Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is artistic yet plotless

 As most stand-alone Marvel movies go, I expected intense fight scenes and the weakling-turned-hero trope. Rather, “Shang-Chi” is filled with wuxia-infused martial arts, ancient legends and giant fire-breathing dragons (Yes — there are dragons!).

We are first introduced to Shaun, played by Simu Liu, as a playful valet driver with Katy Chen (Awkwafina) as his partner in crime. In reality, Shaun is actually Shang-Chi and is on the run from his millenia-old warlord father, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), who wants to invade a magical world harboring mythical creatures. 

 As a superhero fanatic, I was ecstatic when Marvel announced they were releasing their first stand-alone film exclusively starring Asian-American characters. It was refreshing to see Asian-American actors finally stepping out of the realm of taxi drivers and immigrants with heavily-accented English. It’s important for kids to see faces that reflect theirs. In regards to Asian representation, Marvel did a remarkable job. The lush visuals hidden in the bamboo forests of China, a stunning soundtrack drawing on traditional Chinese music and action-packed martial arts pays homage to Marvel’s first Asian Avenger. 

The film forces the audience to hold their breath right from the start, as Shang-Chi battles a hulk-size ninja with a laser arm prosthetic on a runaway bus. The comedic exchanges from Awkwafina and powerful feminist scenes from Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) carry the story through its harsh endeavors. The film separates itself from the Marvel franchise and allows the protagonist to grow as a hero without intervention from other superheroes. Anyone can watch this film without having any previous knowledge about the Marvel universe. Yet, the slim connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has its drawbacks. 

Previous stand-alone films like “Black Panther” and “Captain Marvel” (movies that had their own share of making history) overlapped with other films which allowed for a greater storyline in “Avengers Endgame.” However, “Shang-Chi” did no such thing. I almost forgot I was watching a Marvel movie, and the thousand-year-old legends were a bit overused. Certain elements of the plot were excused by events that happened eons ago. Although most Avenger films are completely unrealistic, they are still somewhat rooted in science—or at least heavily edited science. This movie was based solely on legends and fantasy worlds. Though I really did enjoy the mythical creatures and water turned ice forests, I missed the realism. The last scene mirrored “Godzilla” and “King Kong” a little too closely, and the flashbacks of Shang-Chi’s childhood were repetitive. The film started to lose its track by the third act. 

Ultimately, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was a memorable introduction to Marvel’s fourth wave of superheroes, but the lack of structure and excessive cliches made the movie lose its shine. The film is enjoyable, just don’t have high expectations.