(SPOT.ph) The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 4 of movies (and now streaming series!) has come and gone. And while it did leave us with the trauma of losing beloved characters like the Vision (again), Loki (again, but just for a few minutes), and Black Widow (again, but for good this time), the phase did also give us cheer-worthy moments like the return of all our favorite Spider-Men, the introduction to the Illuminati in Doctor Strange, and Wakanda Forever’s post-credits scene.
Before we look ahead into Phase 5 and the multiverse shenanigans that await us with Thanos-level baddie Kang the Conqueror, we’re going to do what all Marvel fans do at the end of every phase: shamelessly defend our ranking of the previous phase’s movies. Everyone has different lists and favorites—but here’s our unequivocally correct ranking. Fight us.
Here’s our list of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Four movies ranked:
The following order is from worst to best.
At the bottom of the ranking is the first film of Phase 4, Black Widow. Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff has always been a fascinating supporting character to watch develop over the course of the MCU. From navigating morality in the murky world of modern-day politics in the Captain America films to coming to terms with what it means to be a hero in Age of Ultron, the Black Widow story has always presented a rich examination of the never-ending redemption arc that comes with being a flawed-yet-good-intentioned heroine.
Too bad her solo film does away with all that exploration in favor of neatly tidying up the sins of her past for a redemption arc that feels a bit redundant after her heroic sacrifice in Endgame. Look, we don’t want to say this is the X-Men Origins: Wolverine of the MCU, but with the film’s unnecessary backstory retelling, sloppy CGI, and another mute brainwashed assassin, it’s hard not to make the comparison there. At least we got Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova out of it.
Thor: Love and Thunder
Next up, we have Love and Thunder, the film that had audiences torn between “that was an embarrassment to Marvel” and “come on, guys, it wasn’t that bad!” The Thor movies are unique within the MCU, as each one of them practically falls within a wholly different genre. We got the Shakesperean tragedy origin story, the science-fantasy adventure flick in The Dark World, and the reinvention of Thor into a goofball sci-fi comedy with Taika Waititi’s Ragnarok. Oddly enough, it’s this doubling down on the voice and fresh sensibilities that Waititi brought to Ragnarok that makes Love and Thunder feel stale. We guess you could say the schtick has gone dry and we’d like to see Thor get back to epic proportions.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
To its own detriment, Shang-Chi constantly invokes the works of its influences; Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Hong Kong action movies, and other classic martial arts pictures. Yet, the film itself is never able to recapture any of the similar charm or weight the action of those films carried. Mostly this comes down to the (over-)execution of the film’s VFX and digital landscapes pulling the punches of what should be visceral and fluid action sequences, which is a shame because there’s a compelling and emotional father-son drama that just never comes out in the film’s fight scenes. Please, Marvel, why did you end the movie with Shang-Chi going against a giant CGI demon-dragon when Tony Leung was right there giving a raw and physical performance? Could’ve been the daddy issues movie of the year!
Director Chloé Zhao’s Eternals is a fascinating mixed bag, because while it attempts to break from the Marvel formula in terms of tone, story, and honest-to-Celestial filmmaking practices (shooting on location!), the vision can’t help but feel bogged down by the omnipresent Marvel formula. The authenticity and lived-in world Zhao captured in her previous works The Rider and Nomadland just isn’t come through with the studio’s in-house cinematographer. That accompanied by the universe’s typical tedious exposition dumps and fight sequences set on the most grayscale deserts imaginable, it’s no wonder the film failed to resonate with either Marvel fans or moviegoers wanting something more out of this franchise.
Though, there is at least some soul to be found in the film. It’s not every MCU product you get the “heroes” struggling to figure out the purpose of humanity while basking in the presence of sunsets and the all-powerful god Arishem.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
There’s no denying that the biggest film of Phase 4 is a fan-favorite solely because it provides the most fan service. However, we are fans and we are serviced. The returns of Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Alfred Molina, and Willem Dafoe to the Spider-Verse hit those sweet nostalgic spots, but it hits even better that the characters aren’t just thrown into the movie for an action figure-like battle (as what happened with all the resurrected heroes in Endgame). No, they actually show up in service of the story of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, who finally picks up the mantra that with great power, there must also come great responsibility. While it is strange that it took three whole Spider-Man films for that philosophy to be incorporated into the franchise, the film did prove it was worth the wait and emotional investment to Peter, Ned, MJ, and May.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Yes, we’re giving Multiverse of Madness the Phase 4 silver medal. You can’t shame us! We’re proud to be sickos! Stephen Strange’s second outing in the MCU solidified that the Doctor Strange series is a vehicle for horror-fantasy directors to let loose and, boy, does the twisted suspense master Sam Raimi let loose. From heroically introducing the Illuminati in order to just playfully kill them off in the next scene to Doctor Strange fighting off the Souls of the Damned in order to possess the reanimated corpse of his multiversal self, the film is loads of fun if you weren’t expecting it to just be a cameo-filled extravaganza. Plus, it has the most gnarly ending to an MCU film since the original Iron Man.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Coming out on top of Phase 4—you guessed it—is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. No recency bias; the film just has the most soul of all the phase’s cinematic outings and that’s what we go to these movies for! The entire supporting cast of Wakanda is suddenly called upon to take leading roles, which both shines a different light upon this corner of the MCU and allows the film to deepen its exploration of themes in tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman. Shuri (Letitia Wright) experiences T’Challa’s own struggles with grief and vengeance in Captain America: Civil War but in a more fallible and human narrative arc. The film will drown you in your sorrows and lift you back up to fight again. An incredible way to end the phase.