Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has reignited my love of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be once again fully onboard the MCU hype train.
Ever since WandaVision concluded in early 2020, I’ve been struggling with a previously unfamiliar ailment: Marvel fatigue. While the first MCU Disney Plus series hooked me, the shows and movies that followed (Falcon and Winter Soldier and Black Widow) didn’t hit the spot. I was starting to become genuinely worried that I had outgrown Marvel after even the extremely well-received Loki series left me cold — although I did enjoy the final episode at least.
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My love affair with MCU was starting to look like it was headed for a breakup. That is, until I was introduced to a Marvel character I’d previously never even heard of before. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings isn’t just the best Marvel project of 2021, but it’s one of the best slices of the interconnected universe we’ve been treated to yet.
There is a myriad of reasons why Shang-Chi managed to do what Black Widow or Loki couldn’t, but before I get into them allow me to give a warning for those who haven’t seen the movie: This article contains full spoilers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
A fresh-faced hero
I’m by no means a comic reader. My comic book collecting days lasted about two weeks after I couldn’t stomach the eyewatering cost of buying graphic novels.
However, I’ve been watching Marvel cartoons and films all my life, not to mention having a sizeable hardbound Marvel encyclopedia as a youth. This has meant that the major Marvel players were already familiar to me even before they got the big-screen treatment.
I knew who Iron Man was prior to 2008, and I was even aware of the Guardians of the Galaxy before they became household names in 2014. However, Shang-Chi is a character I had zero familiarity with before he was given his own MCU movie this year.
Going into the film I had no idea what to expect from Shang-Chi as a character. Was he a hothead, cool as ice, an egomaniac with a drinking problem à la Tony Stark? Half my enjoyment of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings came from becoming acquainted with a whole new hero. Not to mention an equally brilliant supporting cast — Awkwafina's Katy needs her own spinoff movie, stat!
While Shang-Chi, also know as Shaun, isn’t the most dynamic personality in the MCU, being totally unaware of him prior to his origin movie felt refreshing compared to the most recent Marvel projects which have mostly relied on familiar faces.
It also helps that the actor who plays Shang-Chi, Simu Liu, is an extremely likable person and had me in stitches over the film's opening weekend as he displayed his remarkably strong meme game on social media.
A whole new world
I also loved the fictional setting of Ta Lo where the film’s third act takes place. Much like the characters in the film, this was a foreign land to me, and learning of its history and its inhabitant’s quest to protect its secrets added an extra enjoyable element to the film.
In the same way that Wakanda feels like its own character in Black Panther, Ta Lo is brimming with fantastical possibilities. After all, it’s located in an alternative dimension and home to a range of mythical creatures from Chinese folklore — how can you not get excited about that?
Much to my surprise, I’ve seen a few people online claim the film starts to lose its footing in its Ta Lo set third portion but I’d argue quite the opposite. Just when you think Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has shown you all of its tricks, it reveals the greatest surprise of them all.
A different type of film
As mentioned above I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Black Widow in particular, and I think the main reason why is because it felt so uninspired. It’s a film I’d already seen before in the MCU. It felt very reminiscent of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and even the Falcon and the Winter Soldier television series that came before it.
Shang-Chi, on the other hand, is a different type of Marvel movie. Sure, it’s got plenty of similarities with other MCU projects. There are lots of comic relief and quips, a focus on family dynamics and an awful lot of scenes that were clearly shot on a green screen, but it has a unique flavor nevertheless.
For the first hour or so, it’s basically a high-budget martial arts movie. You’ve got the over-the-top bus sequence followed by a scene where literal ninjas attack the heroes while they climb scaffolding on a skyscraper. It’s utterly ridiculous but still gloriously enjoyable.
Watching Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings felt refreshing, whereas all too often recent MCU projects have felt recycled and more than a little bit derivative.
The future looks bright
The upcoming slate of MCU projects for the remainder of 2021 has me even more excited. While Hawkeye is often the butt of Avengers-themed jokes, I’m excited that he’s getting his own Disney Plus series, especially if it includes a return of the Ronin Hawkeye who was glimpsed in Avengers: Endgame.
Then in the feature film space, we’ve got the Eternals, which looks promising if only because director Chloé Zhao is so talented I refuse to believe she’d have signed onto a Marvel project without assurances she could add her own flair to the film.
Closing out the year will be Spider-Man: No Way Home, and like the rest of the internet, the first trailer sent shivers down my spine. Suddenly my Marvel fatigue feels like a distant memory, and I have Shang-Chi to thank for bringing me firmly back into the fold.