Briefly touched upon in Iron Man and Iron Man 3, the evil Mandarin and the Ten Rings terrorist organization were the ones responsible for trying to kill Tony Stark. While Ben Kingsley’s goofy character was just a facade in Iron Man 3, now we get to meet the REAL Mandarin and his son.
His name is Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) and for a thousand years, he’s reigned supreme as a tyrannical, power-hungry, immortal villain, thanks to the Ten Rings he wears on his arms. In the comic books, they were powerful alien rings worn on the fingers, but here they’ve been re-furbished into ten silver arm bracelets that contain unimaginable power. In 1996, Xu decides he wants even more power and goes to steal the legendary magic from a village called Tao Lo, but he’s stopped by the beautiful guardian there, Jiang Li (Fala Chen). But after getting his butt handed to him, Xu falls for her and together they start a family. Ah, love conquers all, even a thousand-year-old bad guy.
Fast-forward to present-day San Francisco and we meet the wacky pair of Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and his BFF, Katy Chen (Awkwafina), who are parking valets. However, life for them changes forever after Shang-Chi is attacked on a city bus by some nasty creeps and he takes them out with mad ninja skills! Outed by what happened, he confesses to Katy (through flashbacks) who he really is, who his dad really is, and how he has to go to Macau, China to find & rescue his estranged sister. This leads the pair to an underground fight club where Wong (Benedict Wong) is fighting the Abomination (Tim Roth)! Cool! Anyway, Shang-Chi finds his sister, Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and, after fighting her and a bunch of nasty thugs, they finally meet dear ol’ dad.
But there’s no time for a happy family reunion as Xu is planning something huge: he wants to break into the sacred village of Tao Lo and free his late wife’s soul from being trapped behind a special guarded gate. Hmmm. . . something’s sounds fishy about that, so Xialing, Katy, and Shang-Chi decide to escape and stop their father’s plan, getting the most unlikely help from a certain imprisoned actor there from Iron Man 3! Once they manage to infiltrate the village, Shang-Chi and Xialing meet their aunt, Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh), leader of the villagers who protect that gate from being opened. Why shouldn’t it opened? Trust me, it’s a whole universe of problems!
The climactic third act is the requisite fight scene with an epic battle of the forces of good vs evil, and it’s a doozie! What sets this latest entry into the MCU is the overall tone. The screenplay by Dave Callaham (Zombieland: Double Tap), Mark Latham (Just Mercy), and director Destin Daniel Cretton (The Glass Castle, Just Mercy) plays out like Spider-man: Homecoming; a sweeping origin story, laced with a great deal of comedy, flashbacks, and interlocking plots. Many times, flashbacks are jarring, messing up the timing of the movie, but here, they add to the context and scope. It’s a smart, funny, and entertaining superhero romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but allows moments of honest pathos for the villain, something that’s hard to do.
Cretton’s direction is spot-on for his MCU entry film, with some nicely filmed human fight scenes, but when it comes to the CGI action stuff, it becomes a jumbled visual mess, like watching the Autobots fighting the Decepticons in all those Transformers films. But the real joy is the newest MCU superhero, Shang-Chi, come to life and Simu Liu fits the bill perfectly. Not snarky like Stark or Captain Marvel or boy-scoutish like Steve Rogers, Shang-Chi is grounded, centered, but retains his sense of humor. Another nice change is the villain. Not your typical shouting, nasty, evil type, Leung plays it emotional, cold, and wonderfully reserved.
For the movie’s comic relief, there’s Awkwafina who, as always, is excellent. She can do this stuff in her sleep. Making her debut, Meng’er Zhang is terrific as the put-upon sister and fearsome fighter. Michelle Yeoh is always great to see, but a surprise treat was the faux Mandarin again! That was the icing on the cake! Be sure that you stay for the mid-credits scene, as some old Avenger friends show up.
**Now showing in theaters only
Iron Man 3 (2013)
It’s gotta be a little weird to direct Iron Man 3 and have Jon Favreau (the director of the first two Iron Man films) as one of your actors, but Shane Black took over the reins as co-writer & director for the mega-blockbuster franchise after Favreau stepped down as lead director. . . but stayed on as executive producer. And, I’m happy to say, it all worked out well!
Iron Man, aka billionaire genius playboy Tony Stark (always perfect Robert Downey, Jr.), is not a well man. He’s suffering from PTSD after the NYC alien attack, has occasional panic attacks, and can’t sleep. If this wasn’t bad enough, his best friend Happy (Favreau) was critically hurt in an explosion at Hollywood’s Chinese Theater that was claimed by a new worldwide terrorist called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who is aiming his sites on the POTUS (William Sadler).
Meanwhile, Stark Enterprises CEO “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) meets charismatic scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who tries to get Stark Ent. to finance his bizarre experimental regenerative treatments; treatments that were once the brainchild of Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), a scientist that Tony once had a fling with way back when. Maya, it also seems, has come back into Tony’s life with some startling news about her experiments and Killian.
Then there’s Tony’s buddy, James “Roddy” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) who now dons a red, white, and blue Iron Man suit (called “Iron Patriot”) and serves the U.S. Army. He’s out looking for the Mandarin, but with no luck. Tony, in an act of rage against Happy’s injury, issues a personal declaration of war against the Mandarin and, in a case of, “Oops, I really wish I hadn’t said that”, has his home obliterated and Pepper almost killed. Escaping to Tennessee, Tony, with the help of a lonely 10-year-old boy named Harley (Ty Simpkins), starts to put the pieces of the puzzle together. When Tony finally meets the dreaded Mandarin, he finds out something astonishing about him!
The third act’s requisite major fight scene onboard an oil freighter is on a massive scale, with multiple Iron Man suits, making it difficult to keep up with, but nevertheless exciting. In the end, all is put right and brings about the conclusion of the Iron Man series, but NOT the end of Tony Stark and Iron Man. One thing is for sure, director/co-writer Shane Black knew something crucial: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. . . and he didn’t! Every bit as snarky and fun as Iron Man 1 & 2, this movie has all the earmarks of carrying on the same tradition left by its film predecessors. Robert Downy, Jr’s sarcastic and rambling wit, unexpected humor, great action sequences, and plot twists make this a wonderful swan-song.
For you nit-pickers out there (like me), there was one glaring omission that gnawed at me through the whole film: with all the references made to S.H.I.E.L.D. & the Avengers, where the hell were they? The world is being threatened by a psychopathic madman and just Iron Man & Iron Patriot are around to take him on? Where was Thor, Capt. America, the Hulk, Black Widow, or even Hawkeye? You would think even ONE of them could have come to help a fellow brother-in-arms out, right?! At least there could have been a line or two explaining WHY they couldn’t have come to help, that would have been okay. Am I asking too much? *sigh*