It seems that the naysayers lost out — while the old Avengers hype has certainly died down since Endgame’s release in 2019, Marvel Studios continues to chug along unabated — putting out several series and films, some of which shattered box office records as we plodded through a somewhat anticlimactic Phase Four.
Three films, three TV shows, and two Holiday Specials round up this year’s continuation of the Multiverse Saga — each with their own highs and lows. Let’s see how they face off against each other:
Yep… Thor wasn’t the only one who got caught with his pants down in this film. While not strictly unwatchable, director Taika Waititi’s return to the franchise after a very compelling effort with 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok proved that lightning doesn’t really strike twice. While offering a good premise, the film’s overindulgence with overdone comic tropes, rushed character arcs, and shocking underuse of Christian Bale’s talents as the villainous Gorr makes this one of the most forgettable films tied to the God of Thunder. (Not as bad as Thor 2, but definitely one to miss.)
Yes, Love and Thunder was worse than a 40-minute holiday special. That’s not to take away from this brief return to the Guardians, which is honestly a welcome break from the multiverse-shattering plots we’re now well-used to. The soundtrack here is surprisingly well-done with a bunch of catchy Christmas-rock tunes, along with a bigger focus on Mantis and Drax than we’ve ever seen before — and both Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff add a lot of charm to this holiday comedy. There’s also Kevin Bacon’s fun cameo as himself — while small in scope and perhaps not too interesting for older MCU fans, there’s a lot to love here especially if you’ve caught the holiday spirit.
I’m a bit sad to place a Sam Raimi film so low on this list, but there’s some serious issues with DSitMoM (as it’s called online, I gather) that become apparent on a rewatch. Initially, the film stuns with a host of creative visual elements, Raimi-isms that won’t go missed by fans of the iconic horror director, along with possibly the biggest cameo roundup we’ve ever seen in a Marvel film. Olsen also gives one of her career-best performances here, capping off an already fantastic run with 2021’s WandaVision. What sucks, invariably, is the runtime — a measly two hours for a film overflowing with concepts, characters, multiple universes, character arcs, and more — making this something of a rushed experience that rarely allows us to linger and soak in one of the most cool projects Marvel Studios has ever attempted to make.
This show really got a lot more flak than it deserved, and perhaps that’s unavoidable for a property as popular as the MCU — She-Hulk: Attorney At Law is the MCU’s homage to legal comedies, and it does that job surprisingly well. The fourth-wall breaks give the show a particularly unique tone within the Marvel Studios roster, and while some jokes lingered on too much, it ultimately gave us a pretty good cast of characters and cameos to play with. The Daredevil episode, for instance, is MCU TV at its heights — playing off an absolutely seamless tie-in from the Netflix original. Also, Tatiana Maslany continues to prove that she’s a great actor — as long as you ignore the admittedly off-kilter facial animation.
Arguably the most unique release in a year full of unique releases, Werewolf by Night puts longtime composer Michael Giacchino in the director’s chair — creating an old-school horror homage that’s full of great camp, good acting on Gael Garcia Bernal’s part, and a well-contained story that leaves us wanting for more. While some fans felt it was far too disconnected from the mainline MCU, many also felt a further dive into the universe’s supernatural elements was a breath of fresh air — and we couldn’t agree more.
There’s usually one defining factor that separates a good MCU project from a ‘meh’ one, and that’s purpose — does the team know what kind of story they’re really aiming to tell? Standing poles apart from Love and Thunder’s erratic tone and message, Ms. Marvel knows exactly the kind of story it wants to tell — capturing the point of view of a much younger superhero bound by societal conventions, her own Pakistani heritage, and finding both freedom and restriction within her family and friends. Did the series fall flat on the antagonist front? Definetly. Will it remain a wholesome, poignant, and worthy introduction to the character of Kamala Khan? We think so.
Wakanda Forever is a pretty unique film in the sense that it was shaped by real-life tragedy far more than any other superhero film in existence — likely having to be completely reworked from the ground-up following Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death in 2020. Director Ryan Coogler seems to have channeled what was a tragic year for both the MCU and the entire world into a solemn, deeply personal film for everyone on set — and it shows especially in the performances of Angela Bassett (Ramonda) and Letitia Wright (Shuri), both of whom channel their grief in powerful, touching ways through the story. Coogler also uses the film’s longer runtime to good effect, fleshing out Namor’s life and personal story to make each conflict much more compelling — giving us a truly worthy sequel that Boseman himself would be proud of.
I was pretty worried about this series going in — was MCU going to play a characterless riff on Batman? Would Oscar Issac simply pick up his paycheck and run, like he did with Star Wars’ sequel trilogy?
What we got was a superb deep dive into Marc Spector’s mind — a show that was just about as hilarious as it was unique, involved, and deeply connected to its massively underrated comic book run. The scriptwriters’ dual focus on Marc/Steven’s dissociative identity disorder plays out spectacularly well with a host of unexpected twists and turns — leading to some of the most well-crafted sequences we’ve seen in the MCU, without having to rely on existing stories. Ingenious, fun, and full of good performances, this is one Marvel property that definitely deserves more coming its way — let’s keep our fingers crossed for what comes next in 2023.
Images: Marvel Studios