Unlike many movies that seem unsure what genre they are trying to blend into, Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (SCATLOTTR from here on in to save my fingers) manages to perfectly capture the harmonic balance while stepping precariously close to the edge on a number of occasions.
Simplified as an action/adventure movie, SCATLOTTR is more.
Blending martial arts with lashings of humour and stunning visuals it is difficult to categorize the film neatly, but why would you want to?
At it’s core a tale of destiny and strength in unity, the overlapping layers of the storyline are fortunately not difficult to follow, allowing the viewer to fully immerse themselves in the many delights on offer without having to concentrate on over constructed plot developments and red herrings.
Starting in flashback by showing Shang-Chi’s father Xu Wenwu’s (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) rise to worldwide domination thanks to a set of ten rings that empower him with an invincible and immortal lifeforce that compliments his lust for power, the movie quickly showcases the core strength of its cast with a violent but not overpowering timeline of events that gives rise to an increasingly power hungry central character that seemingly has everything he could ever want or need.
When he hears tales of an enchanted village hidden from the world by an ever-changing forest maze that devours those who dare enter without invitation, Xu sets out to conquer the one thing not already in his possession but is thwarted by Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh) who’s martial arts prowess and nature fuelled magic prove more than a match for the cocky master of the Ten Rings.
As happens (in movies) the two fall in love – and admittedly at this point I did start to question the films direction – but this period was swiftly dealt with in more flashbacks as the new power couple spawned two siblings and vowed to stifle their magic powers and greed in place of raising a family and solidifying their marriage.
The death of Ying Nan at the hands of one of the many villians previously wronged by Xu sets in motion a series of events that see the eldest son Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) leave home in his teens, being ruthlessly trained in the art of assassination by his father who has once more donned the Ten Rings and is more sinister than ever.
The movie follows the path of revenge, love, lust and power on a faithful trajectory to the first 20 minutes, but ramps things up on a massive scale.
Flash forward once more and Shang-Chi is living life under an assumed (but still similar) alias (Shaun) and spends his days flirting subconsciously and stumbling through life as a valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) and no discerning dreams or aspiration other than what time the next karaoke bar opens.
The arrival of a hit squad intent on stealing the pendant given to hm by his mother forces Shang-Chi to abandon his façade and he is swept into a seemingly endless run of stunning fight sequences that draw him ever closer to his estranged sister and their inevitable fate.
Each fight scene stands alone on merit, with the scope and cinematography taking you inside each battle and wearing each blow as it is delivered from a variety of angles.
One sequence that sees Shang-Chi and his sister Li (Fala Chen) fight his fathers’ assassination team on the scaffolding of a building is beautiful choreographed, as is the fight sequence on a runaway bus, but the best is saved for the finale as a multitude of warriors face off against each other in an attempt to thwart Xu’s misguided attempt to restore life to his deceased partner by unwittingly releasing an age-old enemy that seeks to destroy all mankind.
The finale is dripping with martial arts action and supernatural creatures, including the most realistic dragon I have seen committed to film, and beautifully capitalizes on all that has come before it in an epic battle that hangs in the balance before a stunning conclusion sees order restored and the rings fall into a less power hungry and more grounded master.
One main point where SCATLOTTR succeeds where many before have failed is the chemistry between the lead characters that is punctuated by moments ranging from light humour to out and out laugh out loud moments.
While most of these are provided by Katy, the humour seems infectious and constant, allowing the moments of gravity to be balanced by periods of levity that works well without seeming contrived.
Add in a brilliant cameo from Ben Kingsley that threatens to steal every scene that he even gets close to, and you have one of the best stand-alone features yet to come out of the Marvel camp.
And yes, make sure you stick around after the final credits for what will be a vital bit of added information that will definitely come in handy when entering the next phase of marvel’s well constructed plan for world domination.