I think I agree with a lot of this; the VFX in general leaned towards the goofy sometimes, but all in all it did more to remind me I was watching a fun, light-hearted blockbuster romp than it was to distract from what could be a more epic movie. Honestly some of the 3rd act stuff is kinda nostalgic for me… reminds me of the blockbuster logic of movies I used to see pre-MCU (Katie learning to use a bow in 1 day for ex.)
I didn’t expect much more than popcorn fodder, so I was honestly surprised by how much landed. I can understand some folks’ critique of Shang-Chi’s characterization as too much of a cipher, but honestly it’s weirdly refreshing for me? Because I can’t remember the last time we had a true cipher in the MCU. Most of the time, the characters are pretty much clear in their personality, and a movie that uses ciphers correctly (Matrix, ex.) can embody a personal journey that connects with the audience in the way that it just couldn’t otherwise.
His cipher-ness also works really well for me personally because of the exploration of family, but it’ll take a second for me to explain why: if you’ve seen the movie you know that throughout the film they use styles of kung-fu to physically reflect the character’s internal natures/mentalities (which is why IMO the first 10 minutes set me up for a little disappointment down the line, that spar between his parents is sexy as hell).
When Shang-chi gets to the Wuxia world and meets with his aunt it’s the first time in like 17 years that he’s faced any vestige of his mother’s impact on him. During the final confrontation with his father, we see him beginning to recall those same movements she used; he understands that the light of his mother is still within him. But it’s only in the final stroke, after he’s acquired the rings and is facing the nightmare creature that Shang-chi accepts the yin-yang duality of both his mother AND his father: his final pose to end the nightmare monster is one of closed fists and climatic distruction, used throughout the movie to represent the teaching his father gave him.
To me, I read this as accepting all of his life’s history, not just cherry-picking the stuff he wanted. I felt like Shang-chi has begun to accept who he truly is. This rings really true in my own life; this past year has been about that a lot for me. To get a little personal, for years now in my adult life I’ve felt like I’d been walling off pain of my past, deciding that using logic to mask emotion was the only way to survive adulthood (I have a lot of existential fears/past garbage). But through therapy I’ve discovered that it’s only through accepting and embracing the darkness in me that I can also accept the light, because a rejection of a part of me was a rejection of all of me. By avoiding my troubles I had also been avoiding joy and contentment.
As Shang-Chi’s aunt says, “You are a product of all who came before you, the legacy of your family. You are your mother. And whether you like it or not, you are also your father.”
So yeah, I cried when he closed his fist. I felt like the writers got it, that for some, life isn’t about just “getting better” by focusing on exuding some shallow idea of wellness, it’s about acknowledging, even embracing, the things that have hurt us, because it’s only by accepting that they happened that we can make them part of us, make us stronger. It’s a beautiful sentiment, and it’s so simply expressed through a visual language that Shang-Chi, out of all the stuff the MCU can bring, could articulate so acutely by relying on movement instead of dialogue.
To come back full circle, this is also why the cipher thing really works for me. I’ve always liked kung-fu action, and a movie that can make that self-insert bond with me, made that sense of empathic connection to what Shang-Chi was going through all the more potent to me.
That may seem really silly to others, but technique like that is enough for me to forgive a lot of the CGI overload. To be fair though, I completely agree with anyone who points out how grey the final fight with the father was. I get that it exemplifies the colors of the rings, but, everything I just expressed also makes the case for why that scene could have been more visually pared back and have perhaps worked even better.
Anyways, yeah! I liked Shang-Chi!