Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Film Review

Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Synopsis: After living many years living a normal life in the USA, martial artist Shang-Chi (Liu) is forced to confront his past and his father’s organisation, The Ten Rings…

Review: In the years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken over Hollywood, producing a remarkable interconnected universe, and smashing records here, there and everywhere, there has been no shortage of remarkable accomplishments and awards. Yet, there have also been historic and ground-breaking moments in terms of representation along the way. First there was Black Panther that was the first MCU film to feature a predominantly Black cast that celebrated Black culture. Then came Captain Marvel, which marked the first female-directed and driven film in the franchise. And now, the all-conquering juggernaut that is the MCU, has now provided us with its first Asian lead superhero film, alongside a predominantly Asian led cast.

Shang-Chi is a skilled martial arts warrior who spent his early life growing up in the shadow of his father Wenwu (Leung)’s organisation The Ten Rings. Wenwu is in possession of ten mystical and magical rings that grant him incredible power and immortality. With this incredible power in his possession, he has conquered pretty much anything and everything in his path over a great period of time. Also, in that time he raised a family, and put his children through rigorous and intense training. However, his son Shang-Chi has been for many years on a different path. Namely, the path of a normal life in the USA, working as a valet alongside his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Until one day, his past catches up with him and he realises he can no longer escape his father’s shadow, coming face to face with his father once again.

To be tasked with the leading role in the first Asian led MCU film is a massive responsibility to have on the shoulders of the actor in question, especially if this is your first leading role in one of the biggest franchises in the world currently, such as the MCU. Fortunately, Simu Liu proves to be a perfect choice to play the titular role, as he has the charisma needed to carry the film on his shoulders. While Shang-Chi is unquestionably an extremely skilled warrior and martial arts expert, unlike say, a Tony Stark, there’s no arrogance or cockiness to him, he’s very humble and grounded. Alongside Shang-Chi is his best friend Katy, who is initially completely unaware of her friend’s past as a fierce warrior. Any MCU film is guaranteed to have a substantial amount of comedy, and a lot of this comes through Katy. The role of a comedy sidekick is one that Awkwafina has played before, and once again she’s perfect at it.

In a similar vein to Black Panther, there is a core of badass and powerful women alongside Shang-Chi. As well as Katy, Meng’er Zhang as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing threatens to steal the show from her brother. A feat that is all the more impressive when you consider that this is her first foray into the world of acting. Fala Chen and Michelle Yeoh may not have the most screen time, but both use the short amount of screen time they do have to wonderful effect. Marvel villains can often fall short of being memorable, or indeed not very threatening. This is most assuredly not the case with Tony Leung’s Wenwu. Right from the moment he’s on screen, armed with these powerful rings, he’s a very formidable foe who makes his presence known. However, there’s a lot more to his character than just being a skilled warrior in possession of ten magical rings. At the core of his character, is a desire to reconnect with his long lost children, and it represents the crucial emotional core that’s central to the story.

It is crystal clear that the iconic martial arts films of the past serve as an inspiration for the action scenes. Director Destin Daniel Cretton and the stunt teams here are paying the utmost respect to the Martial arts films of the past that inspired them. Consequently, there is a unique flair to some of the action scenes that’s never been captured in previous MCU films. While this is consistently maintained throughout, it does get to a point where the action becomes an abundance of CGI, particularly in the third act. This is not a bad thing by any means, due to the fact that emotional investment in the journey of these characters is strong. Yet, given how common it has become in superhero films, it is something that like to see superhero films move away from. Nevertheless, in the same way that Black Panther irrevocably changed the MCU forever, Shang-Chi is poised to follow suit by being a massive step forward for wider representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With the unique visual flair and choreography of its action sequences, and the committed performances of its cast, especially Liu, Zhang, and Yeung, all these factors combine to make Shang-Chi another superb MCU origin story. A new hero is born.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Creed II (2018)

Image is property of MGM and Warner Bros

Creed II – Film Review

Cast:  Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu

Director: Steven Caple Jr

Synopsis: With the World Heavyweight Championship title now under his belt, Adonis Creed faces a new threat to his title, in the form of Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan, the man who killed his father Apollo…

Review: Every so often, a film comes almost completely out of nowhere, with little fanfare and just absolutely blows audiences away. An example of this would be 2015’s Creed, the seventh entry in the Rocky franchise. It reinvigorated a series that hadn’t had an entry for almost a decade. As such many might have assumed that it had fought its last fight and was out for the count, this is until one Ryan Coogler came along, and a new champion of the franchise was born.

That champion is Adonis Creed, who has in the wake of his bout with Ricky Conlan, has gone on to enjoy a tremendous run of success that leads him to the World Heavyweight Championship title. However trouble is brewing as Viktor Drago the son of Ivan Drago, is emerging as a very credible threat to his newly won title. Complications further arise when after Adonis proposes to Bianca (Thompson), she becomes pregnant with their first child, leaving Adonis with a dilemma as to whether he should take this challenge on, given what happened the last time a Creed faced off against a Drago. To say there’s history and bad blood between the Creeds and the Dragos would be putting it mildly.

One significant factor that made the first film such the knockout success it was, was the trio of terrific performances from its three leads and the chemistry that they had with each other. Michael B Jordan is once again terrific in the lead role, with excellent support from the great Sly Stallone once more. Likewise for Tessa Thompson, although she is an integral figure in Adonis’s life, as they are both about to go on the most personal of journeys together. There is considerably less development on her own life and career when compared to the first film.  Though this is understandable considering the challenge Creed is facing from Viktor Drago, who is desperate to prove himself to his father, and as a fighter. There is an attempt to develop his character, but it falls short of making him a truly compelling character. He is built like a tank though, and that doesn’t bode well for Adonis.

Due to his involvement with some rather obscure Marvel property called Black Panther, Coogler stepped down from directing duties. Now merely on board as executive producer, with those gloves were passed to Steven Caple Jr. Though not as visually as impressive as the work that was accomplished with the first film (there’s no masterful one take fight scene), Caple fills his shoes admirably well, as the fight scenes are once again very raw and rough in their execution. The camerawork really makes you feel those punches as they fly in, though some more footage of the fights would have been most welcome as some fights are montage-d through rather quickly.

This being the eight film in this franchise, it does follow similar paths that previous films in the franchise have, which may lead to criticism from some quarters. However, if you walk into a Rocky/Creed film, or indeed almost any boxing film, the chances of seeing a good training montage, some well executed fight scenes, mixed in with some deeply moving and personal family drama, are quite high. What matters is if the film is done with care and continues the story in a compelling manner that was brought to life so effectively with Creed, which this film does like a champ.

Though not as impactful as its predecessor, this second round of a revitalised franchise continues to bring that heart and emotion, boosted by three superb performances from its three leads, and some well executed fight scenes.