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.

Questions About The Future Of The MCU

The aftermath of Marvel Studios’ announcement of their upcoming films and TV shows at last weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con is still ongoing. All the complaints about Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have been vanquished as fans now contemplate Phase Five and Six,which will start early next year.

Although the reaction to the new MCU projects has been positive, many questions did come up about the films and TV shows or rather what was not announced. Observers pointed out there were gaps in the official release schedule for the upcoming phases, especially with Phase Six. In that phase only three films were announced (Fantastic Four, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, and Avengers: Secret Wars), but there were slots for eight more releases. So, what could they be? Let’s examine further…

Where are the Mutants?

The mutant characters in the X-Men and other assorted X-teams were particularly absent during the Comic-Con announcement. Ever since Disney acquired 20th Century Fox and its film properties in 2019, which included the film rights to X-Men, fans have been anxious to see Marvel Studios’ take on the mutants. And some are becoming impatient. But given the many mutant-related films and TV shows over the last few years, it is for the best that the mutants be given a rest to build up demand and recharge the creative energy of those who would bring about more live-action mutant films and TV shows. Marvel Studios played it smart with drip, drip, drip Easter eggs and references to the mutants in the MCU. In last year’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, part of the action took place in the fictional country of Madripoor, a location well known as Wolverine’s incognito stomping grounds. It has been heavily implied in WandaVision, that Wanda Maximoff was a mutant. Professor Xavier, founder of the X-Men, turned up in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, albeit this was an alternate variant. In the most recent MCU TV show, Ms. Marvel, it was revealed at the end that the title character was a mutant, though that word was not actually used.

It has been reported that Ryan Reynolds, who plays Deadpool, will reprise the role in a Deadpool 3 film for Marvel Studios, and it has been rumored the film will be part of Phase Five. Whenever the film comes out, it is bound to be a hit and increase demand for more X-Men-related films.

Secret Wars and Followups

Perhaps the mutant superhero team will be one of those unannounced films in Phase Six. One possible clue was the recent announcement that the director of Avengers: The Kang Dynasty would not be Joe and Anthony Russo but instead the director of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Destin Daniel Cretton. It was expected that the Russo Brothers, who directed the last two Avengers films to great success, were the go-to guys for future Avengers films. But in the past, they’ve expressed a desire to do their own take of the X-Men. Perhaps, they were offered their dream assignment and this will be announced at the D23 Expo in September. Or the X-Men won’t turn up until Phase Seven. It was reported earlier this week that Disney cannot recast the X-Men until 2025 and Marvel Studios will probably want to run out the clock until then before even starting work on the MCU version of the mutant superheroes. At this point it’s anyone’s guess.

Once Cretton was announced as the director of the next Avengers film, people began wondering who would helm Avengers: Secret Wars. It could go to the Russo Brothers, but that seems unlikely, given the possibility they could be busy with the mutants. Then again they could be tapped to direct Avengers: Secret Wars if it turns out the film will actually be a two-part saga. The original Secret Wars mini-series in 2015 was a sprawling epic that will be difficult to pull off with just one film. It could turn out that the story of Avengers: Secret Wars will have to be continued into Phase Seven, which could be called the Battleworld Saga. During Secret Wars, various patches of reality were merged into a world created by Doctor Doom. The Phase Seven films could explore these separate realities before coming to a concluding epic film.

Getting back to the director of the sixth Avengers film, if the Russos don’t direct it then another possibilty is Jon Watts, the director of the MCU Spider-Man trilogy of films. The concludng film of the trilogy, Spider-Man: No Way Home, was one of the most succesful films of all time and its head-spinning plotline about multiversal variants and characters from different film franchises meeting each other was well directed by Watts. This makes him an obvious contender for an Avengers film dealing with characters from alternate universes meeting and battling each other. This could be the reason why Watts left the Fantastic Four reboot he was supposed to direct. His success with Spider-Man: No Way Home demonstrated he had the skills to take on an even more epic film.

Putting aside speculating about directors and mutants, let’s ponder what other MCU offerings are coming up. It was a surprise that the previously announced Armor Wars TV mini-series was not part of the announcements at Comic-Con, yet Marvel Studios insist that mini-series will still be made. It is possible Armor Wars will be part of Phase Six.

It has also been reported that a TV series based upon Wonder Man will be produced and if so Wonder Man can be part of Phase Six. Other live-action TV series could include second seasons for Hawkeye, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and maybe a third season of Loki that could coincide with the upcoming Avengers films.

As for other films, a no-brainer would be a second Shang-Chi film, as well as a third Doctor Strange film. After all the last Doctor Strange film ended on a bit of a cliffhanger and was strongly tied to the Multiverse Saga. There are rumors that Marvel Studios is considering a followup to Eternals, but since that film had a mixed reaction what is more likely is that some of its characters will be important players in other films, perhaps one about the cosmic superhero Nova. Supposedly, Marvel Studios is developing a Nova film, which could not only feature the Eternals, but tie-in with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Of course, this depends on how the third and final Guardians of the Galaxy film concludes.

The Spider-Man Wild Card

Given the humongous success of Spider-Man: No Way Home, a new trilogy about the MCU Spider-Man should be a given. Yet, nothing has been announced. As many know, Marvel Studios does not have the film rights to Spider-Man and Spider-Man films were never made part of Marvel Studios’ big announcements. They just pop up and a spot on the crowded MCU schedule is found for them. Expect the same thing to happen with Phase Five and Six.

The big question with future MCU Spider-Man films is will Jon Watts return to direct them? If not him then who else can direct a Spider-Man film? Marvel Studios cannot make that decision because that will be up to Sony Pictures, which holds the film rights to Marvel’s most popular character. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on more Spider-Man films, Sony is obsessed with mining other Spider-Man-related properties. The problem is that what they have planned does not sound promising aside from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. So, fans will have to wait and see what Sony decides.

No matter how this all ends up with Phase Five and Six of the MCU, fans will end up happy, upset or somewhere in between. Either way, there will be something for everyone.

José Soto

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 Superhero Multiversal Crossover Events Are Among Us

The biggest and latest thing now with live-action superhero films and TV shows are the crossover events that feature previous versions of superheroes and supervillains showing up to lend a hand or imperil the current heroes. The most recent and one of the best examples was seen in Spider-Man: No Way Home where the Spider-Man (Tom Holland) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) met two older versions of Spider-Man (both played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) that appeared in their own films.

Of course, fans will be in for a treat this week as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness debuts and promises to deliver a the mother of all crossover events as the worlds of the MCU, previous Marvel films and more will interact. But that’s not all, next year The Flash will be about its own crossover event as the title hero’s (Ezra Miller) time travel antics will create alternate timelines and have him meet previous film versions of DC’s superheroes; notably Batman, reprised by Michael Keaton.

There have been other examples of multiverses in superhero films and TV shows. The TV series Loki, heavily dealt with this theme as the title villain (Tom Hiddleston) was a Loki from an alternate timeline that ultimately did not die as he escaped the events that led to his death in Avengers: Infinity War. This Loki grappled with knowledge about his potential fate, time travel and bizarre variants of his being, which included an alligator version of Loki (!). The events of the TV show probably led to the multiversal crisis befalling the MCU.

The Disney+ animated series What If…? exclusively explores other versions of the MCU, such as one where T’Challa never became Black Panther but instead became Star-Lord, or a world where zombies have overrun the MCU. More importantly at least two characters introduced in the What If…? series will appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. They are a dark version of Doctor Strange and a Peggy Carter who recieved the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. In one segment when a superpowered Ultron and the Watcher fought, their battle raged across different universes, including what may be the Star Wars universe. This series is inspired by the Marvel Comics title What If…? which explored different outcomes and events of the Marvel Universe, only the animated series focused on the MCU and for the most part the series was fun to watch.

Another terrific animated presentation from Marvel was the masterpiece Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which took place in an alternate world where a blond Peter Parker died as Spider-Man and Miles Morales took his place as a new Spider-Man. In his adventures he met alternate versions of Spider-Man including an older, jaded version of Peter Parker, Peter’s old girlfriend, Gwen Stacy and a cartoon pig. The film won the Oscar for best animated film and two sequels will be coming out starting next year.

Marvel is not the only one dealing with animated alternate worlds. DC has released several animated films based on their Elseworlds imprint, which is their own take of alternate universes. We’ve witnessed adaptations of popular Elseworld tales such as Superman: Red Son, Gotham Under Gaslight, and The Dark Knight Returns. These films were excellent adaptations of the source material or were inspired by the original premise.

DC has already had its live-action forays into alternate worlds. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a television crossover event that took place across DC’s Arrowverse TV shows. The event was a very loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series about multiple timelines and universes in DC being combined into one. The highlight of that event was, of course, the cameos, Easter eggs and appearances of DC heroes and villains from various live DC films and TV shows that were not part of the Arrowverse. For instance, we got to see Burt Ward reprise his role as Dick Grayson from the 1960s Batman TV show, we revisited the world of Smallville, and Brandon Routh appeared as Superman in a combination sequel to Superman Returns and loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series Kingdom Come. But the biggest surprise was that the TV version of the Flash (Grant Gustin) briefly met the film version played by Ezra Miller.

As to the rest of the crossover event, it was acceptable. Being these were Arrowverse shows with limited budgets, the result was what one would expect. Still, it was often entertaining and seeing the concept of a multiverse realized was fun, especially the end of the event which gave us tanatlizing glimpses into other worlds and stories.

These stories about multiverses and alternate characters and situations seemed unheard of fairly recently. Aside from the logistical hurdles of clearing rights and enticing actors to return to roles, the film and TV executives also feared that such stories would be too confusing. Sure, comic book readers and fans would understand the concept of alternate timelines and situations but the average person might not. Fortunately, as we have seen lately, these live-action presentations have been very successful, especially Spider-Man: No Way Home, which became one of the highest grossing films of all time. Still, the writers and showrunners have to be able to thread the needle carefully and tell a compelling and clear story. Otherwise, the result will be a confusing and unsatisfying film or TV show. The important thing to remember is that these are fun and fascinating explorations of our favorite characters. So for now, let’s enjoy and celebrate. these crossovers and multiverses for what they are.

Morbius: When Trailers Deceive Us

By now, most of us have heard about Morbius and how it wildly differed from what the trailers promised. Namely, solid connections with Spider-Man or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But what we got was downright deceptive.

For some time now, there have been grumblings by filmgoers and fans about how what was shown in trailers never showed up in the final films. Some recent examples include the famous charge of the heroes in the first trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, which prominently showed a very large and angry Hulk charging along with the other Avengers and allies. But as we saw in the film, the Hulk only appeared briefly in the film’s opening moments and the scene of the charging Avengers was nowhere to be found.

Another example was in the recent Spider-Man: No Way Home which digitally removed the other Spider-Men taking part in battling the many foes or alternate scenes with Doctor Strange that did not make it to the final film.

A big reason for these deceptions is because of spoilers. A decision was made for Spider-Man: No Way Home to keep the revelations about the other Spider-Men a surprise, even though this was the worst kept secret in Hollywood. In another case, for a trailer for Thor: Ragnarok, the God of Thunder was shown in channeling electricity with two eyes flaring with energy. However, when this happened in the film, Thor by this point, lost an eye while battling Hela.

Another reason for the deception is not that the films were intentionally deceiving viewers but rather the clips in the trailers failed to make the final cut of the films. This points to what probably happened with Morbius.

In the trailers for Morbius there were several scenes establishing the existence of Spider-Man in the world of Morbius. A great example is that clip of Morbius walking past a poster of Spider-Man with the word “Murderer” sprayed over the poster. This led to wild speculation if this film took place in the MCU given Spider-Man’s predicament or in the non-MCU Spider-Man films where the character underwent a dark chapter that we have not seen.

There were also a couple of scenes showing Adrian Toomes/Vulture (played by Michael Keaton) interacting with Morbius, which led to more speculation. But alas, none of this happened or was seen in the final film, which had zero Spider-Man connections until the post-credits scenes. Without going into spoilers, these scenes did not make any sense.

Obviously, eager Spider-Man fans were sorely disappointed by the final cut of Morbius. The question remains is how long will film studios and their marketing departments continue to deceive filmgoers? Yes, the audiences have to consider that usually when a trailer is released the film has not been completed, so they cannot expect to see every shot in a trailer to show up in a film. They also have to consider that studios want to leave some surprises for fans. But to outright tease connections to the world of Spider-Man and the MCU and deliver nonsenscal post-credit scenes is an insult to fans. What will happen is that fans will eventually tune out trailers and the enthusiasm for these films will diminish, and this could ultimately impact the box office. Being that this is the thing that matters most to film studios, they have to take heed about how they burn fans with deceptive trailers.