So my track record for Phase 4: WandaVision and FATW were passable entries with weak conclusions, I haven’t set my eyes on either Loki or the What If series, Black Widow actually keeps getting WORSE with plot holes and logic gaps up the ass the more I watch it and while it still may be early to tell, the No Way Home teaser is a foretelling of a really fun, nostalgic throwback destined to be handicapped by its own convoluted structure and any messy contradictions.
Not even a quarter of the way through Phase 4 and “Shang Chi” already has me feeling incongruous about the rest of the MCU's future. The inevitable positive reception didn’t deter me FOR ONCE so I went in with no particular expectations and after speculation, this film is…..
It’s SOLID. Faulty, but solid.
Simi Liu is a remarkable performer in his first big blockbuster and unlike Ferdia Shaw, it was an opportunity that he did not squander, thanks to being charismatic and a little bit sly. Standing alongside the likes of Michelle Yeoh, Fala Chen, Meng'er Zhang, Benedict Wong, the returning Tim Roth and Ben Kingsley and Awkwafina amongst others, who were also incredibly solid? Not bad, if I say so myself.
The best actor in this would have to go to Tony Leung Chiu-wai; while all the other characters might win you over by their charisma or charm, the antagonist wins you over by doing a great job in making sure he doesn’t completely descend into what feels like a caricature of your typical bad guy. Sure, he doesn’t entirely portray the three dimensional bowels of a misguided father but the blueprints are there.
Given Marvel has a habit to strip creative control away from certain directors and writers to fit a certain mold, I wasn’t certain on whether Destin Daniel Cretton’s style would actually squeegee into that mold. It is safe to say he did sufficiently craft this fantasy-like together like a seasoned pro, understanding exactly what he had on his hand and doing his damnedest to work around it.
Everything is shot and edited with a dash of panache, supporting the visual spectacle. I wouldn’t say everything is a stand-out visual marvel but enough of it is.
I will say that the choreography for the fight scenes in this is the best the MCU has had in a long freakin’ time. The lack of nauseating shaky cam greatly improves the fluidity of each punch or kick that connects but the choreography on its own, coordinated by Christopher Clark Cowen, is so swift and reminiscent of the martial arts epics of the 70’s and 80’s. It can get lost in the special effects bedazzle the longer the movie goes on but as a tribute to the late Brad Allan, it was a joy to watch, especially the close-up work and the Chinese weaponry on display.
Speaking of which, outside of doing away with many of the hurtful Asian clichés and stereotypes of accents and bad drivers, while also calling out some of the racial errors from Marvel's past, I can say everyone praising this for representation of Chinese culture is understandably justified. Most of how the set is constructed and the costume design better help emerge you into that intertwined weave of Asian culture and reminding me of Black Panther with a drop dead gorgeous aesthetic is a pretty difficult feat for me nowadays.
The story is decent, although a little lacking in parts (I’ll get to that later). It’s a decent attempt at further expanding the overall lore while adding some nice Chinese mythical callbacks and lot of heart at its core. It understands that one of the most important things to take into consideration regarding creating a character-driven narrative is to look at those narrative elements that you’ve got at your disposal and do something to honor the context and continuity you have created.
It does that…..but it DOESN’T do that and that is when the poo hits the fan because the action sequences literally overshadow everything else; all of the other elements ranged from ok to mildly disappointing.
Dialogue is very VERY loopy. As a whole, I’d say it’s some of the worst in the entire MCU.
Comedy doesn’t overshadow most of the dramatic moments for once, but it doesn’t help that said comedy isn’t all that immersive. It ranges from ok to….the typical overbearing nonsense that happens when they do stomp over an emotional moment.
Outside of the script containing a plot that has its fair share of generic elements and serviceable characters, the plot simply takes you whatever way is convenient to get to the next big scene with the bare minimum of character development or consistency to plod on through. It doesn’t help that the pacing drastically slows down by the next hour and the structure eventually dissolves into the typical Marvel-esque spot-fest.
Also, I will admit it’s Chinese/Asian American representation, martial arts epics-style throwbacks and presentation isn’t held together as tightly woven as I would’ve liked. Outside of garnering the basic of background info on the characters and the freakin’ Ten Rings, none of the information feels fleshed out and integrated enough to truly make me feel something, especially the third act that just went on and on and ON AND ON AND ON…..
Shang Chi isn’t an experiment, it’s actually a template: a template on how Marvel actually CAN craft together a uniquely feeling superhero movie without having it adhere to the same formula over and over and over again. Presentation wise, it is the less ‘Marvel’ of the Marvel Brunch, definitely looking and feeling different as opposed to what came before but there still isn’t much there as far as context.
Similar to Cruella, the best bit of praise I can give this is that it made me forget I was even watching a MCU film…..and I guess that inherits it’s own bit of praise.