s no wonder your father found you.”

Together with his sibling Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), Shang-Chi and Katy race to stop Wenwu from invading the mythical city of Ta Lo (kinda like Wakanda), where he believes his thought-to-be-dead wife is being held hostage.

The MCU keeps absorbing movie genres like a sponge: The recent “Black Widow” was a strong espionage thriller and “Deadpool” channeled Judd Apatow’s foul-mouthed schlub flicks. With “Shang-Chi,” they’ve crafted not only an excellent comic book movie, but a superb martial arts film.

The casting — unlike that of “Snake Eyes,” which recently tried and failed to do pretty much what “Shang-Chi” is — is perfection.

Liu, who’s a newcomer to movies of this boffo scale, is easy to embrace. Since moviegoers don’t know him very well yet, his identity revelation and transformation into an Avenger have a believability that, say, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo’s did not.

Simu Li plays Shang-Chi, an exciting new Marvel movie hero, in "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."
Simu Liu plays Shang-Chi, an exciting new Marvel movie hero, in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Evere

He really proves his hero chops in the final clash in Ta Lo, featuring two spectacular dragons (one looks like Fin Fang Foom, but Disney says it’s not the same lizard). It’s the most exciting end to an MCU movie since “Avengers: Endgame.”

Liu is also given a boost by the strong personalities in his orbit. Awkwafina is here to crack the jokes we want from the always funny actress, but this time she gets to mix in some badass stunts, too. Most of the emotional texture comes from Zhang, whose femme fatale feels abandoned by her big brother. Michelle Yeoh is even in this!

There is one knock-down-drag-out funny actor I won’t mention by name— he’s not even in the credits — but remember these two words: chicken pig.

Liu, who's a newcomer to movies of this boffo scale, is easy to embrace. Since moviegoers don't know him very well yet, his identity revelation and transformation into an Avenger have a believability that, say, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo's did not.
Liu, who’s a newcomer to movies of this boffo scale, is easy to embrace. Since moviegoers don’t know him very well yet, his identity revelation and transformation into an Avenger have a believability that, say, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo’s did not.
Walt Disney Co.



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