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Phase 4 has been about either old heroes recovering or emerging ones stepping up. Here is our official ranking of all the phase 4 movies and TV shows.
By nature, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been an enormous, unwieldy experiment. When president of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige began formulating the experiment in 2005, his team didn’t have access to properties like Spider-Man and X-Men. Like Tony Stark — the protagonist of the MCU’s first film, 2008’s Iron-Man — its creators were deprived of their most valuable tools. And yet, they were able to use underutilized parts to craft the sort of machine that could liberate them while becoming perhaps the most powerful force in the whole world.
The MCU is no longer a theoretical underdog (as much as a Disney-backed entity could have ever been one of those, anyway) and its metronomic release schedule and accompanying success has all the inevitability of Thanos. But still, few franchises have ever carried on so dominantly on such a consistent basis, so each new project brings it further into uncharted territory. To date, there have been over three dozen films and TV series, and that number is all set to continue growing with no real end in sight.
These releases have come through phases. Phases 1, 2 and 3 saw the MCU’s flagship superhero team assemble over the course of several movies and fight it out in an epic battle against Thanos, a galactic dictator with dreams of universal genocide. Unlike most superhero franchises, the good guys actually took irreparable losses, leaving a void for new heroes to fill.
With that in mind, Phase 4 has been about either old heroes recovering or emerging ones stepping up. Aside from Black Widow, the ill-fated prequel documenting a side mission from Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), everything here’s been looking ahead. With Phase 4 ending today with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, it’s time to take a look back.
Here is Okayplayer’s ranking of all the movies, tv shows, and specials featured in Phase 4.
18. Eternals (2021)
The MCU has a history of making underappreciated entities into household names, and one of their latest attempts to do so was Eternals, a film based on the 1976 comic book characters from Jack Kirby. This one is decidedly more somber than most MCU entries, largely devoid of the same quippy banter of films before it. But different doesn’t always mean better. Eternals has solid performances, but a meandering plot and spurts of drab dialogue make it easy to see why this one is the lowest-rated MCU movie in the Rotten Tomatoes database.
17. Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
Thor: Love and Thunder is very nearly the worst-case logical conclusion of the MCU, which has, at times, struggled to take itself seriously enough to make for truly compelling drama. Here, everything — even death — is a joke, and the fearsome titular hero (played by Chris Hemsworth) is reduced to a broken-hearted basic bro who’s incapable of being anything but a deliverer of jokes. Christian Bale is one of Hollywood’s best, but with paper-thin characterization, there’s only so much he can do as the villain, Gorr the God Butcher.
16. Black Widow (2021)
Scarlett Johansson sued Disney over Black Widow’s Disney+ simultaneous release. But in truth, she and the Black Widow character herself were wronged long before the film was actually released. Featuring a lame villain and a general lack of stakes — after all, we all know what happens to Black Widow in the end — the film feels like every bit the afterthought it was positioned to be. It’s saved by the MCU’s high-floor combination of strong casting and an easily executed plot and quippy dialogue, but Agent Romanoff deserved more than a generic action-thriller. Disney settled with Johansson, but Black Widow has yet to receive justice.
15. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021)
While there’s engaging action, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a TV series that suffers from trying to do a little too much. The subplot involving an African American super soldier is an admirable attempt at addressing racism, but the end of that segment feels like an incongruous cop-out, and the dialogue isn’t as witty or poignant as it should be for a story as ostensibly deep as this one.
14. I Am Groot (2022)
I Am Groot is a low-stakes, but charming miniseries that doesn’t really exceed or fall short of expectations. It’s a cute departure from typically action-packed MCU outings, and it doesn’t try to be more than it is.
13. Moon Knight (2022)
Moon Knight has a refreshing blend of humor and darkness, but make no mistake: it’s definitely the Oscar Isaac show. In the titular role, as a would-be superhero with dissociative identity disorder, he managed to serve up three distinct personas. His ability to oscillate between timid museum employee and decisive superhero is electric stuff to watch. Still, it feels like you don’t get to see the hero at work enough, and when you do, the action sequences don’t feel particularly distinct.
An inventive plot and Oscar Isaac’s convincing turn as a confused would-be superhero help make Moon Knight worth watching, even if this one isn’t an upper tier MCU offering.
12. Werewolf by Night (2022)
Werewolf by Night blends the retro with the modern in seamless fashion. There’s black and white cinematography and, with all the cinematic horns and booming bongo drums, the score could soundtrack a 1950s monster flick. But then, there are also somersaulting kicks and other spurts of stylized violence that could appear in your average MCU film. From an aesthetic standpoint, it’s a unique detour from the norm. Meanwhile, Gael García Bernal (Jack Russell / Werewolf by Night) and Laura Donnelly (Elsa Bloodstone) offer convincing portrayals of ambivalent monster hunters who end up in a blood bath that’s definitely fun to watch.
11. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness pairs director Sam Raimi’s energetic direction style with gruesome violence and unwieldy universes for an exhilarating, if convoluted film. In this one, Doctor Strange has to combat an enraged Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), an alternate universe Avengers and even different versions of himself as he tries to repair time and space. He’s got to manage all of this while playing chaperone for America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a young teen with the ability to travel the multiverse. Multiverse of Madness is weighed down by its excess, but intricate action and a genuinely terrifying turn from Elizabeth Olsen keep it more than afloat.
10. She Hulk: Attorney at Law (2022)
Powered by the everywoman charm of lead Tatiana Maslany (Jennifer Walters/She Hulk), She Hulk: Attorney at Law is a detour from your typical MCU programming. Nominally speaking, it’s a superhero TV series, but it also swings between legal drama and rom-com; for Jennifer Walters, having a good date is way harder than taking down your average bad guy, whether it’s in or outside of the court. The stakes are generally low — most bad guys are goofy and actual trouble seems to get laughed off, as it is in the finale — but the show’s inventiveness makes up for a lack of actual tension.
9. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022)
With all their success, the MCU could’ve just thrown something together when they made The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. If you only looked at its ingredients — a Footloose joke from Vol. 1 and a script James Gunn admitted only took a few hours to complete — you might think they did. But instead, this particular holiday special is as amusing as it is heartfelt, featuring spurts of animation, comedic confusion and a zany all-around plot carved from the soul of the GOG saga. At 45 minutes, it’s a trim mini-flick that’s a perfect pregame for a Christmas Day MCU marathon.
8. What If…? (2021)
For this one, the MCU looked at their expansive collection of films through the lens of The Butterfly Effect — ie, the idea that one little difference here or there can alter history forever. With this idea, tapped into their inner fandom to serve up an inventive look at superhero hypotheticals, worlds where Agent Carter became Captain America, and Killmonger partnered with Tony Stark for a different route to assuming power. With pristine, photorealistic animation and plots that are self-contained, yet infinitely imaginative, the series is a clean distillation of the MCU’s best qualities.
7. Ms. Marvel (2022)
KIman Vellani emits convincing innocence and charm in the lead role as Kamala Khan (aka, Ms. Marvel), the buoyant fan-girl turned superhero. While the coming of age set-up makes you care about the character, and the action makes for a colorful spectacle, none of the superheroism feels dynamic enough to distinguish itself from any other hero. In the comics, her body is shown physically morphing, but in the series, it shows as strobes of light, which gives it the appearance of amorphous, generic super powers as opposed to anything distinct, dampening the originality just a bit.
6. Hawkeye (2021)
It’s the holiday season and Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, (Jeremy Renner) just wants to spend Christmas with his family. But first, he’ll have to vanquish enemies from his past career as the sword-wielding assassin, The Ronin. This time, he’s also got to deal with a young woman named Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), an archer who becomes his designated annoying sidekick. Fun stuff. This one thrives off humor, kinetic action and some largely unexpected cameos that inject even more excitement into the mix. The plot can feel a bit jumbled, but there’s no reason not to cue this one up after watching Die Hard with the fam on Christmas.
5. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
As funny as it is heartfelt, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the latest example of the MCU transforming a little-known hero into a blockbuster. Here, the titular hero (Simu Liu) has to confront his past if he wants to have any chance at finding peace with himself and securing his family’s safety. It’s heavy stuff, but his co-star Awkwafina inject plenty of laughs, too. Also, the action scenes here are some of the best the MCU’’s ever put together.
4. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is as much an experiment as it is a blockbuster. Which is to say that producing a sequel to one of the biggest solo superhero films of all time without the title role was a very big risk. But, thanks to an emotionally dynamic script from Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, as well as powerful performances by Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta Mejía (a stellar version of Namor), Angela Bassett, and Danai Gurira, the gamble paid off. Wakanda Forever isn’t perfect; there are a bit too many moving parts and as a result, the focus can be scattered. But, the death of Chadwick Boseman — and King T’Challa, the Black Panther — forced genuine writing ingenuity and brought stakes back to an MCU that’s recently been deprived of them. Rendered through the shadow of tragedy, Ramonda’s cries and Shuri’s fierce resolve, Wakanda Forever comes with a different kind of heft — the weight of overcoming when survival is the only choice.
3. WandaVision (2021)
Everyone processes trauma differently, and Wanda Maximoff is no different. It just so happens that she’s got the ability to ensnare an entire town into her own twisted alternate reality that parodies various sitcom tropes from the 1980s to the 2000s. The writers here do some dope work, but Elizabeth Olsen’s ability to alternate between goofy sitcom tropes and a manic sorceress is what ties everything together. There are laughs, but her glassy eyed stares and desperate cries underscore a tale of the prolonged suffering that drives this particular saga, one of the most inventive the MCU has ever put together.
2. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Spider-Man: No Way Home is an example of fan service gone spectacularly right. Released late last year, it combines charm, imagination and flashes of trauma for a story arc for a film that gives closure across the multiverse. Sure, it could be gratuitous and the mechanisms that lead to the basic plot — using technology to make bad guys good again — are conveniently straightforward. But threading different heroes, villains and eras into a coherent flick isn’t easy. It’s a great, self-inflicted responsibility. No Way Home proves that the cast, director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers had the power to pull it off. Plus, the movie features one of the best De La Soul songs.
1. Loki (2021)
It’s safe to say that Loki being the star of a time-traveling buddy cop show wasn’t on anyone’s bingo card. The show being as stellar as it is might be just as surprising. In the series, the typically impetuous Loki learns some hard truths about himself and manages to tap into his latent empathy, a transition that’s made possible by sharp writing and Tom Hiddleston’s ability to convey warmth with his tone and facial expressions. Aside from the convincing evolution of its main character, Loki’s also got a dynamic plot, intriguing world-building and affecting performances from Owen Wilson, Sophia Di Martino and others, ingredients that helped make it the best creation in Phase 4.
Peter is a writer and editor who covers music, movies, and all things dope.