The next phase of Marvel Comics’ cinematic universe kicks into high gear with “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”

It’s a film that is a slight departure from Marvel Comics’ other projects – full of thrills and high-octane moments, but also not afraid to be quiet and reflective. It’s a promising start for what’s to come and introduces a pretty cool new hero.

That hero is the title character (Simu Liu), who as the film begins is content working as a parking attendant with his friend Katy (Awkwafina). His past comes calling in the form of three henchmen who attack Shang-Chi on a bus.

He is able to thwart the attack, much to the surprise of Katy, and heads back home at first to warn his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) but eventually reunite with his father (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), the head of a mysterious organization who gets his power from 10 rings.

His father is convinced that his late wife is still alive and is on a quest to free her from captivity. But Shang-Chi is not as certain, leaving him to decide between family and honor.

“Shang-Chi” was directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, whose previous films include “Short Term 12” and “The Glass House.” Those movies don’t exactly feel like the kind of films that would prepare a director for this larger scale, but Cretton proves to be the perfect fit because of his ability to balance the film’s large moments with some quiet family drama that is a lot like his previous work. In a summer with films that used the family dynamic to create dramatic tension, “Shang-Chi” does it as good as any – with some strong emotional moments.

Liu is a charismatic leading man, a perfect fit for this hero, while Awkwafina is a delightful sidekick and Zhang shows her character is worthy of her own film as well.

“Shang-Chi” does stick to the origin story formula to a fault and there really isn’t a dynamic bad guy to balance the hero here (although I appreciate how layered the conflict is), but this is ultimately just a starting point for all these characters – with a few dots connected to the rest of the Marvel world that will have fans anticipating what is to come.

If “Shang-Chi” is any indication, this next phase should be a blast.

Recommended for you