Since January of 2020, MCU fans have been treated to a steady release schedule of movies and TV shows, and with the recent release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, there have been eleven projects released in Phase Four thus far. This phase might be the most varied phase we’ve seen yet; so far we’ve gotten a sitcom homage, a spy thriller, a horror film, a celebration of Asian heritage, multiversal cross overs, Egyptian gods and even a cartoon! Though most MCU projects are at the least entertaining, not every project in this new phase has been a slam dunk. So I thought it would be a good idea to look at all eleven projects and rank them in order from not so great (because, honestly, they are all enjoyable) to marvelous.
11. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
The biggest case study proving that a six-hour TV show is a few hours too long, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is by far the worst thing to come out of Phase Four, if not the MCU as a whole. Though it opens with a spectacular, movie-worthy action sequence, it quickly pumps the breaks and focuses on an unthreatening and underdeveloped villain and just kind of meanders about for a few of the episodes.
There is a lot the show gets right: Captain America’s new suit, the introduction of John Walker (Wyatt Russell) and Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus); the return of Zemo (Daniel Bruhl); the banter between Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan); and opening up the conversation about race relations within the MCU. But what the show gets wrong stands out a lot more: a weak, boring villain; a wandering plot that doesn’t quite know where to place the focus; a predictable mystery and out-of-left-field turn surrounding Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp); and most of all the forgettable plot.
The thing that Marvel has done so well since 2008’s Iron Man is that they have taken the time to develop each individual character and then, once audiences were familiar with their stories, Marvel brought them together on screen. This is not the case with Eternals. Too long and stuffed with too many characters we have never even seen, Eternals is certainly a beautiful movie with a stacked cast, but that’s really all it has going for it. Marvel asked us to do too much in this movie–learn a new mythology, meet new characters, and then care about the trials and tribulations of these characters that really have no connective tissue to us mere mortals.
I suspect that this movie will age better with time, especially when the cast starts to interact with characters we are more familiar with in future projects. But for right now, this movie is just too much and takes itself way too seriously.
9. What If…?
Marvel’s first foray into animation, What If…? seemed like non-essential viewing when it was first announced. However, once it started airing, it eventually became clear that what we thought were self-contained episodes were really working together to tell an overarching narrative throughout the first season. Not only that, but with the dawn of the multiverse throughout Phase Four, these seemingly non-cannon stories suddenly had the potential to spill into the stories and characters we have come to love in the MCU.
It’s an interesting concept, for sure, but in execution, most of the stories didn’t really deliver. Plot lines varied wildly from interesting to mundane (really, a whole episode based on party Thor?), and I just never could get on board with the art style. Additionally, while the choice to mostly use voice actors from the movies helped to tie the show into the larger MCU, several notable actors decided not to participate and those that did had varying degrees of success. Marvel should have just made the decision to recast all the voice actors with those who know the medium.
8. Moon Knight
One of the more recent additions on the list, I really wanted to like Moon Knight more than I did. The best part of the show is Oscar Isaac’s acting, hands down. If an argument has ever been made for actors in comic book adaptations to win awards, this is one of the most compelling ones. The fact that in most scenes he is acting against himself while keeping the characters of Steven and Marc as wholly unique and genuine is just astonishing. Oscar Isaac is a phenomenal actor and I hope we see more of him in the MCU moving forward.
If The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a case study proving that six-hours is too long for a story, Moon Knight is the exact opposite. There is so much more that needed to happen in this story, and just when it was getting good, they had to rush to a pretty underwhelming and tonally off ending. Also, why was Ethan Hawke in this show? Really though, what about his character, who spent the entire time whispering and really doing nothing, compelled him to join the MCU?
Additionally, the show leaves us with more questions than we have answers. Where the Thor movies explained Norse gods as aliens, the Egyptian gods seem to be actual gods. So, what does that make Thor and Loki? What about Bast from Black Panther? Additionally, how many world-changing events have the regular people in the MCU been through? Since Thanos’ snap, they’ve witnessed half of all life come back, giant purple multiverse cracks in the sky over New York City, a massive Celestial start to come up out of the ocean, and the actual night sky reverse time to decades in the past. Therapy bills must be astronomical in the MCU.
Lastly, for a show named Moon Knight, there are remarkably few scenes featuring the titular character. In fact, he is absent for almost two episodes of the six episode run! I want to see more lunar avenging!
7. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
I said in my recent review that the best way to describe this movie is to compare it to an episode of Family Guy: it starts off with an interesting premise, goes to incredibly bonkers places in the middle, but by the end, nothing has really changed and the adventure didn’t really mean anything. While not a huge problem, in a universe that is so interconnected and where every chapter usually has lasting implications on future characters and films, it was kind of dissappointing.
The best part of this movie is Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen). What Olsen brings to the screen is an incredibly nuanced, emotional, and realistic character who is also hands down the most powerful being in the MCU. I love what she has done throughout her almost decade in the MCU, and hope she sticks around for more.
Additionally, it is starting to seem that instead of using the multiverse to really explore the gravity of the choices these characters make and how those choices change them for better and worse, the multiverse is being used as a cheap way to show fan-favorite cameos without having to commit to anything too crazy. Hopefully this will change as it seems the multiverse is to Phase Four what the Infinity Stones were to Phases One through Three.
6. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
When I first saw Shang Chi, I didn’t love it. Then it came out on Disney Plus and I re-watched it, and I absolutely fell in love. The joy that the filmmakers and actors felt while making this movie oozes through the screen and you just can’t help but smile while you watch it. I also love how it surprisingly ties into previous movies within the MCU with storylines and characters lifted from past entries and explored even more deeply here.
Simu Liu is confident and compelling to watch, and Awkwafina (who I really don’t care for) surprisingly leaves behind her more obnoxious qualities and turns in a nuanced performance as Shaun’s best friend.
Where this movie shines is in its world building and action sequences. Fight scenes are not only fast paced and frenetic, they also tie into the emotional beats of the story in a way that I’ve never really seen before. And the places the film takes you are some of the most visually stunning we’ve been treated to in the MCU, making me excited for a return trip in the next film.
5. Black Widow
Black Widow is a movie that, for multiple reasons, should have come out years before it did. I’m partly referencing the year plus delay due to the COVID pandemic, but mostly referencing the fact that this character, who we’ve seen since 2010’s Iron Man 2, has only had the opportunity to act as a supporting character in other’s solo films in her decade plus in the MCU. Its absolutely egregious that we had to wait until 2021 to see her in her own film.
However, the wait was absolutely worth it. Black Widow is one of the grittiest, most realistic movies the MCU has ever released. It is grounded in a way that makes it feel like it isn’t part of a larger story that includes gods, talking raccoons and witchcraft. The action is relentless and the emotional scenes are even more so.
Where this movie shines, however, is in the character interactions. Here we are introduced to Natasha’s (Scarlett Johansson) adopted family, played by Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, and the excellent Florence Pugh. The smaller scenes, like the one where they are all having dinner together, are the ones that stand out the most. Equal parts heartwarming and heart breaking, this movie is able to reach new depths in a character we thought we knew really well.
If this movie is truly the last time we see Natasha Romanoff, it is a stunning farewell. And even if we never see her again, we’ve already seen Pugh’s Yelena in Hawkeye, and I’m hopeful other supporting characters from this movie appear in future projects as well.
If Loki were just two episodes – the pilot and the finale – this would probably be number one on my list. No other MCU TV show has started as perfectly as Loki, nor has one handled their finale with as much grace and depth as this show. Where Loki fails is in the middle parts, particularly in the one episode where Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) are stuck on a planet, awaiting their destruction.
I absolutely love the aesthetic of the show, with the animated sequences and neo-retro vibe of the Time Variance Authority. It is definitely the most confident of the MCU TV shows. And the introduction of Kang (Jonathan Majors), who appears to be a charismatic and compelling villain, was pitch perfect.
What an absolute surprise Hawkeye was. As a character, Clint Barton’s (Jeremy Renner) portrayal in the MCU has been kind of a mess. First introduced as a cameo in Thor, he was completely sidelined as a hypnotized villain in The Avengers and then switched from secret family man to ninja assassin to just not there in subsequent adventures. Out of all the Disney Plus shows that were initially announced, this was the one I was looking forward to the least. He’s had his chance, I thought. I just don’t care about this character.
Boy, was I wrong. This show was an absolute joy to watch, particularly because of the exploration of the impact a life of avenging has on your mental and physical health and on the lives of those around you. For the first time, the super hero way of life was shown in a not so compelling light, with Barton’s body literally bearing the brunt of his years of service.
Add to that the introduction of the absolutely perfect Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop, the return of Florence Pugh’s Yelena from Black Widow, and the appearance of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk? And there are insane fight scenes with wacky arrows? AND the show takes place during Christmas in New York City? More of this, please, Marvel.
This is Marvel at its boldest. A live taping of a sitcom homage about the marriage of an actual witch to a dead synthezoid? Where every episode pays tribute to a different decade of television? It shouldn’t have worked. It shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. And man am I so glad that it did.
While it is not a perfect show, WandaVision shines when it steers clear of tried and true MCU tropes and really dives into an extended exploration on the stages of grief. Elizabeth Olsen cemented herself as a top tier actress within the MCU, effortlessly switching from different decades of sitcom wives to a wounded, grieving woman who just wants the comfort of family around her.
Elements of the show didn’t work, particularly the more MCU-esque ending battle between Wanda and Agatha (Kathryn Hahn). And speaking of Hahn, I am so glad she is getting all of the recognition she’s deserved for years because of this show. She was an absolute delight as the nosey neighbor Agnes, and mostly knocked it out of the park once her true villainous aspirations came to light. I am very much looking forward to her spin-off show Agatha: House of Harkness, and hope she is able to expand upon the already excellent foundation established in this show.
1. Spider-Man: No Way Home
The importance of this movie cannot be understated. Don’t forget that, after Sony and Marvel came to a landmark deal to share the character of Spider-Man, leading to Tom Holland getting the part in Captain America: Civil War, the deal fell through after Spider-Man: Far From Home. That’s right, there were a few weeks there where we thought we would never get a resolution to the cliff hanger ending of Spider-Man’s second solo film in the MCU. Thankfully, Sony and Marvel decided to play nice, and I am so thankful they did.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is a rare movie that is able to stay squarely focused on the main character (Tom Holland’s Peter Parker), tie up the story established in the first two films in the series, and give more closure to the previous Spider-Man movie iterations by bringing back Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield as actual cast members and not just glorified cameos.
It shouldn’t have worked. It should have collapsed under the massive weight of every single story thread it was trying to juggle. But the most amazing thing is, it didn’t. Everything about this movie works so well, most importantly the fact that it really gives the main characters time to breathe and react to what is going on around them. This whole time, we thought we were getting the final film in a trilogy of Spider-Man movies, but what Spider-Man: No Way Home actually was was the third chapter in the MCU’s origin story for Peter Parker, as well as a loving farewell to Maguire’s and Garfield’s versions of the character. If this is the last time we see any of the three Peter Parkers, it was a beautifully moving farewell to one of the best superheroes on screen ever.
So, there you have it. Just one person’s definitive ranking of all the currently released projects within the MCU’s Phase Four. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook group or Discord channel by clicking HERE or scanning the QR code below.
Mark Pereira is a senior writer for Boss Rush Network. He loves all video games, but his top three favorites are Skyward Sword, Super Mario 3D World and Batman: Arkham Asylum. You can find him on Twitter where he’s usually talking about Nintendo, video games, movies, and TV shows.
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