*. Oh, Marvel. Would you please stop already?
*. What I mean is, there is clearly nothing left in the tank. After Avengers: Endgame a new “phase” in the MCU was launched, but it looks the same as the old phase only more confusing because it has even more moving parts. Otherwise we have the same tired formula stretched out to two hour-plus length and a couple of hundred million dollars worth of CGI splashed on the screen.
*. So, Shang-Chi. His dad, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung, looking really uncomfortable in the part) took possession of the infinity stones . . . no, I’m sorry, the ten rings of power, a thousand years ago. Since then he has used their awesome might, which makes him eternal and invincible even when facing off against armies, to take over some criminal gang in China. Because if I had that kind of god-like power and eternal life that’s exactly what I’d want to do. Instead of writing a book or learning how to play guitar.
*. Xu Wenwu was married to another eternal (not Eternal, but just someone who lives forever) named Ying Li (Fala Chen). They have two kids: Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and then Ying Li gets killed by rival gangsters (she’s eternal, not unkillable) and the kids go their separate ways: Shang-Chi to park cars in San Francisco, where he has a gal pal named Katy (Awkwafina), and Xu Xialing to run a fight club in Macau.
*. Things start off in a fun way with Shang-Chi (or “Shaun,” in America) revealing his kick-ass alter ego to Katy in a streetcar fight brought on by members of the Ten Rings gang who have been sent to steal his jade necklace. So Shaun and Katy go to Macau and then the same gang shows up to steal Xu Xialing’s jade necklace because only with these can a magic map be activated that will allow Xu Wenwu to visit a fairy-tale land full of Dr. Seuss creatures that guards a portal to an evil dimension that the armies of Gog and Magog are itching to escape from. Once the portal is opened, a soul-eating creature with the Lovecraftian moniker of the Dweller-in-Darkness will escape to destroy all life on Earth.
*. That’s it. I don’t want to write any more. Yes, it’s another damn story where the villain’s goal is to open a portal to another dimension. Haven’t we seen enough of these by now? And then there’s the magic map, and the back-and-forth between the hero and his normie girlfriend/sidekick (they both seem curiously asexual), and a fluffy creature that looks like a fat tribble with wings, and a Distinguished Actor (Ben Kingsley this time out) appearing in a pointless supporting role, and another couple of mid- and post-credit sequences to tease us with what’s coming up next from the comic-book factory.
*. I can’t tell you how predictable, stale, and nonsensical I found all of this. But where Shang-Chi really feels like it’s jumping the shark is that it flunks all the stuff that you can usually count on Marvel to deliver. The CGI just looks cartoonish. The fight scenes are the usual leaping cable work and fast editing, with no blood or real violence and occasionally turning hand-to-hand combat into what can only be described as dance numbers.
*. Of course none of it looks real. The bad guys are from comic-book central casting, including a bodybuilder with a sword for a hand and another guy who’s a Darth Maul knock-off. Awkwafina’s Katy is very poorly written, without a single funny line or quip to make in the entire movie. She’s just luggage until the final fight, where she improbably saves the day.
*. Indeed the whole script is crap. Is Ben Kingsley’s character supposed to be funny? Because he isn’t. And can’t we move beyond this fortune-cookie ancient Chinese wisdom about following your heart? Marvel comics from the 1970s were more original and inspiring than this.
*. I want to expand just a bit on what I said about the fight scenes not being anything special. They really aren’t. I was struck by Mark Kermode’s review, when he appreciated their “physicality” and talked about how the fight on the streetcar reminded him of the bus fight in Nobody. The two scene chimed in my mind as well, but only because of their similar settings. The fight in Nobody is terrific, and it is physical. The fight here is just the usual comic-book nonsense, with the guy with a sword for an arm carving the streetcar in half while Awkwafina goes careening down the streets of San Francisco, flattening cars along the way. The two scenes have nothing in common aside from both taking place on public transport, and the Nobody fight is far better in every way. I’m starting to think that Kermode needs to ask how much longer he wants to keep doing this. Critics do burn out.
*. In short, Marvel threw everything they had into Shang-Chi and came up with nothing but crap. Which is a shame because I kind of like the Shang-Chi character and Simu Liu is a likeable enough actor, if not gifted with the usual Hollywood-star charisma. If Shang-Chi had been better written Liu could have sold him to us, but as it is I had no idea who he really was, as he’s basically born before our eyes out of nowhere. Why is he parking cars anyway? And all of what I just said also goes just as much for Awkwafina, who I genuinely like but who is put to no use here at all.
*. I’ll conclude by saying that I’ve pretty much given up on Marvel entirely now. They seem incapable of coming up with anything really new, and the writing in particular is so bad as to be almost inhuman. Meaning it feels like it was just spat out by a software program. Though a lot of the movie is in Mandarin, aimed at the lucrative Chinese market, so maybe something was being lost in translation.
*. What watching Shang-Chi really brought home to me though is the question of who would ever watch a movie like this twice. It was everything I could do to get through it once, and even then I had to spread it out over three days viewing. I had no interest in anything that was going on whatsoever. But audiences loved it. Oh well. At this point I think I’m close to being out for good.