REVIEW: SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021)

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SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021)

Centuries ago the power hungry Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) came into possession of the ten rings, mystic objects that granted him power, invincibility and immortality. Not satisfied with all that he conquered, he set out to take over Ta Lo, a mystical village. There he was defeated by and fell in love with the beautiful warrior Ying Li (Fala Chen). They were wed and had a son, Shang-Chi and daughter, Xu Xialing. Upon her death, Xu returned to his villainous old ways and his children fled. In modern day Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) works in San Francisco as a valet named Sean with friend Katy (Awkwafina) and his sister remains hidden. When his father’s forces steal an amulet given him by his mother, the warrior within emerges, as Shang-Chi sets out to find Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and stop his father from whatever evil he’s plotting.

Flick is energetically and colorfully directed by Destin Daniel Cretton from his script and story with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham, based on the Marvel Comic. He presents a Marvel superhero epic by way of a Hong Kong martial arts fantasy flick and it can be dazzling entertainment at times. There are some stunning and fast moving action scenes, some wonderfully designed fantasy creatures and a superhero tale steeped in Asian culture. Cretton also gives the film a heart and soul to go with all the top notch SPFX and ferocious fight scenes, and the film has a rich background story to add depth to all the derring-do. There are a large amount of characters, but many are three dimensional and have purpose, thanks to story, script and excellent casting. If the film has any flaw, it’s that the fever pitch momentum grinds to a halt for a while, once Shang-Chi and company arrive at Ta Lo and there is some soul searching and we get exposition on the real threat coming. It then picks up quite spectacularly for it’s climactic confrontation. Other than a considerably slower middle act, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is breathtaking entertainment.

Getting back to the cast, there is quite an impressive one assembled here. Simu Liu is charming, charismatic and sometimes very funny as hero Shang-Chi. He plays a reluctant hero at first, but a noble and brave one, when it’s time to face his father and his Ten Rings army. Awkwafina provides some nice comic moments as his best bud Katy, but the actress has some nice dramatic and heroic moments, too. She’s not just there for laughs. Hong Kong film legend Tony Leung is a strong villain as Xu Wenwu, also known as The Mandarin. A celebrated actor in his Hong Kong films, he brings depth and dimension to what is anything but a stereotypical villain. Meng’er Zhang is good as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing and has some nice fight scenes of her own. Fala Chen is very good in her scenes as Ying Li, a noble warrior and loving wife and mother. Hong Kong film legend Michelle Yeoh is strong and wise as Shang-Chi’s aunt Nan and Ben Kingsley returns as fake Mandarin actor Trevor Slattery. A great cast with some fun surprise cameos, too.

Overall, this was a really fun and entertaining Marvel superhero epic that wonderfully borrows from the classic Hong Kong cinema martial arts fantasy flicks. There is dazzling martial arts action, stunning visuals and some very interesting characters both human and not. The FX are top notch, there are some sumptuous locations and lead Simu Liu makes for a noble hero as Shang-Chi, amongst a great cast. After a somewhat disappointing Black Widow, Marvel rebounds with one of the most fun movies of the year. As with all these flicks, stay through all the credits for two additional scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 swords

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BARE BONES: MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

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MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

Not having played the game or been a fan of it’s movie franchise may have made it a bit harder to quite get what is going on here, but probably not. Apparently there are other “realms”, or worlds, of which Earth is only one. There are champions on each world who gather together at certain points in time to compete in Mortal Kombat, which is a sort of gladiatorial battle to the death. Dull, pontificating villain Shang Tsung (Chin Han) wants to derail a prophecy predicting his realm’s loss, by eliminating Earth’s champions before the competition.

Tedious flick is directed very by-the-numbers by Simon McQuoid from a messy script by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, based on the fan favorite video game. There are a lot of fights and CGI bloodshed, but very little storytelling or character development for those of us who are uninitiated in the original game and it’s characters. A movie should not rely on assuming one knows the source material, whether based on a video game or book. There should be some depth to make the characters three dimensional and thus give the audience emotional investment when they fight. The cast are all dull, along with their thinly written characters, and the fights, which are the reason we watch this, are generic and routine with a lot of CGI effects enhancement. Watch any classic Hong Kong flick from the 80s and 90s to learn that martial arts and SPFX can be combined inventively and with energy and excitement. Not so here. At least the catchy song from the 1995 movie gets a remix during the end credits.

Franchise reboot is overall boing and forgettable and will probably set this series back another twenty-four years. Don’t waste your time unless you are a real fan and absolutely have to.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: ZOMBIELAND-DOUBLE TAP (2019)

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ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019)

Sequel opens with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) now living in the White House. Columbus asks Wichita to marry him and unfortunately it causes she and Little Rock to leave. Little Rock then strikes out on her own with stoner musician Berkeley (Avan Jogia) and when Wichita returns to ask for help in getting her back, she finds Columbus is now with ditzy blonde, Madison (Zoey Deutch), whom he found hiding in a mall. If that doesn’t add tension enough, there is apparently a new faster and deadlier type of zombie on the prowl.

Ruben Fleischer returns to direct from a script by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham. As such it’s a fun sequel, though completely unnecessary as it’s basically just more of the same. There is a fun bit with Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as Albuquerque and Flagstaff, two travelers who are amusingly like Tallahassee and┬áColumbus, but nothing much is done with it and it is over too quickly. Rosario Dawson is a welcome addition as Nevada, an Elvis loving love interest for Tallahassee, but even her character disappears for a while till joining the last act action. The climactic battle in a pacifist commune with the evolved zombie horde is entertaining and the four leads interact together very well, as they did last time. Aside from the fun of seeing the characters together again, there isn’t much to this sequel, which follows the template of the first film a little too closely to feel like anything more than a redo. Still, it’s an entertaining movie while it lasts, mostly because of the cast, but nothing that lingers after the credits have rolled. If you are a fan of the first film, you’ll probably have a good time with this one, even if it never accomplishes more than being an amusing, nostalgic reunion.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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