(spoilers galore, of course - this list does not include any of Marvel's "special presentations")
So as a long-time MCU fan, it pains me to hear and read some of the discourse that is out there on social media about Phase 4. Most of the negativity can be summarized as "Marvel hasn't been the same since Endgame" and "Phase 4 is disjointed with no overall vision like Phases 1-3."
I strongly disagree.
Hear me out before you sharpen any pitchforks. There are plenty of valid criticisms out there about Phase 4. It's oversaturated with SO MANY projects due to COVID putting a pause on most of them for the entirety of 2020, so I understand the superhero fatigue. There are also some questionable choices about what shows/movies we got like why make a Black Widow movie after her death and why not give Hawkeye a proper movie? (only OG Avenger who never got a movie) Why wasn't Eternals a fleshed-out show instead of a very cramped 2-hour movie? The pacing of some of the shows was also a bit off, where we'd get exciting intros, a few slow episodes of filler, and then an exciting finale. One of the reasons some of these shows could've been movies instead.
For every con I can think of though, there are countless pros. The diversity and representation of Phase 4 puts Phases 1-3 to shame. You can also feel the creative touch of the directors in a majority of these movies, whereas Phases 1-3 felt more strict and formulaic. The way I look at it, Phase 4 was this next saga's Phase 1, so it had the difficult job of introducing us to a roster of brand-new heroes while building up to the next big bad (Kang). Sure, some of the projects are a bit on the slower side, but Phases 5 and 6 are where the real conflicts will take place.
Without further ado, let's get into my ranking of the Phase 4 MCU films/shows:
16. I am Groot - This should be no surprise. I almost didn't include it on the list because it didn't seem fair, but it's still technically a show so here it is. Plain and simple: it's geared toward kids and not meant to be anything more than that. Just cute.
15. What If...? - This show has a great premise and had a ton of potential. However, I just didn't vibe with it. The animation wasn't my favorite, and some of the scenarios they chose to use just weren't very interesting. There are way better "What If" scenarios out there for them to pursue, and I hope season 2 delivers on some of them (i.e. what if the "snapped" Avengers were reversed?)
14. Multiverse of Madness - This might be one of the most controversial choices on this list because I know there's a huge audience out there who love this movie, but for me personally this movie out of the entirety of Phase 4 had the most to deliver and fumbled the hardest. For a movie titled and centered around the multiverse, the aspects of the multiverse we got were pretty lame. The 10-second montage of different universes that we got should've been the entire movie, hopping from world to world for short periods rather than hanging out in what, 2 or 3 universes total? The opening sequence and premise of dreams/nightmares being alternative universe versions of ourselves is really cool, but from there it goes downhill. Mordo's setup at the end of the first movie was completely abandoned when a movie about him eliminating sorcerors across the multiverse would've been much better. And we could've gotten a cool team-up of Dr. Strange and Wanda to take Mordo down, but instead they decided to make Wanda pretty irredeemable by having her murder tons of people just to bring back her imaginary children. I'm sure she isn't dead and will be redeemed at some point, but WandaVision made me really like her and having the Darkhold immediately turn her evil wasn't good writing. If they were going to go that direction, at least show more of a buildup so it's justified. Aside from all those complains, the horror element didn't work for me. The first Dr. Strange movie worked really well with the trippy/psychedelic vibe and I think this movie should've double downed on that. They also made Wong look pretty weak for being the Sorcerer Supreme. The cameos we got were cool, but they could've been better... (I'm looking at you, Deadpool - perfect opportunity to pull him in from the Fox universe)
13. Ms. Marvel - This show is a mixed bag for me. For one, it started off phenomenally. Avengers Con, interesting origin of her powers, love her dad. But then it comes to a grinding halt and the rest of the show focuses on a bunch of uninteresting characters and villains that didn't grab my interest. Iman Vellani acted her heart out and was easily the best part of the show (it was her first acting gig too, how awesome) but her friends weren't quite as interesting. The way her powers were adapted made perfect sense too, as I feel stretchy powers could've looked pretty weird (Hollywood hasn't quite figured live-action elasticity out). Where this show beats out MoM is that it does exactly what it needed to do for its target audience. It offered great Muslim representation as well as giving us more of a Spider-Man Homecoming/teen vibe with the editing which I loved. I recognize the show wasn't for me and that's perfectly okay. I'm interested now to see Kamala in the greater MCU picture in "The Marvels" with Captain Marvel and Monica Rambeau.
12. She-Hulk - When I first finished this show, I was convinced it was a top 10 MCU project this phase. But as I sat and marinaded on it the last few weeks, the more I've realized its many flaws. CGI was subpar, the plot built up a lot and then discarded it in the end, the Hulk subplot felt very thrown in last minute when it could've been given proper treatment in a future movie. The good: I LOVED the fourth wall breaking and how that played into the finale (even if it came at the expense of abandoning all the established plot points). Tatiana Maslany is an absolute gem and her charisma really sold me on She-Hulk as a character. Daredevil's return was absolutely phenomenal and turned me into a Matt Murdock fan. Also, Wong and Madisynn (with two n's and one y, but not where you thiiiiink) are an elite duo. I'm not sure how She-Hulk is going to fit into later MCU projects, but I'm hopeful they'll do the character justice as I want to see more of her.
11. Black Widow - Like I mentioned before, this movie should've been released during the time period it's set in (between Civil War and Infinity War). Watching a movie about a character who is currently dead lost some of the stakes, but what made up for that was the inclusion of Yelena and Red Guardian who stole the show. The opening sequence of the movie also brought me chills, and learning more about the Widow program and the Red Room really made me sympathize with Natasha - which would've been even better if this happened while she was still alive. Besides one moment of wonky CGI, the action scenes in this movie are great and the movie as a whole gave me a fun spy thriller vibe that's different than most of the MCU. Ending of this movie should've been a proper funeral for Natasha rather than just Yelena at her grave, but oh well.
10. Love and Thunder - This movie was an example of a director getting a little too much creative freedom. I love what Taika did for Thor's character in Ragnarok, but in Love and Thunder it felt like he took all the character development from Infinity War and Endgame and dialed it back to Thor from his first movie. Kind of cocky, kind of an idiot, when he became so much more than that. Someone who had lost everything and learned to turn that grief into power. Also, Korg was given nothing interesting to do besides narrate (and he's my favorite Thor character). The comedy needed to be toned down a bit (starting with those damn screaming goats) but those are my only complaints. The movie itself looked BEAUTIFUL. Lots of color, and then the colorless scenes in that shadow realm were *chef's kiss* which speaking of Gorr, he was a creepy and menacing threat who was also sympathetic. Christian Bale killed it, and besides not having much screen time and not butchering many gods, he did the most with what he had. I also really enjoyed Jane Foster's storyline and the way they managed to reintroduce her character and give her a meaningful sendoff. In another universe where this film was much darker to match the tone of Jane's cancer storyline and Gorr's backstory, it could've been a top MCU project this phase.
9. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier - This show had the opposite effect of She-Hulk for me. When I first finished it, the ending felt a bit underwhelming. But as I've thought back on it, this show has grown more on me. The character development for Sam in stepping into the Captain America mantle (as well as the commentary on how the world still views black people) was perfect. Before this show, he never stood out as more than a side character, but now he has cemented his place as our new Cap. His new suit looked great as well. Bucky was also given some much-needed development and closure for his past. He filled more of the side character role even though his name was in the title, but I have high hopes he'll have a bigger role in the future. It was also good to see Zemo again since he was such a great villain in Civil War. Aside from all this, Sharon's subplot as the power broker and everything with the Flag-Smashers and Karli was lackluster. John Walker made a much more complex and compelling antagonist and I wish the show had focused more on him and the government as the "bad guys."
8. Moon Knight - This show was a pleasant surprise for me. I love Oscar Isaac but nothing about the marketing for this show made me super excited to watch it. When it started off sluggishly slow, I was concerned this might be the first MCU project I abandon before its end. However, the middle of the show starts to pick up and then ends on an incredibly high note. Learning Marc's backstory and how he came to create his split personalities was emotional and intriguing. I also loved the creativity of the action sequences and how he eventually was able to get his personalities in sync with one another and switch back and forth effortlessly. I wasn't the biggest fan of the villain, but with a story like this the inner conflict between Marc and Steven was more than enough to hold my interest. Layla/Scarlet Scarab was also a great character and I enjoyed seeing her dynamic with Moon Knight as well as the action scenes in her superhero getup. This might be the character I'm most excited to see team up with the Avengers one day.
7. Hawkeye - What can I say - I'm a sucker for a solid show based around the holidays. The pure joy and spirit of Christmas imbued into this show filled me with all the serotonin. Hailee Steinfeld was the heart and soul of the show as Kate Bishop and I can't wait to see her in more MCU projects. Hawkeye was also good (just not as good) as we got to see the more human side of Clint when he's not busy being an Avenger, which was cool. A Golden Retriever who eats pizza... what else could you ask for? The action sequences with all the different trick arrows were also a ton of fun as we're used to seeing laser beams and punches when it comes to MCU action. Swordsman was a great red herring as he had me on the edge of my seat the first few episodes, and then bringing back Kingpin as the actual villain was an awesome twist. Echo didn't interest me a whole lot (although kudos on the deaf representation and using an actual deaf actress), so I'm interested to see if her show will make me a fan. This show felt like a sendoff for Clint as a character as he passed the torch to Kate, so I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see him again. The man needs to finally retire and enjoy life with his family for crying out loud.
6. Eternals - This might be another slightly controversial pick as I know a lot of people didn't like this movie. I, however, found it very refreshing and unique compared to the rest of the movies in this phase. We got introduced to SO many new characters, and with that said I still feel like we got a good sense of what all of them were about even with the time restraint. I think this movie would've worked better as a show (one 40-min episode per Eternal to fully flesh them out) but the visuals and CGI were stunning, the diversity was fantastic, and the impact to the greater MCU has me very excited. With two Game of Thrones actors and a character named Sersi (Cersei), it's a bit funny to me how much this movie gave me Game of Thrones/House of the Dragon vibes with its time jumps, character deaths, and huge ensemble of complex, flawed characters (there was even a sex scene). We also got Black Knight and Blade teased, which is a huge win in my book.
5. WandaVision - This show was the perfect start to Phase 4 and the return of Marvel after an entire year without any new content. It was the first MCU show which is fitting since it matched the format of a TV show the best out of all the shows we've gotten so far. Each episode jumping through the decades was a lot of fun, and watching the grief of Wanda losing Vision was heartbreaking and engaging. We also got the return of Darcy and Agent Woo, who are two of the best side characters to date. Watching Monica gain her powers was pretty neat, and although Fox's Quicksilver was a tease, this was the first implication of the X-Men coming to the MCU. Agatha was, of course, an amazing villain, and I'm interested to see what direction they take her spin-off show. For the main flaw: the ending could've been so much more. While I like what they did with Vision vs. White Vision and their philosophical debate, it ended with White Vision just flying off to who knows where with no indication of what his plans were. Seeing the Scarlet Witch come to life with a new outfit was great, but I still wish we got a bit more of a tease with mutants existing rather than a lame "boner" joke.
4. Loki - Loki was hands-down my favorite MCU show. The music, the different variants of Loki, the color palettes of the episodes, it was all great. Watching Loki watch his entire life unfold was super emotional, and the subtle moment when he heard thunder and looked up as if thinking of his brother was perfect. The TVA is a really interesting concept and this show went full throttle when it came to time travel shenanigans. This was our first taste at the unraveling of the multiverse and the consequences that brings, with a surprising finale that introduced us to our first version of Kang, the next Thanos of this saga. Sylvie was a fun character for Loki to bounce off of, and versions of him falling in love with each other makes perfect sense for the character. Classic Loki sacrificing himself was one of the most memorable scenes, and who didn't love Alligator Loki? Mobius and Loki's friendship was also enjoyable to watch, and what they set up at the end of the season has me very excited for the endless possibilities in season 2.
3. Shang-Chi - This movie had all the makings of an awesome MCU project. Compelling and charismatic main character - check. Threatening yet sympathetic villain - check. Adding new and interesting lore to the MCU - check. Great visuals, good diversity, balance of action, humor and character moments - check, check, check. They even brought back the fake Mandarin from Ironman 3 and made him more interesting. I'm not the biggest Awkwafina fan, but they kept her character pretty tame compared to her usual outlandish roles so that's a positive. What has me most intrigued with this movie is what the post-credits set up, with the ten rings emitting some kind of power/magic that is unfamiliar and may or may not tie into Kang... we shall see.
2. Wakanda Forever - Okay, this one is most fresh in my head. What a powerful and emotional sendoff for Chadwick Boseman as well as Phase 4. They honestly did the best job they could at incorporating Chadwick's death into the Black Panther story. Shuri's character development was also top-notch as she had to handle a ton of grief and pain and still fought against her thirst for vengeance to be a true hero. I had to hold back tears countless times throughout this movie. Namor was such a good antagonist. He was sympathetic but also vicious and a menace. When he offered to team up with Shuri after showing her the beautiful Talokan, I really thought he was going to be a weaker villain. Boy was I wrong. I'm not sure what they have planned for him next, but I don't think it's anything good. Shuri looked great in the new suit and I'm pumped for M'Baku to challenge the throne to be the next King of Wakanda. 10/10 acting from all of the cast.
1. No Way Home - As a HUGE Spider-Man fan, this also shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. This movie delivered everything I could've hoped for in the finale to a Spider-Man trilogy. It gave Tom's Peter all the character development he had been lacking the last two movies. It completely embodied the theme of great power and great responsibility as Tom had to sacrifice everyone he loved to fix his mistakes. The incorporation of the old Spider-Man villains as well as the other two Spider-Man was nearly perfect. Lizard and Sandman definitely didn't need to be in the movie, but that's a nitpick at best. I'm glad we got closure to Tobey and Andrew's Spider-Man stories and I'm glad Tom's Spider-Man is getting a bit of a fresh start in his next trilogy. That opens up so many great opportunities for new villains, new friends and love interests, and for Spider-Man to be able to do his own thing and not always be lumped in with the Avengers. I'm personally hoping for Black Cat and Scorpion/Rhino in the next movie, with Venom probably being introduced in the second or third movie of his next trilogy. Goblin was an absolute MENACE, the new suit at the end was clean af and I will never get tired of watching this movie. People complain about the overuse of nostalgia, but I think it was executed well. A 10/10 for acting from the entire cast.
And there you have it folks. Let me know your thoughts on Phase 4 and what you're excited for in Phase 5. Right now for me, I can't wait for Quantumania to kick things off!