Phase Four Of The MCU: Ranked

The fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) turned out to be a mixed bag in terms of quality. It was also different in that the MCU now officially incorporated TV shows and as a result, we had plenty to watch and enjoy. Some of the films and TV shows were bonafide gems, others were hugely disappointing. As we prepare for Phase Five, let’s look back at Phase Four of the MCU and rank them. If anyone has a different list order, please feel free to drop a comment.

18. Ms. Marvel

Where to start with this MCU TV show? Not only does it turn Ms. Marvel into a poor person’s Green Lantern, it betrays her comic roots by making her a mutant. Then it commits the deadly sin by veering too much into dull Pakistani family drama that took up valuable screen time.

17. Eternals

This is a contender for being the worst MCU film. It’s dull, plodding and pretentious. What’s worse is that it insults comic book legend Jack Kirby’s original vision of these superheroes by changing their origin and purpose. It ranks higher than Ms. Marvel only because its special effects and cinematography were better.

16. I Am Groot

Basically, it was a cute animated show. Actually it was a bunch of five-minute segments featuring Baby Groot doing silly antics. So, pretty much it was geared for kids and the young at heart, but otherwise, it’s harmless fluff for the rest of us to skip over or watch to kill a few minutes of time.

15. Moon Knight

Despite Oscar Isaac’s winning performance as the title character and some good fight scenes, the show was too uneven. It seemed as if the showrunners could not decide if Moon Knight was a psychological mystery, an Indiana Jones-type of adventure story or a downright fantasy. What we got was a narrative mess.

14. Loki

This show that first expanded on the concept of the multiverse is a perfect case for showing not telling. It did have some interesting concepts and the introduction of Kang was chilling, the show was weighed down by too many scenes of exposition that was not particularly engaging.

13. She-Hulk: Attorney At Law

Unlike other uneven MCU TV shows that fell apart at the end, this one stuck the landing hard. Unfortunately, many episodes of this supposed comedy were simply not funny. Still, Tatiana Maslany turned in an endearing performance as the title character while she went through the downside of being a superhero celebrity.

12. Black Widow

A film set during Phase Three starring a now-dead character was an unusual way to start the film side of Phase Four of the MCU. Some complained the film was unnecessary, but it cannot be denied that it was an exciting spy thriller with some memorable characters.

11. Hawkeye

This could have been one of the greatest superhero TV shows due to onscreen buddy chemistry between Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld and presenting the physical and emotional toll Hawkeye suffered from the MCU films. But, the writing and directing was inconsistent, though some episodes were terrific.

10. Thor: Love and Thunder

While it is not as good as Thor: Ragnarok, the fourth Thor film was downright hysterical and enjoyable at times. However, it was hampered with its uneven tone that made too light of some sober themes like cancer and deity worship that were often overwhelmed by poorly timed slapstick scenes.

9. Werewolf By Night

After the uneven results of its MCU TV shows, Marvel Studios tried a new approach with a one-off TV special. It not only worked spectacularly, but the special expanded the MCU with more horror elements and intriguing new characters that must be brought back again.

8. What If…?

This animated series sometimes went wild with its exploration of the multiverse with interesting alternate MCU worlds that led to an epic showdown at the end of the season that teamed up several familiar heroes with new twists. Unlike Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Ultron featured in this series was truly terrifying.

7. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special

Both funny and heartfelt, this holiday special from director James Gunn is everything a holiday special should be. Aside from presenting the usual heart-tugging and whimsical elements of a holiday special, it also served as an excellent way of preparing us for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3.

6. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The second MCU TV show did a great job of examining the impact of the events from Avengers: Endgame on the world and several Captain America-related characters. What made the character moments so memorable were that they were so grounded and relatable to viewers, and touched on real-world issues.

5. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

This action fantasy film is a perfect example of taking an obscure character and turning him and his world into a popular sensation. The film impressed all of us with the stunning and exciting fight sequences and its eye-popping fantasy scenes were quite breathtaking and wondrous. It’s easy to see why its director was tapped to film the next Avengers film.  

4. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

The sequel to Black Panther proved to be a worthy followup to the original film, even without its main character. Director Ryan Coogler co-wrote this heartfelt and somber film that dwelled on the devastating aftermath from the loss of Black Panther as felt by his loved ones and his nation. Also, Namor was a brilliantly presented anti-hero/antagonist with a thought-provoking back story.

3. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

While the multiverse was not exactly mad in the second Doctor Strange film, the concepts of other realities was well explored with a visual relish by director Sam Raimi. Drawing from his horror film repertoire, Raimi infused the film with chilling horror elements and imagery, and fantastic (forgive the pun) references to other Marvel Comics properties and Marvel film universes.

2. WandaVision

The very first MCU TV show is still the best one to date. Elizabeth Olsen gave a genuine standout performance as the emotionally fragile Wanda Maximoff dealing with immense grief in an unusual way. The show quickly became must-see viewing as we pondered the mystery of what was going on with Wanda’s reality that was presented by amusing takes of American sitcoms through the decades. WandaVision also expanded the MCU in an organic, supernatural way that did not feel forced and teased us of what was to come.

1. Spider-Man: No Way Home

The third MCU Spider-Man film turned out to be one of the best MCU films ever as the film truly opened up and introduced audiences to the concept of the multiverse. Fans were elated over Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire reprising their roles as Spider-Man, as well as the return of classic Spider-Man villains like Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin (reprised by the actors who originated the roles: Al Molina and Willem Dafoe). What made the film truly stand out was its deeply emotional core as Spider-Man is forced to learn that with great power, comes great responsibility.

The MCU Returns To Comic-Con

San Diego Comic-Con made a huge return this weekend after a couple of years of inactivity thanks to the pandemic. Demonstrating that life in geekdom was returning to normal were all the presentations by and appearances of countless companies and individuals for the genre properties we love.

The big news this weekend at Comic-Con was the bigger-than-exptected splash made by Marvel Studios about their upcoming properties. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige appeared in Hall H of the convention and made several exciting announcements, which included the revelation that Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will end this year with the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. By the way, the presentation for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was quite emotional given the loss of Chadwick Boseman. However, the trailer released for the film was exciting with the reveal of Namor the Submariner and the Atlanteans.

Phase Five of the MCU starts next year with the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania on February 17, 2023, and concludes on July 26, 2024 with Thunderbolts (Marvel’s version of the Suicide Squad). Other films and TV shows, which will stream on Disney+, during Phase Five include Secret Invasion (spring 2023), Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3 (May 5, 2023, and by the way the leaked images of a baby Rocket Raccoon were adorable!), The Marvels (July 28, 2023), Echo (summer 2023), Ironheart (fall 2023), Blade (November 3, 2023), Agatha: Coven of Chaos (winter 2023), Captain America: New World Order (May 3, 2024), and Daredevil: Born Again (spring 2024). The last two entries were the most exciting announcements as the fourth Captain America will feature Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) who takes up the mantle of Captain America, while the new Daredevil TV series will have Charlie Cox resuming the title role he originated in the Netflix series. Fans have been teased about Daredevil with Matt Murdock’s appearance in last year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, and even more enticed by his quick cameo in the latest trailer for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. The She-Hulk series looks like fun, even though some of the CG still looks sketchy.

However, Feige was not finished. He announced the most important Phase Six MCU films, and the sixth phase will begin with Fantastic Four on November 8, 2024 and continue on and conclude with two Avengers films! Avengers: The Kang Dynasty on May 2, 2025 and Avengers: Secret Wars on November 7, 2025.

Of course, there are significant gaps in the release schedule for unannounced projects, which could go to future Spider-Man films or something to do with the X-Men. Keep in mind, that despite all the buzz going into Comic-Con there was not an official announcement that Deadpool would join the MCU and not a word was mentioned about possible followups to successful Phase Four properties like Doctor Strange or Shang-Chi. But more information will be revealed in the September 10, 2022 D23 Expo. Perhaps the cast and director of Fantastic Four will be announced by then or it will be revealed that the Russo Brothers will direct the new Avengers films.

When it comes to Spider-Man, aside from some details on the upcoming animated series Spider-Man: Freshman Year (which won’t take place in the MCU), there weren’t any annoucements by Sony Pictures, who owns the film rights to Spider-Man, about the future of the MCU Spider-Man. However, given the mammoth success of Spider-Man: No Way Home, a fourth MCU Spider-Man is inevitable, as are the future hot garbage Sony is filming like Kraven, El Muerto, and Madame Web.

Surely, there were other huge announcements at Comic-Con that did not deal with Marvel or the MCU, but they paled compared to Marvel Studios. It should be noted that Marvel Studios’ rival, Warner Bros. Discovery had a presentation about their DC film properties, which turned out to be a bit of a dud hampered with controversy. One of the big rumors going into Comic-Con was that Henry Cavill would appear or there would be an announcement that the actor would return to play Superman in either Black Adam or an upcoming DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film. But the actor was a no show, which melted the internet as furious fans lamented about this and the fact that the only involvement director Zack Snyder will have with DC properties will be an appearance in the animated show Teen Titans Go! The only revelations made about the DCEU were two trailers for Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods. But nothing about upcoming DCEU projects like Blue Beetle and The Flash. It’s a shame because both DCEU trailers were very well done. Perhaps if Warner Bros. Discovery puts out another DC Fandome with more and substantial announcements then all will be forgiven, but to date there is not any information about a DC Fandome for this year.

Getting back to Marvel Studios and the MCU, the announcements were expected, but a pleasant surprise when they were officially announced. What was unexpected was that the early films of Phase Five were anticipated to be part of Phase Four, which seems to have ended prematurely. This could be because of the mixed reaction to Phase Four and a decision could have been made to end it soon in order to give fans a sense of starting over with more alluring and crowdpleasing films and TV shows in the next phase. So, even though Phase Four of the MCU turned out to be a mixed bag, fans can put that behind and look forward to what awaits with Phase Five, Six and beyond.

The Stumbles Of The MCU’s Phase Four

The toughest thing about being king of the mountain is staying there to paraphrase an old saying. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige is certainly experiencing this now given the stumbles and headaches with Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film universe devoted to the Marvel Comics heroes absolutely ruled the box office in the past decade with their interconnected films. Many memorable characters became part of our popular culture in a way not seen since the original Star Wars films. The MCU reached its zenith in 2019 with the release of Avengers: Endgame, as that film concluded the Infinity Saga. But since then, there are cracks in the once-invincible armor of the MCU as their recent entries in film and television streaming have had a mixed reaction from fans and critics.

The films and TV shows are successful as seen with most recently with Thor: Love and Thunder and Ms. Marvel. However, in the past an MCU entry would both be well received by fans, critics and profitable. But as seen with the most recent entries that is no longer the case. Thor: Love and Thunder was not as well received, but it is a genuine box office hit, while, Ms. Marvel received excellent reviews, but was the least viewed MCU TV show. This is nothing new with Phase Four of the MCU, which began when Black Widow was released in theaters and streamed at the same time on Disney+ in May 2021. Due to the pandemic and the availability of the film on home media, Black Widow did not make as much money as many of the previous MCU films and had a middling reception by critics and fans. As the pandemic eased and subsequent films were released exclusively in theaters, they performed better with Spider-Man: No Way Home becoming the biggest hit of Phase Four and acclaimed by fans and critics, alike. But most of the other film entries have proven to be controversial or derided by all.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an excellent example as it was equally revered and derided, Some enjoyed the more viceral horror elements of the film, but others complained about the film’s content, the way certain characters were treated and so on. Others wanted to see more bizarre explorations of other dimensions and alternate takes of the MCU aside from the Illuminati. Basically, these critics felt the so-called Mulitverse of Madness did not live up to its name.

That leads to another gripe with the recent MCU fare. Before a film or TV show comes out, the speculation about who will appear in them goes overboard which will disappointment fans. This was evident with WandaVision when one of the TV show’s star promised an important character would appear in the last episode, leading to wild rumors that the X-Men would finally debut in the MCU, but this did not happen. Then there were all the supposed cameos for the second Doctor Strange film that never materialized. What is more infuriating are the reports that many characters were supposed to appear in these films and TV shows, but for one reason or another these appearances did not happen.

Here are some examples: Doctor Strange was supposed to appear in a cameo in WandaVision, Deadpool was supposed to pop up in a post-credits zinger in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, director Sam Raimi was supposed to reunite with Tobey Maguire as the universe of Spider-Man was supposed to be visited in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Beta Ray Bill would finally debut in Thor: Love and Thunder, Werewolf by Night was supposed to appear in Moon Knight, and so on. Now, the speculation continues as Doctor Doom will supposedly make his MCU debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and that Ben Grimm and Matt Murdock will turn up in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. This speculation is a great way to generate interest but it is bound to disappoint many, no matter what. Of course, there have been notable and important cameos in the Phase Four films and TV shows, such as the characters from the Netflix Marvel TV shows turning up in Hawkeye and Spider-Man: No Way Home, Captain Marvel appearing in a post-credits scene of Ms. Marvel, and of course the appearances of several Marvel heroes like Reed Richards and Professor X in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Continue reading

A Look Back At Spider-Man 3

The first two Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man films are still considered classic superhero films that helped put Marvel Entertainment on the Hollywood map of superhero films.

Then there is Spider-Man 3.

Honestly, the film is not all bad, though it does a lot to earn its infamous reputation, but it is hardly the trainwreck many critics make it out to be. It certainly is not the worse Spider-Man film…that dubious dishonor goes to The Amazing Spider-Man 2. What is frustrating for fans is that Spider-Man 3 has so many elements that would have made a great Spider-Man film, but it is so cluttered thanks to studio interference. Let’s take a look at it’s messy plotline to see for ourselves. Spoilers are ahead.

Spider-Man 3 begins with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) reveling in his dual role as the masked superhero Spider-Man. He is on top of his game as New York City, his home base, showers him with praise and cheers. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), once a rising star of an actress and model, is suffering a career slump. She gets fired from a starring role in a Broadway musical and is eventually forced to work as a singing waitress in a jazz club. Peter thinks little of Mary Jane’s plight and tells her everything will be fine. On one such occasion, the couple are out stargazing in a park and a meteor crashes nearby without either noticing it. From the meteorite, an extra-terrestrial shapeless mass emerges and hitches a ride onto Peter’s moped when Peter and Mary Jane leave the park. Later, the alien life form stays hidden in Peter’s apartment waiting for the right moment.

After Peter decides to propose to Mary Jane, he is attacked by his former best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco). In the previous films, their friendship drifted apart because Harry blamed Spider-Man for the death of his father, the original Green Goblin. After discovering his father’s weapons at the end of Spider-Man 2, Harry modified the weapons and assumed a new identity as the New Goblin. During the fight, Peter, who never changed into his Spider-Man suit, defeats Harry and then takes him to a hospital to be treated for his injuries. During his recovery, Harry has short-term memory loss, but soon regains them and with his hatred of Peter renewed, Harry begins plotting revenge against his former friend.

While this went on, a common thief called Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) escaped from jail and tried to evade the police by hiding at a sandy testing site for a particle accelerator. The device is activated with Marko inside it and the criminal’s body is altered as it is fused with the surrounding sand. Marko is only motivated to use his powers as the Sandman to steal money to help pay for his young daughter’s medical bills. This activity soon puts him at odds with Spider-Man.

The superhero by now is suffering several setbacks in his life. He faces new competition in his profession as a freelance photographer for The Daily Bugle newspaper from photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) and his superior photos of Spider-Man. Peter also learns that Marko was actually responsible for the death of his Uncle Ben in the first Spider-Man film and becomes obsessed with finding him. At the same time, tensions grow between him and Mary Jane who feels Peter is not supportive enough. She eventually leaves him after concluding Peter is flirting with a fellow college student, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard). But what Peter does not know is that Harry Osborn forced Mary Jane to break up with him as part of his schemes of vengeance.

Making matters worse is that the alien mass bonds to Peter while he is sleeping in his apartment and forms a black version of his Spider-Man suit, It’s revealed that the alien organism is actually a symbiote that enhances Spider-Man’s strength and…his aggression. Peter quickly adopts a new cocky and hostile attitude that alienates him from everyone as his enemies close in on him.

Continue reading

The Influence of Matt Fraction & David Aja On Hawkeye

As we’re getting ready to watch the upcoming Hawkeye on Disney+ in a few days, many Marvel Comics fans have noticed how much influence the acclaimed comic book Hawkeye had on the show.

Written by Matt Fraction and drawn by David Aja, Hawkeye debuted in 2012 and instantly stood out among the crowded comic book marketplace thanks to the minimalist art from Aja and Fraction’s take on the archer superhero.

Instead of having Clint Barton aka Hawkeye run around and shoot endless supplies of trick arrows, the series grounded the superhero and leaned into his everyman pesonna who had to deal with more mundane problems, more believable villains, and much more relatable to the average reader. This Hawkeye did not wear his silly purple outfit as he dealt with world-ending events, although he kept his purple color scheme with his civilian clothing. He had to grapple with local thugs and more importantly, he could be hurt. Just look at the aftermath of many of his battles in the series where he came away all bandaged up and beaten. Yet, unlike Daredevil, the archer was never dour. though he seemed to suffer from depression.

What made Hawkeye more identifiable and someone to look up to was that in the series he always looked out for the vulnerable little guy. For instance. in the first issue he finds out that the tenants in the building he lived in were terrorized by their landlords, the RussianTrack Suit Mafia. So, Hawkeye helped them out by buying the building and became a kind landlord who was right at home joining the tenants in a barbecue. Later in the issue, he came to rescue of one of the series’ most beloved characters, Lucky the pizza dog, who was cruelly treated by his owner, a member of the Track Suit Mafia. Hawkeye wound up taking the dog from the mobster and adopting him.

On a sidenote about Lucky, check out issue #11, which had the story “Pizza is My Life” and was told entirely from the point of view of Lucky. The way this was done was ingenious and inventive as Fraction and Aja used pictorgrams to illustrate the dog’s thought process as human dialogue faded in and out. The issue won an Eisner Award and it was well deserved. Thankfully, Lucky will appear in the TV series.

Another factor that made the series so memorable was Aja’s art which was very expressive, used bold lines and was similar to David Mazzucchelli’s art in Daredevil during Frank Miller’s “Born Again” story arc. The series used flat colors that conveyed mood and the emotional beat of the characters, which supported the series’ gritty tone.

Of course, what made the 22-issue run exceptional was the teacher/student relationship between Clint Barton and Kate Bishop. The scenes between the two were full of lively banter and quiet reflective moments that explored Hawkeye’s more vulnerable side. Bishop was a great foil to Barton with her spunky attitude and vigor. She was never afraid to call her mentor out when she thought he was in the wrong. Meanwhile, Hawkeye respected the young superhero and readily took her under his wing like he was a protective big brother or uncle. Together they made a great archery team and the way they coordinated their fighting styles was terrific thanks to Aja’s art which made expert use of small panels to convey intense action.

One of the more memorable fight scenes in the series was in issue #3, called “Beating the Odds”, and involved the two in a frantic car chase as they fled the Track Suit Mafia. Anyone who saw the recent preview clip of Hawkeye during the Disney+ Day event could tell that the car chase shown in the clip was inspired by the issue.

Be sure to check out the classic series run in the Hawkeye trade paperbacks which have the 22 issues of the Fraction/Aja run: My Life as a Weapon, Vol. 1, Little Hits, Vol. 2, L.A. Woman, Vol. 3, and Rio Bravo, Vol. 4. Or just pick up the collected works in a single volume. They’re worth every penny and are a nice way to see how classic run influenced the TV show.