At the risk of being accosted by Marvel fanatics, I will admit that I had grown tired of the franchise’s seemingly endless parallel universes and eye-watering CGI. I’ve been watching since the first Iron Man film in 2008, but at some point my brain logged off from keeping up with the various characters and intersecting timelines. When I became fed up with the films I tried to migrate to watching the TV shows like Wandavision and Loki, but even these felt like an assault on my eyeballs and brain cells.
That was, until I decided to go to the cinema to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This may seem like a strange decision given my self-diagnosed Marvel malaise, but I’d only seen glowing reviews, and if there was one film I was going to support after not going to the cinema for over a year, it would be the first Marvel film with an Asian director and predominantly Asian cast.
Thankfully, I made an excellent decision. This film has taken a secondary character from the comics and cemented his place alongside other Marvel legends, and this is in no small part thanks to its charismatic star Simu Liu. Almost unbelievably, Shang-Chi is his first major film role, but his camera presence is that of an industry veteran. Throughout the film he deftly switches between the comedic lovable alter-ego of Sean to the courageous martial artist that is Shang-Chi, striking the perfect balance between a relatable and yet aspirational hero that has become a staple of Marvel’s protagonists. Aside from being the ideal leading man, Liu is also hilarious on Twitter.
It helps that the film’s supporting cast is stellar in their own right. Awkwafina plays Katy, the funny sidekick who represents the audience in her awe at Shang-Chi’s combative prowess and the magical creatures that are revealed in the second act. Most impressive to me however was Tony Leung, who skillfully elevates what is often a standard role in a superhero film – that of the absent and/or toxic parent. Leung’s portrayal of Shang-Chi’s father is thoughtful and complex, putting his character’s historical past as ‘The Mandarin’ and the stereotypical Fu Manchu in the comics to shame.
Similarly to the hugely successful Black Panther in 2018, Shang-Chi has proved that representation doesn’t mean low box office returns. Different is good, particularly within a franchise like Marvel, which has become so successful through its formula of humour and action. By now this should be a given, but the film industry (like so many other industries) is stuck in their ways. Die-hard Marvel fans need not fear – this film still treads familiar territory with its reliance on CGI and climactic battle scene worthy of the Avengers. But the film’s almost exclusively Asian cast and setting has undeniably revived the franchise and opens up a whole new avenue of storytelling. Shang-Chi will surely be an inspiring figure for Marvel’s next generation of Asian fans.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is available to watch in cinemas now.