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'Shang-Chi' is a 'crowd pleaser,' with a 'magnetic' lead and a radiant villain, critics say

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Key Points
  • With a 91% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes from 105 reviews, those who saw advanced screenings of Disney's latest comic book flick call it a "pure crowd-pleaser."
  • Critics largely praised the film's cast, of which Tony Leung was a standout as the villainous, yet charming Wenwu. Simu Liu, the titular Shang-Chi, is "magnetic" during the action sequences and Awkwafina shines as his fast-talking, wisecracking best friend Katy.
  • Alongside the action-packed fight sequences and quippy one-liners, which have become staples in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "Shang-Chi" explores the clash of East and West — traditional and modern — on a large, explosive scale.

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Simu Liu stars as Shang-Chi in Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."
Disney

Marvel's newest hero arrives in theaters on Sept. 3 and he is "magnetic," critics say.

Due out exclusively in theaters next Friday, Disney's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" centers on Shang-Chi, a valet at a ritzy hotel, who goes by Shaun, an Americanized version of his name. He is the son of Wenwu, a centuries-old conqueror, crime lord and wielder of the legendary 10 rings.

After the death of his mother, a teenage Shang-Chi left his ancestral home and remained estranged from his father for years. Now, as an adult, he is forced to confront his past and his father.

With a 91% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes from 105 reviews, those who saw advanced screenings of Disney's latest comic book flick call it a "pure crowd-pleaser. Full stop."

"At some point during one of the best car chase scenes in San Francisco movie history, 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' makes at least one thing gloriously clear: Today, you will be getting your money's worth at the movies," wrote Peter Hartlaub in his review of the film for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Alongside the action-packed fight sequences and quippy one-liners, which have become staples in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "Shang-Chi" explores the clash of East and West — traditional and modern — on a large, explosive scale.

Critics largely praised the film's cast, of which Tony Leung was a standout as the villainous, yet charming Wenwu. Simu Liu, the titular Shang-Chi, is "magnetic" during the action sequences and Awkwafina shines as his fast-talking, wisecracking best friend Katy.

"Shang-Chi" will be the first Marvel film to get an exclusive release in cinemas since the Covid pandemic shut down the movie theater business in March 2020. Industry analysts are keen to see how the film performs during its opening weekend and if positive reviews and word of mouth will give it staying power at the box office.

Here's what critics thought of "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" ahead of its Sept. 3 debut in theaters:

Katie Rife, AV Club

Critics lauded "Shang-Chi" for its elaborate stunt and fight sequences, which borrow from classic martial arts movies.

"In some ways, 'Shang-Chi' is a mixtape of martial-arts movie genres: An early scene pays tribute to the balletic, graceful films of Zhang Yimou, while a dramatic bus chase later on apes the derring-do of an early Jackie Chan vehicle," Katie Rife wrote in her review for AV Club.

Many have pointed to an early scene in the film of Shang-Chi fighting several enemies on a crowded bus as a prime example of these influences.

Still, Marvel seems to be pulling punches, Rife wrote.

"'Shang-Chi' insists on either interrupting or burying the stunt work — spearheaded by Chan protege Brad Allan, who tragically died earlier this month—with mountains of blatant CGI," she said.

Read the full review from AV Club.

Tony Leung stars as Wenwu in Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."
Disney

Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter

"It doesn't take long for 'Shang-Chi' to lay down its terms," Angie Han wrote in her review of the film for The Hollywood Reporter.

The film opens in China with narration and dialogue that is entirely in Mandarin with subtitles. It's not until the film jumps in time to San Francisco several minutes into its runtime that a single word of English is uttered.

"Even in 2021, when subtitles are hardly an exotic experience for most moviegoers, the choice to use them in the opening scenes of an American blockbuster sends a message," she wrote.

Han noted that with its magical forests and mysterious ancient artifacts, there are times when "Shang-Chi" "barely feels like a superhero movie at all." And that's a good thing.

Still, the film is filled with Marvel tropes, including quippy, self-deprecating humor, which Han says brings the characters back down to earth, but also robs the film of "some of its wonder."

Read the full review from The Hollywood Reporter.

Shirley Li, The Atlantic

The most prominent component of nearly every review on Rotten Tomatoes is Tony Leung. One of Asia's biggest film stars, this is Leung's first Hollywood feature — and he steals the show.

Wenwu is the antagonist of "Shang-Chi," but he's more antihero than villain. The 10 rings made him immortal and love led him to give up his powers. However, losing his wife sends him into a deep spiral of grief.

"Rooting Wenwu's motives in heartbreak rather than in domination, destruction, or revenge feels singular for a Marvel film: Shang-Chi's central conflict goes beyond the classic one of good against evil, and far beyond the facile one of a son quarreling with his father," Shirley Li wrote in her review for The Atlantic.

The movie may be called "Shang-Chi," but to Li, like other critics argue, this is Wenwu's — and Leung's — movie.

"He's not just the star of the film's opening—in his hands, Wenwu's devastation catalyzes the action and permeates every frame, turning the film into a tragedy," she wrote. "He becomes the character around whom all others revolve, whether he's in the scene or not. That's how sorrow works, after all; it radiates. And Leung's performance, like so many in his career, lingers long after the credits end."

Read the full review from The Atlantic.

Meng'er Zhang, Simu Liu and Awkwafina star in Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."
Disney

Brian Truitt, USA Today

"Shang-Chi's" lead isn't without his own charm, however.

Simu Liu, most known for his portrayal of Jung on the Canadian sitcom "Kim's Convenience," may be a relatively unknown in America, but he "is simply a joy to watch," wrote Brian Truitt in his review of "Shang-Chi."

"He's the MCU's most significant and infectious rookie since the late Chadwick Boseman with the same face-of-the-franchise appeal as Chris Evans," he wrote.

Truitt said Liu has a "subtle charm" that keeps audiences engaged in the film, even when magical creatures and supernatural artifacts bring it into the realm of the fantastical.

"Robert Downey Jr. and his main man Tony Stark aren't around in the Marvel movies anymore," Truitt wrote. "Thankfully, they've found a suitable successor in the unfairly charismatic Simu Liu and his dragon-riding, power-punching alter ego."

Read the full review from USA Today.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.