PG-13 because it is a Marvel movie. There are more intense Marvel movies than others. This is probably one of the more tame ones. My wife pointed out that probably a lot of people died because of the insane amount of violence in the movie. It's all amazingly choreographed fighting, which makes you think that people aren't dying, but they have to be...right? That and the fact that it has typical Marvel swearing. Marvel likes dropping the s-bomb whenever it can and Shang-Chi is no different. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Destin Daniel Cretton
I did it. I went to go see a movie in the theater. I'm not advocating that people go see movies in the theater. Lord knows that if Shang-Chi came out for Disney Premiere Access, I would totally see it there. But it is a week out and we went to a late Monday night show, ensuring that there was practically no one else in the theater. While I don't love watching movies with a mask on, I also really hate people spoiling Marvel movies for me. Luckily, my wife came around on the idea and we played it super cool. Here's me still preaching that films should be available at home, but at least it is something that I could low-key control.
Marvel movies are Marvel movies. I'm still going to say that they're great. I'm still going to swear that no one film has completely dropped the ball. Even the worst of the Marvel movies is still a very watchable film and Shang-Chi lives up to that reputation. Heck, I'm going to even say that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is straight up great. But I am coming around to the idea that they are starting to distinguish themselves from the other movies in the franchise due to how the directors decide to handle tone. Tone is so important to these movies. It's also remarkably hard to handle. But I'm going to forever think of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a tank of a title in its own right, as the cute one. I know. It's almost insulting to be referred to as the cute one. But a lot of that comes from the vulnerability that this movie just wears in every scene, especially from the male lead of this movie, Simu Liu. I try not to carry too much personal baggage into a movie before going in, but this is a guy who sees his big break. Liu, for those who have avoided the memes, got his start in stock photography, all of which is coming back to remind him about his humble beginnings. But that underdog quality about him breathes within his character of Shang.
Shang-Chi has always been one of those underdog titles at Marvel. I have a handful of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu comics somewhere in my collection. (I know exactly where. They're under S, for Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu.) But I mostly know about Shang-Chi from his cameo appearances in other people's books. He'll mostly tinker around with Iron Fist and Luke Cage. Sometimes he'll be second-fiddle with a Daredevil-level character. If he's really lucky, he can share a small arc with Spider-Man. But that reputation has that Little Engine that Could quality about it. Shang-Chi was never meant to be a heavy hitter. One could argue the same is true about Guardians of the Galaxy. (Note: My Internet is being a butt again, so links are not going to be available probably.) But Shang-Chi was always someone in someone else's story. He wanted to take down his big crime boss of a father, but not many particularly followed that story.
But Kevin Feige kind of sees potential in these underdogs. Casting someone like Simu Liu across from Tony Leung is the underdog that Shang-Chi is in the greater Marvel Universe. He just seems so earnest up there and it looks like he's having so much fun, despite the fact that this movie had to be incredibly taxing and difficult to pull off. There's this freedom about him that he's not being held up to the standards of a Captain America or a Spider-Man because Shang-Chi probably doesn't have these famous arcs that affect the cultural zeitgeist. Instead, we have it all be about family and fatherhood. (And there's my trigger. We got a handful of paragraphs before I started weeping about my father, didn't I?) But the rest of the film kind of matches the attitude that Simu Liu presents. These are a group of adventures who have rich lives, but just seem happy to be on an adventure. By making Shang / Shawn and Katy valet drivers, it creates this really fun dynamic on why they would be psyched to go on an adventure across dimensions. It has a Bill and Ted attitude without the stupidity behind it.
But Cretton also knows what the heck he's doing behind the camera. I talked about how Shang-Chi is unique in tone and I kind of stand by that. But I also think that Cretton owes a lot to Ryan Coogler and Black Panther in realizing that culture isn't about otherness, but about celebration. The reason that Black Panther resonated as much as it did is that it didn't diminish the role of Black people to victim. Instead, it was a celebration of accomplishment. On screen, Black origins weren't about subjugation. They were about strength and tradition and empowerment. Shang-Chi, the comic, stemmed from the exploitation films of the '60s. Black Panther similarly was a white man writing what he thought that Black people wanted to read. Shang-Chi easily could have been about emotional yellowface. After all, Shang seems to be naturally gifted with the martial arts, an idea that has been passed down in American pop culture for ages. But instead, this movie never tries pretending that white people have to be the gatekeepers of what Asian people can do. It takes the character of the Mandarin, a problematic idea that has been the elephant in the room for two movies, and then allowed there to be a reasonable answer. Instead of making him violent and the product of propaganda, he becomes a husband who misses his wife. Instead of rings on his elongated fingers, he has these powerful weapons that simply enhance his strength. There's all this stuff where the film takes back the mistakes of cultural appropriate and hands it back to the proper audience.
And the choreography! Listen, we have a lot of Marvel movies right now. I can't believe that I won't consider them too many because I'm super jazzed for everything on Marvel's docket right now. I hope I never grow tired or have Marvel fatigue. But there have been some epic fight sequences in this series and I didn't think that a movie could improve on those fight sequences. But the movie really is a triumph of fight choreography. I hate to say it, but some of the fight sequences were emotionally lovely. That sounds goofy and I can't undo that sentence because it is true. That fight between Xu Wenwu and Li was romantic as heck and I didn't see that coming. I tend to think of "rad fight sequences" as detracting from a film, but Shang-Chi really understands the value of movement and spectacle without sacrificing narrative or character.
Yeah, there are moments that are a little cliché, but Marvel gets it overall. The return of Trevor Slattery is one of my favorite decisions. I know that Trevor upset people in Iron Man 3, but I love that Marvel is not apologizing for him in any way. He's such a good character and putting him as this dumb white guy in the middle of an Asian heavy movie is just a brilliant move. Everything in the movie works. Right now, I'm going out of my way to praise Akwafina as well. I have nothing specifically to say besides the fact that she is great and I don't think I've ever rooted for a romantic love interest in future movies than I did with Katy and Shang. I do hope that future films play this concept up, along with the potential for Xialing to play a villain in upcoming films. But the movie absolutely slaps. It's a pretty great Marvel movie and I'm still on board.
That being said, please release them at home. The theater is a dangerous place!
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.