The release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever marks a major turning point for the MCU. While we still have one final treat to look forward to in the form of the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, the main Phase 4 saga is finished. There were some real successes in this massive lineup of Marvel movies and series, and also more than a few misfires. Let’s just say it hasn’t been easy moving forward after the epic finale that was Avengers: Endgame.
The folks at IGN have pooled their minds to rank each of the 16 movies and shows that make up Phase 4. Where do fan-favorites like WandaVision and Spider-Man: No Way Home fall? Let’s find out.
16. What If…?
As the first animated series connected to the MCU, Marvel’s What If…? is basically dead on arrival. That’s all the more frustrating considering how much inherent potential there is in a series that explores alternate universes where events unfolded differently. Only one Doctor Strange-focused episode truly takes advantage of that potential and delivers an emotionally resonant look at a hero trapped on a dark path. The rest are mostly bland, detours that do little to add to the larger tapestry of the MCU. The series does build a little momentum near the end once it becomes clear a larger, overarching narrative is being spun, but even that can only do so much to prop up What If…?. Season 2 will need to show a lot more ambition if this series is going to become a regular fixture on Disney+.
Poor Eternals: it barely stood a chance. There are certainly moments of brilliance within it — its capable and charismatic cast, Chloe Zhao’s gorgeous landscape shots, some awesome Deviant fights — but as a whole, it simply had too much to cover. Having the unenviable tasks of introducing a massive group of heroes, giving us the MCU action we expect, AND tying in the giant cosmic stakes left Eternals overstuffed and confused. It’s far from irredeemable and, in fact, that’s what makes Eternals such a bummer; these characters might have been able to shine had we been introduced to them previously, or even if it was a (very expensive, admittedly) series instead of one long movie. But it falls victim to the franchise’s worst impulses, resulting in mostly a missed opportunity.
14. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
The second live-action MCU series on Disney+ is easily the weakest of the bunch so far, despite the undeniable appeal of having Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky headlining their own show. That dynamic – already well-honed thanks to Captain America: Civil War – isn’t the problem. Nor is the overall scope of the series. More than any other MCU show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier succeeds in bringing the spectacle and impressive visual effects of the films to the small screen.
Unfortunately, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is let down hard by its underwhelming and unfocused story. It may look like the MCU movies, but it also feels like a movie that was haphazardly stretched out to fill a six-episode series. The series attempts to tackle issues of race and American imperialism but doesn’t have much to say about either. In the end, we’re not sure how necessary the series even is in terms of bridging the gap between Avengers: Endgame and the upcoming Captain America: New World Order.
13. Thor: Love and Thunder
Thor: Love and Thunder had a lot of potential that it never managed to live up to. Director Taika Waititi and actor Chris Hemsworth had delivered a well-received, comedic reinvention of Thor in Ragnarok and fans were eager to see where they’d take the character next; Christian Bale was finally making his MCU debut; and Natalie Portman was returning to the franchise to adapt the fan-favorite Mighty Thor comic. But unfortunately, Thor 4 just didn’t deliver. The film’s sense of humor ran away with itself, and the recurring screaming goats bit quickly overstayed its welcome. Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher didn’t get enough screen time, nor did he live up to his name. And Jane’s arc suffered from severe underdevelopment. There were a few moments worth the price of admission, such as Russell Crowe’s bizarre yet entertaining take on Zeus, but overall the film failed to spark a fire.
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12. Black Widow
MCU fans had been waiting for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow to spin out into her own solo movie since the character first appeared in 2010’s Iron Man 2. Unfortunately, it seems to have been a case of too little, too late for poor Natasha Romanoff. The Black Widow movie attempts to both flesh out Natasha’s murky, bloodstained past and bridge the gap between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, yet it doesn’t succeed particularly well in either goal.
Following the gripping opening sequence, Natasha’s history with the Red Room is mostly glossed over, and what answers we do get are mostly unsatisfying. The rest of the film is a pretty by-the-numbers superhero adventure that adds little to the larger fabric of the MCU. And don’t even get us started on the film’s adaptation of Taskmaster…
Black Widow’s main saving grace is that it introduces Florence Pugh’s scene-stealing Yelena Belova. Luckily, this character has already gone on to bigger and better things in Phase 4.
11. Moon Knight
We had high hopes for Oscar Isaac’s MCU debut, but Moon Knight fell a bit short of expectations in its first season. That’s not to say Isaac didn’t bring his all to this superhero origin tale. Isaac practically carries the series thanks to his dual performances as mercenary Marc Spector and bumbling everyman Steven Grant, and it never hurts having Ethan Hawke as a foil.
It’s more a combination of dodgy visual effects and a jumbled narrative that holds Moon Knight back from greatness. This is one case where six episodes probably wasn’t enough to lay a proper foundation for a new Marvel hero. But that doesn’t mean we don’t hope to see a second season during Phase 5.
10. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
The second Doctor Strange movie has a lot going for it, including the long-awaited return of director Sam Raimi to Marvel. Raimi certainly brings his unique touch to this sequel, which offers a much more flamboyant view of the magical world than its predecessor. Multiverse of Madness also has the distinction of being the first Marvel movie outside of the Spider-Man franchise to dive headlong into the multiverse concept, which results in the welcome debut of Xochitl Gomez’s America Chavez and some delightful cameos as Stephen Strange meets the Illuminati of Earth-383.
However, Multiverse of Madness fails where it arguably matters most. The movie is unable to build on the events of WandaVision in a satisfying way. Rather than continue its exploration of Wanda Maximoff as a woman burdened by immense grief, the film has Wanda do a complete heel turn and become a villain.
It’s a frustrating pivot for what had been one of the MCU’s most compelling character arcs. And as for the title character? He barely has an arc at all in this sequel.
9. Werewolf by Night
With Werewolf by Night, Marvel Studios delved deeper than ever before into the B- and C-lists of its pantheon of characters in order to flesh out a distinctly low-rent corner of the Marvel Universe – the realm where monsters roam! Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness had already done horror to a degree, but director Michael Giacchino mined a particularly rich vein of genre goodness with Werewolf’s black & white creepiness, which combined with a 1970-style exploitation-flick feel to great effect.
Gael García Bernal’s Jack Russell, a.k.a. the Werewolf of the title, is the most obvious addition to the MCU here, with his decidedly and excitingly non-CGI, practical wolf-man effects, but this story also gave us Laura Donnelly as the magically-inclined Elsa Bloodstone as well as Man-Thing, the gentlest giant swamp monster this side of, well, DC’s Swamp Thing. The first of what we can only hope will be an ongoing series of “special presentations” from Marvel, Werewolf by Night was a unique entry in the live-action Marvel world that we can’t wait to revisit with Jack’s next adventure.
8. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
It’s hard to introduce something that feels completely fresh over a decade into your franchise, but the MCU accomplished just that with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. Tatiana Maslany’s Jennifer Walters was both a believable and relatable protagonist in a series that prioritized its female viewership in ways the franchise had previously been incapable of. The series also made sure that all felt included by introducing killer cameos and playing with longstanding favorites like Wong (Benedict Wong) and Daredevil (Charlie Cox). Matt Murdock’s introduction in particular helped set the tone for the hero moving forward now that he’s made the move from Netflix to the MCU proper. Here’s hoping we’ll see more of Jen in Daredevil: Born Again!
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7. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Few superhero movies have faced more of an uphill battle than Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The original film was a true cultural touchstone, and the tragic death of star Chadwick Boseman casts a shadow that can’t be ignored. Wakanda Forever succeeds about as well as could be expected given these difficult circumstances. The film is at its strongest when it explores the collective grief over Boseman’s passing and the in-universe death of T’Challa. Stars Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett deliver emotionally wrenching performances as Shuri and Queen Ramonda struggle to guide their nation through its darkest hour.
Wakanda Forever never fully succeeds in trying to marry that tale of grief and healing with the needs of the larger MCU. This sequel is as guilty as any other Phase 4 project when it comes to juggling too many characters and trying to accomplish too much in too short a span. As compelling an antagonist as Tenoch Huerta’s Namor is, Wakanda Forever doesn’t quite have the room to balance its many moving parts.
6. Ms. Marvel
Kamala Khan is the ultimate fangirl, and no one was more prepared to play her than Iman Vellani. Her joy and earnestness radiate from the screen as we watch the young hero learn to navigate her powers and step into her own as who she is rather than how she sees her idol, Captain Marvel. Moreover, Ms. Marvel brought real-world events like the 1947 Partition to western audiences that often don’t learn about them in school. Seeing such major moments woven into genuinely compelling storytelling shows real progress on Marvel’s part, and we can’t wait to see where Kamala goes next in The Marvels.
Among all its multiversal shenanigans, something Phase 4 of the MCU was missing was a good ol’ fashioned grounded superhero story. With that in mind, it makes sense that Hawkeye was as refreshing as it was — plus, it was just a darn good TV show on its own merits. It was both a focused, exciting detective series and an opportunity to get to know Clint Barton much better, and Jeremy Renner did a fantastic job portraying the grief he’s been struggling with without dragging the whole show down. He’s matched by a perfect foil in Hailee Steinfeld’s bright-eyed Kate Bishop, and they both have some great bow-and-arrow-based action scenes.
Plus, it’s a Christmas show! The villains may be pretty forgettable, but that’s a small complaint in an otherwise great MCU series.
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4. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Netflix’s Iron Fist series largely failed in its attempt to translate iconic kung-fu hero Danny Rand to live-action, but at least Shang-Chi didn’t meet the same fate. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings makes great use of Simu Liu as his character reluctantly embraces his role as the MCU’s new martial arts superhero. As you’d hope, the fight scenes are a cut above those seen in most MCU films, and the film is also among the funnier Phase 4 projects (thanks in no small part to the lovable bond between Shang-Chi and his BFF Katy, as played by Awkwafina.
But above all, the film succeeds in finally paying off on all the Mandarin teases in the MCU. Tony Leung plays a surprisingly thoughtful and sympathetic version of this iconic Marvel villain, one who avoids the pitfalls of many past interpretations.
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has easily ranked among the MCU’s best villains since the Phase 1 days, but Phase 4 is where we finally got to see the god of mischief in his own solo project. And Loki: Season 1 definitely doesn’t disappoint.
The Loki series pushes Hiddleston’s character in a very different direction, as the refugee 2012 version of Loki is reluctantly recruited into the Time Variance Authority and becomes a time cop. As much as the series succeeds in adding new layers to this already compelling character, it also introduces a worthy foil in Sophia Di Martino’s Sylvie and makes great use of Owen Wilson as the affable Mr. Mobius.
With great characters, a tightly plotted narrative and a wonderfully quirky visual style, Loki is easily one of Marvel’s most well-rounded series to date. The fact that it’s also the single most important piece of the Phase 4 puzzle – thanks to the introduction of one version of Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror – just makes it that much better.
Disney started off its new line of live-action MCU series on strong footing with WandaVision, a series that’s as much about paying homage to classic TV sitcoms of yesteryear as it is setting the tone for Phase 4. The show is a real blast, as we get to see Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff and Paul Bettany’s Vision enjoy their quiet retirement in idyllic Westview, NJ.
Of course, not everything is what it seems. Half the fun of WandaVision is in slowly discovering the truth behind Westview’s saccharine-sweet facade.
WandaVision may fall back into traditional MCU tropes near the end, but the series works as a heartfelt celebration of Wanda and Vision’s bond and the destructive effects of grief. It’s a series that tries new things and mostly succeeds, and that’s something the MCU can always use more of.
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Winner – Spider-Man: No Way Home
No Way Home is the Spider-Man sequel we feared might never happen during that brief period where Marvel and Sony parted ways. Thankfully, the stars aligned to result in a film where Tom Holland’s Peter Parker joins forces with his alternate universe selves to battle a who’s who lineup of Spider-Man villains.
There’s a lot that could have gone wrong here, considering that No Way Home has to juggle the series’ regular supporting cast alongside Doctor Strange, Matt Murdock and no fewer than five villains from the Sony movies. That’s to say nothing of the obvious concessions the film had to make for filming during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Somehow, director Jon Watts keeps this train on the tracks. The focus remains squarely on Peter’s struggle to come to terms with being a public pariah with no secret identity. No Way Home is packed with some of the MCU’s most emotional moments, and there’s plenty of superhero fan service, to boot. No Way Home proves that Spidey is more important to the future MCU than ever.
That’s how we’d rank Phase 4, but we want to hear what you think. Which movie or series would you put at the top of the pile? Vote in our poll and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.