The fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been around as long as it has is a testament to itself. As we’ve seen before, most successful film franchises rarely last that long, with even the most notable—Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings—having their time in the sun before quietly petering away.
The MCU on the other hand is a property that only seems to have grown bigger and stronger over time. Having capitalized on the success of their earliest Phase One grouping of films and paving the way for the more expansive films of Phases Two and Three, the MCU is currently going strong on its most recent Phase Four series of releases. Unlike previous Phases, though, Phase Four marks the first time that the MCU is expanding to television, crafting successful spin-offs TV shows like WandaVision, Loki, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
In addition to Marvel’s expansion into the television industry, the studio has also continued its focus on cinematic features as well, with a total of 10 films (nearly half of which have already been released) planned for Marvel’s Phase Four, including sequels to long-standing Marvel heroes like Thor: Love and Thunder and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 to movies that will introduce new characters like Fantastic Four.
With the newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe coming on May 6 in the form of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, we decided to take a look back at the movies within Marvel’s Phase Four so far, ranking them from worst to best.
Eternals was unfortunate proof that not even the MCU could make 26 good films in a row (sooner or later, statistically speaking one of them is going to be subpar). One of the lowest-rated Marvel movies to date, as well as the first (and so far only) MCU movie to have a “rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes, the flaws found in Eternals likely stem from how “game-changing” it was supposed to be from offset, with the movie trying to accomplish too much at one time.
Director Chloé Zhao had the difficult task of introducing not one, not two, but ten new heroes to the MCU, on top of actually making a movie that was engaging enough to keep viewers interested throughout its rather lengthy runtime (at two hours, 37 minutes, it’s the second longest Marvel movie behind Avengers: Endgame).
After the events of Avengers: Endgame, an ancient race of immortal aliens known as the Eternals emerge from hiding in order to fend Earth off from their centuries-old enemies, the Deviants. There’s no denying Eternals’ scope or ambition, with Marvel clearly meaning for the picture to have a similar impact to their earlier Avengers films. However, the movie floundered a bit when it came to character development and pacing, resulting in a movie that barely felt like it belonged in the MCU.
The film does contain positive aspects, including its impressive visuals, sense of inclusiveness, and the performances of the actors involved (featuring a star-studded cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, and Kit Harington).
Sadly, the weaknesses inherently found in the film overshadow its highlights, delivering a movie that’s uneven, overly long, and a little too complicated for its own good.
Streaming on Disney+
The main issue with Black Widow was how long it took to finally get made. Having been introduced to the MCU way back in Iron Man 2, Marvel took way too much time developing a spin-off film properly centered around super-spy Natasha Romanoff, especially considering the fact that (SPOILER) the finished film came after the character’s death in Avengers: Endgame.
However, seeing the finished film, you can’t really help but ignore the apparent inconsistencies in terms of chronology, with Black Widow nonetheless managing to be funny, endearing, and perhaps most importantly: a fittingly emotional sendoff to one of the original characters who headlined the MCU.
Set shortly after Captain America: Civil War, Natasha Romanoff is labeled a fugitive for her role in violating the Sokovia Accords. On the run, she’s soon contacted by her old surrogate sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh), a fellow Black Widow who asks for Natasha’s help freeing the other Widows from mind control.
The first movie in Marvel’s Phase Four, Black Widow harkens back to the more espionage-heavy style of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, featuring Cold War-era plotlines, spy thriller tropes, and a more morally gray presentation of the characters (especially Romanoff, whose more problematic past is handled wonderfully, namely in regards to her participation in amoral missions that costed the lives of innocent people).
The movie’s introduction of Pugh alongside Rachel Weisz and David Harbour also made for some interesting character dynamics as well, with the four main characters forming a Russian spy ring posing as an American family who begin to genuinely care for and look after one another much as an actual family would.
An enjoyable enough movie to watch for its exploration of Romanoff and her past role in Russian spy circles, the movie’s main weakness can be directly attributed to its chief villain: Dreykov, a two-dimensional Russian spymaster played by Ray Winstone.
Other than the movie’s otherwise forgettable choice of antagonist, though, Black Widow is a superbly well-crafted spy thriller/superhero film, ending Scarlett Johansson’s tenure as the character at an all-time high, and introducing audiences to several new standout characters, such as Yelana or the failed Russian version of Captain America, Alexei (Harbour).
Streaming on Disney+
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
One of Marvel’s many talents has been making fantastic movies featuring lesser-known heroes. Oftentimes, the initial announcements of these movies expectedly have fans raising their eyebrows in confusion, perplexed at Marvel’s decision to adapt almost completely unknown characters into feature-length solo films.
Thanks to Marvel’s ingenuity and ability to translate forgotten heroes into the modern era, though, fans have been gifted entertaining films based around such obscure “B” heroes as Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, and—more recently—Shang-Chi, Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu whose popularity peaked in the 1970s and waned by the early ‘80s.
In this film, Simu Liu plays Shang-Chi, a skilled martial artist who was raised to be a master assassin by his father. Trying to start anew, Shang-Chi is soon forced to confront his past, leading him in a face-to-face encounter with his father, the criminal mastermind, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung). A complex exploration of family, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings served as the perfect introduction for Shang-Chi’s character, dusting off the obscure superhero and elevating him to high critical popularity rivaling the likes of Spider-Man, Iron Man, or Captain America among Marvel fans.
The movie’s predominantly Asian cast and crew also helped break down barriers when it comes to Asian representation in the superhero genre, as well as shedding many of the more troublesome aspects of Shang-Chi’s character and backstory, a lot of which was mired by racist undertones and harmful stereotypes.
Balancing action with Marvel’s trademark, fast-paced humor (most of which comes courtesy of Awkwafina’s Katy, Shang-Chi’s best friend and the main comic relief of the film), Shang-Chi was a great introduction to Liu’s superhero, and nothing short of an overall strong addition to the MCU.
Streaming on Disney+
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Spider-Man: No Way Home is a movie that, even months after seeing, I still have a hard time believing exists. A film that combined three pre-existing Spider-Man cinematic universes, it was a crossover arguably every bit as ambitious as the original Avengers movies—if not more so.
After Spider-Man’s secret identity is made public knowledge at the end of Spider-Man: Far Home from Home, Peter Parker struggles to adapt to his new life now that everyone knows he’s Spider-Man. Seeking a solution, Peter enlists the help of Dr. Strange, who plans on using a spell to make everyone forget Spider-Man’s identity.
When Peter accidentally causes the spell to go haywire, villains from the parallel Earths soon make their way to his world, including past Spider-Man villains from the Sony universe (Electro [Jamie Foxx] and the Lizard [Rhys Ifans]) and the earlier villain from Raimi’s Spider-Man films (Doc Ock [Alfred Molina], Green Goblin [Willem Dafoe], and the Sandman [Thomas Haden Church]).
No Way Home is really nothing short of a miracle—a movie that most fans probably had never imagined seeing, and that more than managed to deliver on its already promising premise. The prospect of seeing Andrew Garfield or Tobey Maguire was an exciting enough idea, but actually watching all three modern versions of the webslinger working together, battling some of the most dangerous Spider-Man villains ever captured on film? That was almost something too good to be true.
A standout achievement in merging the multiple Spider-Man cinematic universes of past and present together, No Way Home is the ideal movie for all Spider-Man fans regardless of who their favorite is in the role of the Friendly Neighbor Spider-Man. Is it a little on the fan servicey side? Sure, a little. But how well the movie brings in every fans’ favorite elements of the Spider-Man movies makes it the very best kind of fan service.
Not currently streaming, but available to rent online
More From Wealth of Geeks
- From ‘Iron Man’ to ‘The Incredible Hulk’: Marvel’s Phase One Movies Ranked
- Netflix’s Marvel Series Were Gritty, But Far From Perfect
- 10 of the Best Marvel TV Shows to Watch After ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Marvel Studios.