Ah, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (now, the Marvel Cosmic Universe, if we're being technical), you either love it or hate it. We all know where legendary director Martin Scorsese stands on the matter; I get it, superhero fatigue is a very real thing.
It's been thirteen years and three Phases since Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr., and Marvel Studios set the MCU into motion with the first Iron Man film, changing the way cinematic universes would be crafted forever. Since then, we've witnessed the studio – under the cautious guidance of Kevin Feige – push the possibilities and boundaries of what we see on our screens.
No more nightmarish CGI costumes like that of Ryan Reynolds in The Green Lantern or X-Men's unbelievably convoluted timelines. Through the unification of Marvel properties under Disney's acquisition of Fox, we've witnessed characters interact onscreen in ways that we'd never imagined would be possible.
Now, some of the industry's biggest names in directing and acting call the MCU home, and the 11-year-old inside of me couldn't be more excited for what the remainder of Phase Four, and beyond, have to offer.
In celebration of another year of Marvel projects, we look back at the television shows and movies that Marvel released in 2021, and rank them from best to worst. Mild spoilers ahead.
1. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Seeing as this movie was only released last week, I'll keep this one brief. Despite a marketing campaign that kept all of its cards very close to the chest, Spider-Man: No Way Home managed to be one of the most anticipated movies of the year. The numbers speak for themselves – the film secured the second highest-grossing weekend box office of all time, bringing in $260 million in domestic revenue.
If you're yet to experience the movie yourself, you're seriously missing out. It's a mind-bender that only begins to crack open the possibilities for the future of the MCU while providing all of the fan service you could possibly imagine.
For me, this is second only to Infinity War.
2. Hawkeye (Season 1)
When it comes to Marvel's Disney+ shows, you can never be too sure what to expect. Sometimes they're disappointing, sometimes they're a slow burn, and other times, they completely surprise you and knock it out of the park.
If you've only ever thought of Hawkeye as a sideline character, this ode to Die Hard is enough to change your mind – time and time again. To date, this show is one of Marvel's most faithful interpretations of a comic book storyline, and given how great the show is, maybe this is an ingredient that's been missing.
Sometimes, street level is where this universe shines.
3. Loki (Season 1)
Loki, Loki, Loki. I never realised how much I missed this character until this show aired. Following the experimental WandaVision and the slightly too on the nose The Falcon and the Winter Solider, this show was the first true showcase of how crazy the Disney+ shows, and the MCU could, and will get.
With serious implications for the future of Phase Four (and possibly beyond), Loki is a thrill ride that will leave you wanting more.
4. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
This movie was genuinely a pleasant surprise. As Marvel's first attempt at a Kung-Fu movie, and coming out during a particularly difficult period for cinema due to the pandemic, no one really knew what to expect.
Simu Lu and Awkwafina's charismatic and humorous performances made it clear that this is a franchise that shouldn't be overlooked, and the film's box office performance is a testament to that.
As someone that felt disappointed at Netflix's attempt at Iron Fist, Shang-Chi was the perfect redemption.
I feel like this ranking might upset some people, but hear me out. Eternals is undoubtedly one of the MCU's most visually impressive movies thanks to Academy Award-winning director Chloé Zhao, but its beauty doesn't distract from how bloated it feels.
Sure, the character roster barely scratches that of Avengers: Endgame, but these are all new characters, and it doesn't feel like there is enough time to get to know them – ironic, considering the duration of the motion picture.
There are some great easter eggs, fun costumes, and an incredible cast, but unfortunately, the story and character development just aren't enough to warrant a higher ranking.
WandaVision received mixed reviews from fans and critics alike, and for good reason. The debut Disney+ show was a slow burner, and an experimental one at that.
Through the first three Phases of movies, we barely spent any time with Wanda and Vision before their relationship came to a climactic end in Endgame. Despite this, the show managed to make their relationship both palatable and enjoyable.
The shift through different eras of television created a viewing experience that was totally unique, yet it managed to fall flat towards the end. Regardless, it introduces some great new characters and sets up some huge story threads for the remainder of Phase Four.
7. Black Widow
It feels wrong to pit Scarlett Johannsen's Black Widow so low on this list because she's one of the few remaining characters that were with us from the very beginning. Her swan song should have come much, much earlier than it did, which is part of why it felt like such a letdown.
For me, I'd expected a Black Widow solo movie to pull on all of the threads that made Captain America: The Winter Solider such an amazing film. Go hard on the spy tropes, show us Natasha doing what she does best. Instead, it felt like a lot of powerful character moments from Avengers: Endgame were forgotten in the place of comedic moments and heavy action set pieces.
It wasn't quite the send-off the character deserved, but it gave us more of Scar Jo and allowed Florence Pugh to show off her acting range. These points alone are worth something.
8. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
I wanted nothing more than to love this series, but unfortunately, it just felt totally rushed. It's no secret that it underwent rewrites due to the pandemic, which made some plot points feel disjointed.
Though it felt like there were several holes, it gave us some amazing character moments. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan are an absolute joy to watch together, on, and off-screen, so I'm excited to see more of their team-ups in the future.
Despite touching on some highly sensitive subjects such as historical, and contemporary racism in America, a lot of the show's themes were very on the nose, which, at times made them difficult to fully digest.
The show brings back lots of characters that you'll have been itching to see and gives them some hilarious moments. Dancing Zeemo, anyone?
9. What If...? (Season 1)
Last, but by no means least, is What If..?
Don't get me wrong, this animated adventure was A LOT of fun, but giving it the same multiversal treatment as the live-action projects are currently undergoing felt like the wrong move. Having these as standalone, crazy adventures that feel like complete fanfiction is what made it initially feel like such an exciting undertaking.
Come the end, it felt like it would only serve to further inflate the existing MCU character roster, and provide even more Dues Ex Machinas in future conflicts.