Shang-Chi Is Marvel Doing It Right

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is very good. This is what Marvel needs to do through their next phase of movies to keep people interested. Less Black Widow and more Shang Chi. The formula can still work. Is it tiring? A bit. But if you dress it up right with an influx of new ideas, world dynamics and characters? You’ll be making happy movie goers from nerds to normal people.

Something Marvel has done a mostly bang-up job on is taking comic book movies and placing them over top existing genres: heist movies, political dramas, spy thrillers, fantasy, etc. Now we’ve got a kung fu movie with a kung fu super hero.

Taking that a step further, he isn’t magically kung fu or enhanced kung fu like Captain America. He has no mega powers, inherently. He’s just an exceptionally well trained, disciplined and excellent individual. That’s rad as heck because it makes the character much more believable, real and personable.

Simu Liu plays the titular character and this rules pretty hard because he is Canadian! There hasn’t been a whole lot of Canadian’s appearing in these movies so I’m pumped to have one in a new leading man. I think there have only been 5 in big roles and they’ve all been ladies: Evangeline Lilly (Wasp), Cobie Smulders (Agent Hill), Emily Van Camp (Agent 13), Rachel McAdams (Dr Stange’s love interest) and Pom Klementieff (Mantis).

It’s a big deal in Canada when a Canadian gets any level of success at anything besides hockey, so having the new leading man in a Marvel movie be Canadian is pretty rad. Plus he’s decked out in red too so I’m going to tell myself that’s because Canada and not because its red and gold like the Chinese flag.

Awkwafina comes in as the fish out of water character that gets the world explained to her and she does a solid job. She’s more comic relief but she doesn’t undercut too many scenes that it becomes annoying and her role is taken seriously. Her chemistry with Shang is great too.

Meng’er Zhang comes in as Xialing, Shang’s sister, and is a realized slight foil to her brother. Basically what if Shang had stayed behind all those years and continued to live with their father this could have been his reality and future.

Which brings us to the best performance in the film; Wenwu portrayed by Tony Leung Chiu-wai. This is as much his movie as it is Shang’s. If more Marvel villains were of this quality we would finally be able to get passed those dreadfully boring memes and Hot Takes about bad villains. Killmonger never hit with me that well from Black Panther. I think because he disappears for 45 minutes without any presence and then the third act of that movie sucks and thus brings down his overall grade. But to me this was the villain performance of the MCU in the non-Thanos category.

And he isn’t even a villain. He’s an antagonist and that’s a distinction that does so much for this movie. He’s working to his goal, for reasons that make sense to him and honestly kind of make sense (if he wasn’t the bad guy and thus you know he’s in the wrong) and you feel for his story. You fully understand the what, why, when, where, who and how of his character.

It’s a family centered plot at the core. Finding love, making changes as a family man, heartbreak and revenge, and then trying to recover and put the pieces back together. It’s way better than another world-ending extinction catastrophe level event. Those are so passé.

The movie wastes no time to get going. You get your intro, you get your Present Day scene and then you’re right into it. No fake out or dragging out things for no reason. It pops and the movie is going.

Pace and tone does so much for a good story, and the story holds for most of the movie. The first half is better, and even the first 80% is great. But you have to get your big CGI ending for some reason where two monsters do the graveyard smash. 

I would rather that have been saved for the next movie and having a looming, unresolved threat from this movie. That scene and climax can have more impact that way.

It also was lame because you could tell this was all done in pre-viz where they probably had this scripted out before they finished the script, which then makes the plot in service of action and not the other way around. Your action should be in service of the plot.

Other than that, I quite liked the movie. I’m glad these movies seem to be passed the point where they need to slap you in the face with a “The hero isn’t a White Guy scene”. I’m not a moron. I can see it’s a Chinese-Canadian fella. I can see it’s a Chinese lady too. You don’t need some scene where they go “Don’t forget, I’m not The White Man!” It’s insulting and petty when movies do that. I appreciate this movie skipping that scene and treating the audience with respect.

There’s also no reference to The Snap or Thanos. The movie isn’t totally divorced from the MCU, but where it does tie back in doesn’t feel cheap and distracting. Instead it feels logical.

The power of the 10 Rings also makes way more sense in this movie. In the comics are basically 10 baby infinity stones that each have their own power and personality… sort of. Now they are a mix of Dr Strange glow hands, Iron Man blasters and Cap’s shield. Sounds overstuffed, but it isn’t. They’re unique.

This movie is great, and it’s just barely not too long to the point it becomes boring at points. There’s a bit of snipping you could do to tighten this up that would really make it next level for me. Mainly the comic relief cameo that gets more screen time than it needs. That’ll be phone checking time on re-watches.

I want to know how this guy works into the larger Marvel world more than I want to know how The Eternals will or how the TV shows (I haven’t watched) are going to tie into things. Give me more Shang Chi! Don’t make me wait until 2025.

This is most of the world’s introduction to this character, and Marvel aced it.

@Adam_Pyde on Twitter, Adam Reviews Things on Facebook. CanadianAdam on Twitch.

I Don’t Know What To Make of Marvel’s The Eternals

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I mean it when I say I don’t know what to make of this movie. Marvel’s The Eternals isn’t a normal Marvel movie. It breaks the formula and is so different tonally you’d be forgiven for not getting that comfort dopamine of a Marvel movie. You can’t watch Black Widow and then watch this and say  “Oh jeez that Marvel formula at it again!” That’s both good and bad, and ends up making a totally average movie.

I’m not familiar at all with Chloe Zhao’s work as a director. But this movie very much doesn’t feel like Black Widow or Ant-Man. I appreciate the attempt to try and make something feel so different. Make something that is very much of its own and not just another in the list. There’s a focus on cinematography here that you don’t normally get in these movies. Almost every scene has a strong shot emphasizing silhouettes and colour palettes and vision of the scene to convey the emotion. And that’s cool!

But the movie is long and a bit boring.

Introducing ten characters is a lot. This isn’t like the original Avengers or Civil War, where you have a big team but you’re already mostly familiar with 80% of the cast. These are all newbies. I’m a comic dork and I knew nearly nothing about these folks, so it doesn’t even have the benefit of a Justice League where you might know not this The Flash, but you do know The Flash.

One benefit to the entirely new characters it that many of them steal names from history: Ikaris, Sersi, (a)Thena, Ajak and Gilgamesh are all names you should have heard and have some idea of what they’re referencing. I’m sure the others in Makkari, Sprite, Phastos, Druig and Kingo have basis in something as well though I’m just not familiar. 

When you have so many characters, it can be difficult to differentiate them but the movie does a well enough job to do that. You understand each individual power set and personality pretty easily. You could argue its reductive and simple, but it’s a 2.5 hour movie with 10 newbies, evil monsters and a Big Cosmic so it’s forgivable.

Characters do change in this film though and they do seem to hold to their convictions. There isn’t any “aw shucks okay I change my mind” scene just for convenience. Out of our cast of ten, there is only one or two that don’t really have a significant change. How much you care and sympathize though is up to you. I waffled and most didn’t grab me.

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The movie is on a timeline to an extinction event, which I get you need for this level of characters considering they’re basically angels or gods or whatever, but there also doesn’t feel like there is urgency until the very final conflict. The build doesn’t have to be frantic, but you don’t really get the sense of urgency or importance of a “the earth is going to explode by lunch time” level thing. You don’t feel that ticking clock. 

You also get to learn that these characters have been around and interacting/protecting humanity since way way way back when sharp sticks were the closest thing to weapons we had.

I am a sucker for when movies or video games or TV going back in time and adding little asterisks to history and filling in notes in the margins with new details. when they go back in time and weave themselves into history in a fun way. Gilgamesh the ancient warrior? He was an Eternal! These folks were hanging at Babylon. Icarus, Circe and Athena? They’re actually Ikaris, Sersi and Thena! Eternals! Hiroshima? The Eternals fault!

If you’re going to pull the “we were here all along” thing, then that’s a fun way to do it that helps add a bit of believability to your world. 

At the same time, there is a lameness to hidden characters that have been here all along and secretly being the guiding hand of history. Especially when you learn the reason they were sent, you can pretty easily say “hey, why didn’t you help with all the bad stuff?” and the answer isn’t particularly strong.

I don’t know if the movie is trying to make a religious point about any particular sect with that. You can have In The Shadows organizations, but the good ones have realistic limitations. Men In Black works because the world is totally normal outside of the weirdo nonsense in their direct jurisdiction. But this is a world with wizards and robots and and an unlimited supply of floating space ships and thousands of super secret agent soldiers and doomsday events every 3-4 years.

At some point you think one of those may have pulled them from hiding.

The conflict in the plot comes from the characters and what they’re purpose is, which again relates to their secrecy. The Deviants aren’t a great antagonist, though I thought they might build to something cool before they didn’t, and then you get to the big ending with the reveal and twist which is going to be mileage-may-vary for everyone.

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Time for some random one off thoughts: 

  • I like that the movie isn’t the same formula like building to a big dumb CGI ending divorced of the plot.
  • There is so much CGI in this movie though. It mostly looks good but at times it breaks and Angelina Jolie turns into gumby.
  • I miss practical effects in movies man. I’m watching the special features of Lord Of The Rings and its inspiring the lengths they went to. More movies need that 2003 mindset.
  • The flashbacks can be a bit long and uninteresting.
  • There appears to be no Disney+ tie in, and that rules.
  • Comedy takes a back seat to the movie. That’s good. The only real line that sticks out is “Fall catalogue. Ikea.” Barf.
  • There could be a fan edit of this that dials it back 15-20 minutes and might be more interesting. The bloat just starts getting to you at some point.
  • I want to see the characters again but just not for like 4-5 years.
  • The Bollywood scene was fun. I love how wild and crazy Bollywood is.
  • Celestials could be neat as a new Thanos.

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Ultimately, the movie was a chance and it was different and I like that. I’ll take this over another Black Widow any day. The movie isn’t bad but I’m not going to watch it again. Maybe if it’s on TV while I’m in a hotel room one day I’ll turn it on and scroll through my phone at the same time.

That just gets back to the problem with the movie though. I love seeing movies in the theatre and when I’m in the theatre I focus on the movie. But I did get bored at one point and thought “I wonder if anyone’s texted me…”

I get the feeling though that this movie will be on a bunch of lists in 5 years like “TOP 10 UNDERRATED MOVIES PEOPLE WERE WRONG ABOUT” in the inverse way now you get Star Wars: The Force Awakens on every “TOP 10 MOVIES THAT
SUCK THAT WEREN’T ACTUALLY GOOD!”

I want to like this more but I can’t because I just don’t care that extra bit.

@Adam_Pyde on Twitter, Adam Reviews Things on Facebook. CanadianAdam on Twitch.