With “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” finally hitting theatres, it marks the end of the fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). A beautiful, heartfelt tribute to actor Chadwick Boseman for sure. As emotionally satisfying as the film was, it’s time to take stock of Marvel’s Phase 4. Honestly, if we were asked to name a single theme that runs throughout all of the films of this era, we would be hard-pressed to find anything coherent or binding. Don’t get us wrong, there were some bright spots for sure but overall, Phase 4 as a whole has been quite underwhelming in its setup for the future of the MCU and the Multiversal Saga.
In light of that, we figured that now would be a great time to finally run down all the cinematic properties of Phase 4, seeing where Marvel Studios excelled and where they fell short. We’re ranking every film in this period from worst to best. Do note that we’re not including TV specials like “Werewolf by Night” or “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special”. With that in mind, let’s get into it!
7. Eternals (2021)
Even the most die-hard fans of Jack Kirby’s comic book series would struggle with “Eternals”. While Director Chloe Zhao’s desire to bring this obscure and fascinating part of Marvel mythology to life is noble, the film is handled very much like a prolonged and droll history lesson. Safe for Barry Keoghan’s Druig and Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo, the rest of the cast’s talent is wasted on animating a plot that seems less interested in grounding its chaotic narrative in any meaningful focus than it does in zipping across exotic locales and hammering the audience over the head with its space-opera exposition. Congrats, we know Thanos has a handsome brother, Kit Harrington gets to play with swords again and Marvel’s space gods are terrible parents…yay.
6. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
LGBT controversy aside, there’s nothing much that can be said about “Thor: Love and Thunder”. This is a shame because it seemed like the film could have been a moving exploration of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and his desire to find himself in a world without family or destiny. It could have been a poignant tale of grief and love as Thor reunites with his first love, Jane Foster only to lose her again. Too bad Director Taika Waititi couldn’t stop making funny faces and mostly-passable quips for more than five minutes to give the film any sort of emotional stakes. The greatest of its sins, however, is dragging the formidable Christian Bale into this mess only to have him play one-quarter a compelling foe, and three-quarters a mustachio-twirling joke. This whole film is a joke, and not a very funny one.
5. Black Widow (2021)
We’re sad that we’ll never see Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow return to the MCU again. We’re disappointed that this is how they chose to send her character off. Natasha Romanov has always been something of an enigma in the MCU. Her shady past as a government weapon brushes up against her more human desires for love and family. A spider caught in her own web. “Black Widow” started with promise with a fun cast of characters like Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova and David Harbour’s Red Guardian. However, the film made the terrible decision of rendering Taskmaster a boring, brain-washed puppet and elevating Ray Winston’s Dreykov to be the cliched mastermind figure. “Black Widow” misses the mark but is definitely not the worst of the lot.
4. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
It’s about time Sam Raimi made his return to Marvel! His first outing in the MCU with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” marks the franchise’s first foray into the genre of horror. How did he do? While we’re not leaving the theatre with nightmares that’s for sure. Still, there were enough creepy thrills and mind-blowing visuals to keep us engaged throughout. “Multiverse of Madness” could have easily made it into our top three but Scarlet Witch’s out-of-nowhere turn to the dark side made no sense! Even those that argue that the Darkhold played a role in her corruption have to admit that her sudden shift was out of character with the Wanda we saw at the end of “WandaVision”. Also…we’re still mad about how the Illuminati was taken out like a bunch of chumps. What a waste.
3. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Simu Liu’s Xu Shang Chi is easily one of our favourite new heroes in the MCU roster. Director Destin Daniel Cretton deftly weaves familial drama with comic-book film heroics to create a film that is more than just formulaic Marvel with an Asian twist. From Awkwafina’s adorkable Katy to Meng’er Zhang’s vengeful Xu Xialing, “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” populates its corner of the MCU with characters that feel as established and natural as the gods of Asgard. The clear star of the show though is definitely Tony Leung as the power-hungry, stern Wenwu, who paints a sympathetic yet fearsome portrait of a grieving husband and manipulative father. The whole Dweller in Darkness subplot didn’t do much for us but thankfully a generous amount of stunning martial arts sequences and strong performances more than makes up for it.
2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Ryan Coogler proves that he is one of the most exciting storytellers within the MCU. Considering the number of changes he needed to make to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” in light of lead star Chadwick Boseman’s passing, it’s a miracle that the film came together so well. Letitia Wright as Shuri admirably steps up to the role of the new Black Panther with a unique voice of her own. One that echoes the rage of Killmonger and the compassionate wisdom of T’Challa while also carrying the levity of Shuri’s personality. Tenoch Huerta’s powerful performance as Namor and Coogler’s fresh reimagining of Marvel’s Atlantis as Talokan provided a worthy foil to Wakanda at its weakest. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” never sacrifices its heart for spectacle, rather it marries the inner struggle of personal loss with the devastation of war to impressive effect. A wonderful way to honour both Boseman and T’Challa!
1. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
We don’t care how old or jaded you are. You’re lying if you said you didn’t scream your head off when our three boys came swinging on screen. We almost broke our damn seats! Now, this is how you do nostalgia. This is how you honour the legacy of the past and build on the promise of the present. We won’t lie, we always did feel that Tom Holland’s Peter Parker never quite lived up to Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield’s rendition of the character. There was something missing from him, some edge or pathos. Owing to Willem Dafoe’s titanic contribution as the menacing Green Goblin, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has finally arrived. He is no longer a boy living in the safety of friends and family. We truly believe that the MCU’s Peter has what it takes to become a symbol of hope and justice to the world. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is an intertextual triumph and the very best that Phase 4 has to offer!