Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Destin Daniel Cretton, 2021)
Those of you who have submitted yourselves to my shouting at
clouds Marvel Universe movies know that they are not my cup of Earl Grey, nor even a guilty pleasure. Well, perhaps the first of the Spider-Men. I suspect Black Panther was the most interesting, but Martin Freeman saving the day rather undercut the thrust of the film. But, like Black Widow, I’m pleased that it exists, even if I am unlikely to rewatch more than once. And there must be several I still haven’t seen — excluding Iron Man III which I am pretty sure I have but wiped from my memory and unfortunately that presumably answers the question of Ben Kingsley.
So, there’s this shadowy organisation that has been doing stuff for a millennia — see, apparently, Iron Man III — led by Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) and his curious ten rings. Xu confronts Ying Li (Fala Chen) in the magical village of Ta Lo, but they fall in love and have two kids, Xu Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang). After Ying Li dies, Shang-Chi is sent on an assassination mission and abandons his family to live in San Francisco. A decade or so later, various MacGuffins conspire to bring everyone together for facing up a Big Bad.
To give the film credit, Xu is rather more complex than might be thought, but we have yet another narrative about daddy issues. Shang-Chi is fair enough, but inevitably Xialing is the more interesting character, who has learned all her martial arts skill through watching the others. It is to be hoped that she is being set up as an antihero for her own film, rather than a not quite big bad. And Katy (Awkwafina) is amusing, even if her rapid development of skills is suspect.
Why train Shang-Chi for a decade if Katy can do it in half an hour?
And then we come to Trevor, Sir Ben Kingsley, whose Liverpudlean accent presumably deliberately wanders a lot and who doesn’t seem to have a purpose beyond linking back to Iron Man III and comic relief. I really can’t see what he adds to the film.
And as always, I’m left underwhelmed by all the ultimate fighters and feeling, say, that the fight sequence on the bamboo scaffolding really wants to be a platform computer game (and each level seems empty until our heroes step onto them).
For reasons that escape me, I’ve not been to the cinema for a couple of months. This was an ok return visit and I was the only person to see the second end credits Easter egg in this auditorium.
About a decade ago, someone told me that every American film is about the filmmaker’s relationship to their father, and although that has not proved to be 100% true it’s worryingly accurate. To the extent that I could tell in even a simple film like The Mitchells vs. the Machines that the “female” protagonist had to have been originally written as a male self-insert because so many of the beats are father/son ones, and so it proved. It’s tiring; it’s not something I’ve ever been preoccupied with and there are so many other interesting things to make films about.
American films do seem to be fathers and sons or unlikely brothers. Or both. Patriarchy vs fratriarchy…