Shang-Chi First Reviews: One of the MCU's Most Spectacular Origin Stories

Critics say the film's grounded themes, peerless action, and particularly fantastic villain – thank you, Tony Leung – make it a stellar introduction to a new hero.

by | August 23, 2021 | Comments

How many film franchises go for as long and for as many installments as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has and still keep delivering critical favorites? The first reviews of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are calling it one of the best MCU entries yet. And those most qualified to speak on such elements offer particular praise toward the Asian representation and martial arts action as being exceptional for Hollywood blockbuster cinema in general.

Here’s what critics are saying about Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings:

Will Marvel fans love it?

“The movie full on delivers the Marvel theatrical experience you’ve been jonesing for.” – Rohan Patel,

Shang-Chi joins the ranks for me [with] Winter Soldier, Thor: Ragnarok and Infinity War as some of the best that Marvel has to offer… This is the best solo film in years.” – Jon Nguyen, Flickering Myth

“One of the best origin stories in the MCU.” – Rachel Labonte, ScreenRant

“Would rank it pretty high when it comes to Marvel origin stories. I’d say maybe only the first Iron Man and Black Panther movies do it better.” – Brian Frederick, Pop Culture Leftovers

“As Marvel remixes go, Shang-Chi is one of the more successful ones. Maybe not as stylistically strong as Black Widow and certainly not as much of a watershed moment as Black Panther.” – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

“[It] puts to bed any concern fans might have had about a drop off in Phase IV of the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe.” – Brandon Katz, Observer

Does it feel unique in the franchise?

“Marvel breaks its own mold on multiple fronts… Shang-Chi is the most energized the MCU has been in years.” – Jeffrey Zhang, Strange Harbors

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is most enjoyable when it shakes off the tedious franchise imperatives and forges its own path.” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

“As familiar of a superhero origin story as Shang-Chi is, the film blessedly feels like the least Marvel of the solo films we’ve had lately.” – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

Shang-Chi barely feels like a superhero movie at all. If anything, it veers closer to the wistful grandeur of Disney’s live-action fairy tale adaptations.” – Angie Han, Hollywood Reporter

“At its most basic level this is very much another MCU affair. From a critical point of view, there is no reinvention of the wheel.” – Therese Lacson, The Beat

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Ryan Fujitani

How well does it handle the Asian representation?

“Getting to see myself reflected in a Marvel blockbuster flick, despite its flaws, makes me excited for what more we might see from Shang-Chi.” – Therese Lacson, The Beat

“Cultural authenticity abounds in Shang-Chi.” – Nancy Wang Yuen, io9

Shang-Chi makes major strides in representation; more than just plastering Asian faces on a screen, the film dives particularly deep into the Asian American experience.” – Jeffrey Zhang, Strange Harbors

“This film often feels like an actual reflection of the Asian American experience versus an uninspired Hollywood imitation.” – Rohan Patel,

“It’s a bit tiring to see another dragon trope involved in an Asian-led film. Which is a shame as there are subtle nods for the Asian diaspora to relish.” – Laura Sirikul, Empire Magazine

How are the fight scenes?

“You’ll be happy to hear the best parts of Shang-Chi are its elevated fight scenes.” – Nancy Wang Yuen, io9

“The action is fantastic… The choreography is the best yet in the MCU.” – Laura Sirikul, Empire Magazine

Shang-Chi’s action conveys the one thing so many superhero films are missing: flavor… [It’s] the studio’s best action to date by a country mile.” – Jeffrey Zhang, Strange Harbors

“The best action I’ve seen in the MCU.” – Jon Nguyen, Flickering Myth

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings doesn’t just boast the best action of the MCU, it manages to do it with two (two!) eye-popping action sequences that unspool before the film’s first act is over.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire

“I’m no fan of fighting sequences but I enjoyed most of the ballet-like style Cretton devised for his movie.” – Patricia Puentes, Ask

Mandarin - Shang-Chi

(Photo by © Marvel Studios, © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Does it live up to its influences?

“The movie may not live up to [its influences and] ambitions — the action is still too aesthetically anonymous, too CG-polished — but it’s nice that it has them to begin with.” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

“It still only manages pale imitations of its influences: the wuxia-inspired sequences feeling more weightless than anything out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and the Jackie Chan-inspired fight scenes feel more like the Hollywood takes on Chan’s work.” – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

How is Destin Daniel Cretton as director?

“He directs the film with such an infectious energy, always putting his characters first, and making you so invested in their individual journeys.” – Rohan Patel,

At last, here is a director who knows martial arts is the core of the material, so Cretton ensures Shang-Chi’s action department will get full credit.” – Nguyen Le, JumpCut Online

How does the movie look?

“Wait until you see the gorgeous design of Ta-Lo in this film. Tons of eye candy and amazing creature designs.” – Brian Frederick, Pop Culture Leftovers

“There are stunning wuxia-inspired sequences that are as gorgeous as they are impressive.” – Eric Eisenberg, Cinema Blend

“[Cretton] manages to at least keep the film visually coherent (and in many of the wuxia-inspired moments, quite beautiful) even as it descends into CGI bombast.” – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

How is Simu Liu as Shang-Chi?

“Liu knocks it out of the park as Shang-Chi, adding a tad of levity to the known-to-be-serious comic book character.” – Laura Sirikul, Empire Magazine

“Simu Liu gives a charismatic, nicely understated performance, which helps mitigate the muddled storytelling.” – Tim Grierson, Screen International

“He’s responsible, respectful, charming, and carefree, making him instantly relatable to Asian-Americans across the country.” – Rohan Patel,

“As magnetic as Liu is in action, he struggles in quieter moments with a script that gives the character more backstory than personality.” – Angie Han, Hollywood Reporter

“Shang-Chi seems to have inherited much of his father’s martial-arts prowess but not nearly enough of his charisma.” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

Awkwafina and Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

(Photo by Jasin Boland/©Marvel Studios)

What about Awkwafina?

“Awkwafina in particular becomes a vital source of levity for the script, and a welcoming audience surrogate as the film ramps up to a large battle.” – Nick Allen,

“Awkwafina, who has proven to be effortless in a layered role with The Farewell… isn’t allowed to go beyond ‘funnywoman’ here.” – Nguyen Le, JumpCut Online

“Awkwafina is, well, Awkwafina, for both better and worse… A few scenes allow her shtick to go on a beat or two too many.” – Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects

And Tony Leung as the villain?

“The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best ‘villain’ yet… Leung effortlessly proves he’s one of our greatest screen actors of the past 40 years.” – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

“One of the MCU’s best villains… Perhaps the best MCU villain to-date.” – Jeffrey Zhang, Strange Harbors

“Tony Leung delivers one of the finest performances we’ve ever seen in the MCU and should go down as one of the franchise’s greatest antagonists.” – Rohan Patel,

“It’s the best performance from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because the passion and grief it expresses is appropriately Leung-sized.” – Nick Allen,

“His performance anchors the film and expands the potential of the comic-book villain.” – Shirley Li, The Atlantic

“Leung as Wenwu provides depths of character in what could be a one-dimensional bad guy. However, the film’s real villain is grief.” – Laura Sirikul, Empire Magazine

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

Are there any other standouts?

“The dark horse is Meng’er Zhang’s Xialing… In a lesser film, she would be discarded to the sidelines, but there’s remarkable shading to her character that gives her some of the film’s best moments.” – Jeffrey Zhang, Strange Harbors

“Michelle Yeoh also plays a pivotal role, and is absolutely wonderful.” – Rohan Patel,

How is the film’s representation of women?

“The strongest fighters depicted are the women…[but] even as Shang-Chi presents more badass women than most Marvel films, they exist to support a man’s journey.” – Nancy Wang Yuen, io9

“In drawing attention to Xialing’s personal history of neglect, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings insistently telegraphs its awareness of its own shortcomings.” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

“Zhang’s Xialing has the most compelling backstory, but at times, it feels she is just there as set dressing for the main hero. It’s unfortunate she isn’t given more to do.” – Laura Sirikul, Empire Magazine

Does the screenplay do the rest of the movie justice?

“The script, by Cretton, Dave Callaham, and Andrew Lanham, charts a familiar enough origin story and journey of self-discovery, but there’s fun and heart in the details.” – Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects

Shang-Chi does have some pacing issues where the story, at times, becomes convoluted with so much information to set up the world of Ta Lo and how it relates to the MCU as a whole.” – Laura Sirikul, Empire Magazine

“The film’s middle sags with exposition and backstory, as its screenwriters attempt to maneuver around a few finicky problems.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Ryan Fujitani

Is the movie funny?

“The funny in Shang-Chi seems to reflect a millennial sensibility, making the mixture of action and comedy feel fresh for the MCU.” – Nancy Wang Yuen, io9

Shang-Chi’s brand of humor almost reminded me of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok.” – Patricia Puentes, Ask

“The cast manages to carry a strong sense of tongue-in-cheek humor throughout the film, with one later surprise character hailing straight from the Taika Waititi school of comedy.” – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

“The jokes keep Shang-Chi from tipping over into self-importance, but they also rob it of some of its wonder.” – Angie Han, Hollywood Reporter

What about its themes of family?

“They’ve never quite been handled with the nuance and emotion granted the relationship between Shang-Chi and his father.” – Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects

“Liu infuses these struggles with a real believability and charm.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire

Black Widow is like the MCU worst family vacation scenario for superheroes, while Shang-Chi is a family reunion and a long-lost relative revelation.” – Jana Monji, Age of the Geek

Is Shang-Chi… sexier than your typical Marvel movie?

“This might be Marvel at its steamiest.” – Nguyen Le, JumpCut Online

“In a swerve uncharacteristic of superhero films… Shang-Chi’s prologue cranks up the sexiness and romance [with] one of the most passionate and distinct set-pieces Marvel has ever placed on film.” – Jeffrey Zhang, Strange Harbors

“Leung, one of our best cinematic romantic leads and devastatingly handsome to boot, manages to inject sex appeal into a Marvel film with merely a look.” – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

Does it stick the landing?

“The finale of Shang-Chi is truly unlike anything that’s come before. It’s pure unadulterated spectacle, and so fantastical, it’s very much like watching a comic splash page come to life.” – Rohan Patel,

“Though it falls victim to the dreaded Marvel third-act CGI muddle, Shang-Chi‘s is one of the more forgivable ones, if only because it verges on full fantasia.” – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

“One of my biggest complaints is the heavy use of CGI in the final third of the film, which often felt clunky and ended up overshadowing the emotional scenes.” – Therese Lacson, The Beat

Shang-Chi employs its muddled third act with reckless, disappointing abandon…[the] final act demolition derby is an MCU weakness writ large.” – Jeffrey Zhang, Strange Harbors

Will it make us excited for the MCU’s future?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings presents a bright future for Marvel Studios and the expanded cinematic universe.” – Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

“Given what’s on show here, the future for Shang-Chi and Asian representation in the MCU looks bright.” – Laura Sirikul, Empire Magazine

Shang-Chi is a step in the right direction, but we’ll have to see how Phase Four plays out to see if the MCU is really embracing diversity in a way that includes people of Asian descent.” – Jana Monji, Age of the Geek

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is in theaters on September 3, 2021.

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