Film Review: ‘Shang-Chi’ Misses the Mark

Illustration by Gabriel Toscano

The next installment in the MCU has finally arrived, but do not let the hype surrounding “Shang-Chi” fool you: the film is a slog to get through. Even with “Shang-Chi’s” departure from the typical Marvel formula, it cannot help but feel underwhelming.

“Shang-Chi” stars Simu Liu and shows the audience Shang-Chi’s journey to confront his past. “Shang-Chi’s” first act stands as the highpoint of the film and it quickly crescendos into boredom once the movie throws away its grounded reality. The first act of the film features an impressive fight scene in a bus, which stands out from Marvel’s typical fight scenes where the action blends into the background. This is not the same caliber as a fight scene from “John Wick,” but it is still entertaining nonetheless. Seeing creative choreography from a studio that notoriously takes away creative freedom from their directors is a positive. While Liu’s portrayal of Shang-Chi does ache of a lack of charisma, this first act at least gives the character a decent level of relatability.

A character with no relatability is Katy, played by none other than Awkwafina. She is one of two characters thrown into the film for comic relief. If a viewer of “Shang-Chi” is a fan of Marvel’s cutesy, not-even-a-joke style of humor, then they will likely find several knee-slappers in the film. If one is not a fan of this style of humor, then Awkwafina will prove to be the human equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Ben Kingsley is also tossed into “Shang-Chi ” for comic relief and his character is even more pointless than Awkwafina’s. His inclusion is for fan service and a few unfunny jokes. His character has no resolution and it feels as though the director forgot that Kingsley was in this movie.

The forced comedy is not the only pointless thing in “Shang-Chi”. Much of the movie feels entirely purposeless in retrospect. As mentioned, the first act does provide the best action scenes and features the bare minimum of character development. However, everything that takes place after this introduction is uninteresting and messy. There are hints of father-son drama, which is one of the few positives as the story progresses. It takes its time to get to these moments, however. A slow pace is not a bad thing, but it does not help “Shang-Chi” since the extra time it takes to build up conflict does not amount to anything once the credits roll. This point is made clear when the film throws away a satisfying confrontation between Shang-Chi and his father in favor of an eye-melting CGI battle. The martial arts action, originally a highpoint in the first act of the film, becomes just as eye-melting once the magical powers of the Ten Rings are involved. The film is over 2 hours long and much more could have been done to ensure the pace of the film did not drag.

“Shang-Chi’s” attempt to break away from Marvel traditions is commendable, but it does not create a quality film. A character such as Shang-Chi deserves a better film than this. It feels especially underwhelming when compared to recent successes such as “The Suicide Squad,” which takes entertaining risks and had barely any production studio intervention. “Shang-Chi” will seemingly suffer the same fate as many of the Marvel movies that have come before it: to be forgotten about in a couple of months.

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