WarningMight contain spoilers.

Not in the same class Thor: Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy , but a fun, funny, and reasonably well done film. The last one we watched in the cinema was Wonder Woman 1984 , nine months before this, and the last one before that was another nine months prior; I’m very relieved this turned out well with few rough edges. The CGI varies in quality, the wuxia bits are a little overdone, the acting is slightly overwrought at times, yet all of that is unimportant in the face of how enjoyable the film is.

Although Shang-Chi himself might be mistaken for a slightly colourless and emotionless character, Simu Liu authentically portrays a traumatized, repressed person whose emotions erupt in the climactic battle against his father. Moreover, he’s already in his ‘final form’; he must learn a new technique from Nan and must let go of his fear, but he isn’t trying to transform himself to fight a villain. The trailers suggested a training sequence, but he’s ready from the start.

Xu Wenwu is a compelling villain: easy to understand without being sympathetic. He’s a man who spent a thousand years terrorizing the world and taking whatever he wanted by force. He met someone who made him want to change, then lost that person. It’s unsurprising that, in his grief, he returns to his old ways with more than a touch of mania. Tony Leung is fantastic in the role.

Awkwafina plays Awkwafina, as expected, and gets the best lines. My sister complained that Meng’er Zhang as Xu Xialing doesn’t have much to do, which is a fair criticism. Her only purpose is to be present so she can play a bigger role in the next movie. Similarly, as good as Fala Chen is, Li has nothing to do after her introduction except give birth and die, possibly eliminating her from any sequel.

The action is amazing. What a difference it makes to have actors capable of performing the moves, obviating the need to cut away every two seconds. When the wuxia style is utilized correctly, it simply sings. The film succeeds when it balances that with the Marvel of it all: the rings, Shang-Chi fighting Xu Wenwu, Shang-Chi and the dragon destroying the Dweller in the Dark, the fight on the bus, and the dragon scale weapons. It loses something when one or the other style dominates.

There were certainly plenty of moments when I wanted to stand up and cheer. Wong appearing in Xialing’s fight club was the most obvious. The dragon bursting out of the water. Awkwafina’s arrow hitting the throat. Shang-Chi getting the first five rings and then emerging from apparent destruction with all ten. Ben Kingsley, of all people, returning as Trevor Slattery, not just as a cameo but in a big supporting role. (It was high time they addressed the subject of the Mandarin, and they do it with style.) Wong showing up again in the end credits, along with Bruce Banner and Captain Marvel![1] Oh, and then once more for some unforgettable karaoke. (The guy filming Shang-Chi on the bus, who apparently returns after an appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming , is very funny too.)

After hearing about The Protector, I assumed Shang-Chi would transform into a dragon by the end. Then Nan said she and I thought he would manifest a dragon. I can’t say I expected him to reawaken a dragon, but it was a nice twist. I’m very relieved Nan didn’t die. It’s a good thing the Dweller in the Deep kills Wenwu, because Shang-Chi doing it would have been neither pleasant nor heroic, no matter how necessary it was.

It’s unfortunate just how much the creatures and scenery display that CGI sheen. It’s visible on everything aside from the dragon, the Dweller in the Deep, Morris, and the lion creatures. Reducing the saturation would have helped a lot, whether in the green of the forest sections or in the orange and teal of the rest of the film.

How does Wenwu’s fleet of cars suddenly appear in Ta Lo if it’s using the same pocket we saw earlier, which barely holds one car at a time?

The music is good but it has a similar problem to Black Panther : it’s continually chopped up and used at awkward moments. It’s never allowed to breathe. (And then there’s the amateurishly on-the-nose song playing over the second end credits scene.)

That makes two movies about Chinese dragons this year, the other being (the significantly more marvelous) Raya and the Last Dragon, also with Awkwafina.

  1. I thought Mark Ruffalo was done with the MCU, but he did lend his voice to What If…? too. And at this rate, it looks like everyone in the MCU is going to show up in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Spider-Man: No Way Home !