The ever-expanding Marvel universe now (finally!) includes its first entry featuring a predominantly Asian cast in a movie that works both as a stand-alone action adventure and a fresh, fast-paced addition to the comic book saga.
Shang-Chi (Liu) is living a chilled life in San Francisco, working as a hotel valet by day and singing karaoke by night with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). However, when he is attacked on a bus by multiple assassins – revealing his own impressive martial arts skills – it is the first sign that his past has come back to haunt him.
That past involves his father Wenwu (Leung), the leader of the sinister Ten Rings organisation, who has great power thanks to ten ancient bracelet rings he wears. He wants to recruit Shang-Chi and his estranged sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), to help him on a nefarious quest fuelled by his own grief.
Each twist in the story is cleverly set up as the action moves from California to the Far East, and fantasy elements are seamlessly woven into the plot as events lead Shang-Chi and Katy to the hidden mystical village of Ta Lo. There are some great sequences – the bus attack and crash is stunning, a fight on a skyscraper is heart-stopping and a big CGI battle near the end is impressive – while the martial arts fight scenes are beautifully choreographed to the point that they often resemble a hypnotic dance.
While events do slow a little about two-thirds of the way in, this grabs your attention throughout because it’s not just about superheroes, or martial arts, or even magical legends. It’s also about family and relationships, from Shang-Chi and Katy’s believable (and rather lovely) friendship, and Shang-Chi’s relationship with his father, to Wenwu’s own struggles with grief and loss that make him far more than your regular comic book villain.
Leung is convincingly conflicted, angry and occasionally just downright nasty as Wenwu, and there is nice support from Michelle Yeoh and Meng’er Zhang (though they are both underused) as well as some fun Marvel cameos to watch out for. Of course, Awkwafina and Simu Liu’s performances are at the heart of the movie and they shine throughout, their characters both welcome, fun and interesting new recruits to the Marvel world.
Is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
This is a 12A certificate in the UK due to regular martial arts sequences, fights and depictions of violence.
Parents should note that there are flashback scenes in which Wenwu is shown being abusive to his young son, and also references to a trauma in Shang-Chi’s life that may upset younger viewers.
There are battle sequences featuring monsters, including a prolonged one at the end featuring fanged, winged creatures and a large creature that may scare the under-10s.
There are tense scenes throughout in which the main characters are in danger, but they are not too frightening and are resolved quickly.
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