Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings movie posterSynopsis
Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is heir to the villainous Ten Rings organization, an inheritance he does not want. After escaping and hiding for several years, Shang-Chi faces the Ten Rings again to stop his father (Tony Leung), the leader of the ancient organization, from unleashing an evil that could destroy the world.

Review
After the epic scale of Avengers: Endgame, it is a nice change of pace to come back to stories that are smaller and more personal. Black Widow might have been the first film released in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but chronologically, it was before Avengers: Infinity War. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first film in the future proper of the MCU. And in the same vein of Phase One’s Iron Man, it takes place on a small scale and very personal level but opens the door for a much larger future.

Not too long ago, I went through the entire series of Kim’s Convenience, where Simu Liu plays the character of Jung Kim. It’s jarring to see him transition from a comedy role to an action role; I imagine it is the same feeling fans of The Office felt when they saw John Krasinski first play Jack Ryan. Anyway, Liu performed the action parts just as well as he did the comedy parts. His star power is quickly on the rise and I can’t wait to see more of him in the MCU.

As much as I like comedy, one thing that MCU films have had difficulty with is finding a good balance between humor and seriousness. Thor: Ragnarok is one example of an offender of this. However, Shang-Chi was able to balance these aspects much better than many of its predecessors. It helped that rather than have every character be the comedy relief, that role mostly fell on the shoulders of Awkwafina. Awkwafina as Shang-Chi’s friend (not love interest) Katy helped balance the film well. She had her comedic moments but they weren’t overbearing and never took away from the more sincere or somber moments. I hope future MCU films take note of this character and how to handle comedy in superhero films going forward.

Many comic fans did not like the Mandarin’s portrayl in Iron Man 3. I’m not a die-hard fan of the character of Iron Man so I enjoyed the character twist in that film. I especially like the follow up one-shot, Long Live the King, which follows Trevor Slattery after the events of Iron Man 3, which teased the appearance of the real Mandarin. Slattery, played by Ben Kingsley, is an entertaining character that Kingsley completely morphs into and always gets a laugh out of me. I was ecstatic to see him incorporated into the story in this film, especially after the previously mentioned tease at the end of Long Live the King. Kingsley once again plays the character to perfection and created some of the best laughs of the movie.

Way back in my State of the MCU Address, I stated that I wanted Shang-Chi to embrace its character’s roots and fully embrace the martial arts action side of things. And in that regard, this film did not disappoint. Every set piece was exciting and packed with exhilarating action sequences. It really channeled the Kung Fu roots of the character and let loose.

Like I said before, I’m not overly attached to the Mandarin character, and that also applies to his iconic ten rings. However, one thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the way the titular objects were portrayed in this movie. In the comics, I like to equate the rings to the infinity stones, albeit much less powerful, where each ring grants the wearer a unique ability. When combined and used together, the user is granted enormous power. But in this film, they became more physical in nature, not granting any special powers, other than not aging and physical power. I can understand the change, it might have taken up too much extra time explaining the rings’ powers or trying to find ways to incorporate the rings’ powers into the story, so the change might be benefial to the story, but it is disappointing to see the potential of the rings overlooked.

I thought Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was GOOD 🙂 Phase 4 of the MCU has provided a fresh start while building inside what came before and this film has taken full advantage of that. It’s self-contained but offers a path into something greater going forward. The action is top-notch and the comedy is one of the best in the franchise in a long time. While it doesn’t quite make it to the top echelons of the MCU, it is an adventure that is well worth the time.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Destin Daniel Cretton – Director / Screenplay / Story
Dave Callaham – Screenplay / Story
Andrew Lanham – Screenplay

Simu Liu – Shaun / Shang-Chi
Awkwafina – Katy
Tony Leung – Xu Wenwu
Meng’er Zhang – Xialing
Ben Kingsley – Trevor Slattery
Fala Chen – Li
Michelle Yeoh – Ying Nan
Yuen Wah – Master Guang Bo
Florian Munteanu – Razor Fist
Jayden Zhang – Young Shang-Chi
Elodie Fong – Young Xialing
Arnold Sun – Teen Shang-Chi

Raya and the Last Dragon Review

Raya and the Last Dragon movie posterSynopsis
In a hope to rid the world of evil spirits known and the Druun, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) searches for Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon.

Review
With theaters slowly opening up, I looked to book tickets to Raya and the Last Dragon at a local theater. To my surprise, none of them around me were showing the film! I would have thought that the Disney brand would for sure have filled seats so it didn’t make sense that a theater would not be showing their latest movie. But alas, I settled for watching it on Disney+, which was a shame because the allure and scale of this movie deserved to be seen on the big screen.

From the get-go, it’s clear that Raya and the Last Dragon isn’t going to be like other Disney princess films. There are no dance numbers here. The first scene is an explosive fight sequence from a young Raya with choreography that rivals live-action martial arts films. From there, the action sequences only get better. There is also a grander sense of adventure that most Disney princess films, save maybe Moana. This higher sense of adventure and action lends for a pretty fast-paced film. At an hour and a half run time, a lot is packed into it. The fight scenes between Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and Namaari (Gemma Chan) especially are exciting. Since it is shown early on that these two could have become friends, their scenes are particularly emotional because you have a sense of the relationship these two could have had.

As Raya travels throughout the land of Kumandra, she recruits a new member for her adventuring group from each of the lands. Every one of these characters was fun and brought something unique to the group. Most of their motivations for joining the group are based around their lives being affected in some way by the Druun, the evil spirits who turn people to stone, and not much more. While it may seem thin, it is enough and works in the film. The point of the story is that people from different backgrounds from all across the land trust each other and work together, which is one of the central themes of the movie.

Disney has clearly found an animation style that it likes. Much of the character design in Raya and the Last Dragon is similar to recent Disney animated films such as Frozen II and Moana. However, that doesn’t take away from its beauty. The world of Kumandra absolutely pops with vibrant colors. There are a variety of atmospheres, from deserts, to a water village, to a mountain village and many places in-between. Each place feels unique and full of life. Sisu’s character design is simply gorgeous, combining elegance with strength. Unfortunately, regardless of how beautiful the movie looks, I couldn’t help but think that I’ve seen the style of animation before, taking away some of the awe of it all.

For as exciting and empowering as this film is, my biggest issue with it is the same issue I had with last year’s Onward, and that is that it lacked that big emotional moment for me. While it is full of emotion, there wasn’t that one moment that the truly great Disney or Pixar films have that pull at the heartstrings. Also, it had a Moana vibe to me. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since I think Moana is Disney’s best film to date. However, because of that feeling of familiarity, it took away some of the uniqueness of Raya and the Last Dragan.

I thought Raya and the Last Dragon was GOOD 🙂 It is immediately apparent that Raya isn’t like most princesses in the Disney canon. Starting with a gripping action scene, this film offers one of the most exciting and adventurous films from Disney in a long time, which is saying something. The animation, while gorgeous, feels familiar when compared to films like Frozen II and Moana. The biggest thing missing from this movie was that one, big emotionally impactful moment Disney films are known for. Despite these minor gripes, Raya and the Last Dragon is a tremendous addition to Disney’s princess library, full of adventure, as well as fun and memorable characters. This princess doesn’t need a musical number and that’s perfectly okay.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Don Hall – Director / Story
Carlos Lopez Estrada – Director / Story
Paul Briggs – Co-Director / Story
John Ripa – Co-Director / Story
Qui Nguyen – Screenplay / Story
Adele Lim – Screenplay / Story
Kiel Murray – Story
Dean Wellins – Story
James Newton Howard – Composer

Kelly Marie Tran – Raya (voice)
Awkwafina – Sisu (voice)
Gemma Chan – Namaari (voice)
Daniel Dae Kim – Benja (voice)
Izaac Wang – Boun (voice)
Benedict Wong – Tong (voice)
Thalia Tran – Little Noi (voice)
Sandra Oh – Virana (voice)
Alan Tudyk – Tuk Tuk (voice)
Jona Xiao – Young Namaari (voice)