The Marvel Cinematic Universe returned with a bang this past year, after having a hiatus during 2020 due to the pandemic. Fans had been clamouring for some Marvel content, with there being over a year between Spider-Man: Far From Home and Marvel’s first 2021 release WandaVision. Disney+ opened new avenues for Marvel, as the studio was able to release four feature films as well as five original Disney Plus limited series.
This brought the total number of Marvel Studios properties to nine, giving fans a whole assortment of different MCU content to digest after a year of silence from the studio. While the majority of Marvel’s outings this year were spectacular, some entires were not quite as good, leaving fans and critics divided.
This writer has his own opinion about each MCU property from 2021, and this article will attempt to compile a ranking of each of the nine releases from Marvel this year as we look ahead to 2022.
Eternals was the MCU property that left a lot of fans with questions. The trailers for the film showcased something different to what fans were used to from Marvel, and the project set itself the tough task of introducing a brand new group of super powered beings who had been around for thousands of years. This also led to the film having to explain where these heroes were during events such as The Battle of New York and Thanos’ invasion of Wakanda and the Avengers Compound.
The film explains the Eternals only appearing now due to the group only appearing to battle Deviants, which is an explanation numerous fans were not satisfied with.
A film featuring an All-Star cast that was not utilised to it’s fullest potential (barring some actors), spanning across multiple timelines and juggling multiple new characters resulted in a film that could have been amazing being a bit of a let down (according to both fans and critics).
Eternals does set up some interesting plot points for the future of the MCU, but beyond that the film was a bit lacklustre and definitely the weakest entry into the MCU this year.
#8. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier
The buddy cop series was meant to be the first Disney+ series, instead being pushed back and WandaVision becoming the first series to be released by Marvel.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier focuses on the ending to Avengers Endgame, with Sam Wilson/Falcon growing into his newfound position as Captain America. His turmoil leads to the creation of anti-hero John Walker and a reluctant alliance with Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier.
Seeing both Bucky and Sam together was amazing, as Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan bounce off each other well. The series utilised the two characters well and developed their relationship and motivations further. New characters such as John Walker and Isaiah Bradley were also welcome additions to the MCU, as the series utilises the characters to tackle some important themes.
However, the series still comes away as the weakest of the Disney+ original series simply due to the slow build up and rushed conclusion of the series. The Flag Smashers were also not great villains, with their motivations and methods sometimes contradicting, leading to a group of villains that were meant to be sympathetic feeling more like a group of terrorists with no compassion.
While the series nails the return of Baron Zemo and the emergence of Sam as the new Captain America in the final episode, a lot of the build up to key moments does not feel worth it and the series is carried by the dynamic between the two titular characters rather than the plot itself.
#7. Black Widow
A film that was a long time in the making, Scarlett Johansson was finally given her own starring role in the MCU. Due to the events of Avengers Endgame, the film was obviously a prequel.
This, along with the constant delays due to the pandemic led to a lot of fans losing anticipation for the film, believing that it was not an important entry into the MCU due to Natasha already meeting her demise.
However, the film did flesh out what Widow had been up to between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers Infinity War, and introduced potential key players in the MCU’s future such as Florence Pugh’s Yelena Bolova and David Harbour’s Red Guardian. While Black Widow set these characters up well, the film overall just was not something that was in the upper tier of MCU movies.
A decent watch to be sure and entertaining enough, however the villain was uninteresting, the Taskmaster reveal was not well done and it is a film that should have been created years earlier.
#6. What If?…
It was only a matter of time before Marvel Studios delved into animation, with the What If…? series providing them with the perfect opportunity to do so. Much like the famous comic series, the show dealt with what if scenarios from the MCU’s catalogue of films. Questions such as “What if Peggy Carter took the Super Soldier Serum?” and “What if Ultron had won?” were scenarios that fans had thought about since the release of their respective films.
What If?… provided the MCU with some great stories and alternate takes on characters, such as Party Thor and Doctor Strange Supreme, which could play a key role in the MCU going forward. The development of the multiverse concept is a major part of this series and one main highlight is Jeffery Wright’s Watcher guiding the audience through these vast universes and stories.
However, the series was not without it’s issues as early voice acting from MCU mainstays and some average storylines stop the series from being spectacular. The latter half of the season is clearly the highlight, as the stories merge together, but despite the shaky start What If…? will still be considered a successful dive into animation for Marvel Studios.
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is adored by almost everyone, meaning that a series starring the character was always going to be well received by fans who simply just wanted to see the character again. While this Loki is not the same that tragically passed during Avengers Infinity War, the character is still very much the same as he is plucked from the Avengers film during the time heist in Avengers Endgame.
The series focuses on the concept of variants from different timelines, who must be taken care of due to them not belonging in the mainstream timeline. The Time Variance Authority (better known as the TVA) deal with these variants and want to get rid of Loki from the timeline. However, Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) manages to keep Loki around to help him stop a Loki variant, who is revealed to be a Lady Loki named Sylvie.
Sylvie and Loki’s chemistry dominates the majority of the series, as the pair work together to uncover the mystery of the TVA. While the show is overall a great ride filled with action, quips and trickery, the finale feels very rushed and not worth the build up. The introduction of Jonathan Majors as He Who Remains is a major one for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however it does not feel earned and will fly over the heads of most fans who do not follow the comics.
Still, the series further pushed forward the idea of the multiverse, while providing a fun ride and interesting new characters. Because one Loki is never enough.
The latest Disney+ series focuses on everyone’s favourite archer Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), as he is wrapped up (pun) in a Christmas mystery alongside a young super fan named Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld). Both Barton and Bishop steal the show consistently, with their witty banter and natural chemistry being the main highlight of the show.
Hawkeye is filled with action and comedy, as Steinfeld’s character is more of the main character than Renner’s Barton. Steinfeld is terrific in her performance here and the show feels like it has been ripped straight out of the comics. The series deals with Barton’s past as the Ronin and introduces/re-introduces characters that are going to have a major role in the MCU moving forward.
Maya Lopez is set to have her own series on Disney+, while the re introduction of characters such as Yelena Belova and another fan favourite character (who will not be spoiled) were both welcome and will have a great impact on the MCU going forward. Introducing Kate Bishop also allows Marvel to gear up towards a Young Avengers crossover and sets her up to take over the mantle of Hawkeye.
While the finale felt a bit disappointing, the build up to get there led to Hawkeye being one of the best additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to come from Disney+.
#3. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
As someone who was skeptical of the film due to not liking the trailers, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings exceeded both mine and many other people’s expectations. Simu Liu shines in the role as Shang-Chi and is surrounded by a great supporting cast. A film filled with great action sequences and one of the best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Tony Leung’s Wenwu.
The family conflict drives the film, as Shang-Chi wishes to distance himself from his father’s villainous ways. Their family’s relationship is the main driver of many characters motivations in the film. Shang-Chi is set to play a bigger role in the future of the MCU, with the appearance of Wong, Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner leading to speculation that he will be a new member of the Avengers.
A surprisingly great first film for Liu’s character, with hopefully a lot more great appearances to come for Shang-Chi.
WandaVision was the first foray into the Disney+ miniseries for Marvel Studios, and boy did the studio hit off 2021 with a bang. Elizabeth Olsen’s fan favourite character Wanda Maximoff made her return alongside Paul Bettany’s Vision in a world created by Wanda’s magnificent skillset.
The series did a fantastic job developing Wanda’s character and giving us an insight into her psyche and the grief she has been feeling since the events of Avengers Infinity War. Wanda’s powers continue to develop and grow throughout the series, as she uses her love of sitcoms to develop her own reality based around sitcoms from different decades. However, it comes at the cost of holding people hostage.
This results in Vision discovering about this reality and a group of people outside the fictional town of Westview working to try and save the town. This series gives us a number of massive character debuts, including Agatha Harkness, Monica Rambeau, Wiccan and Speed. WandaVision also perfectly sets up the origin story of the Scarlet Witch and her role in the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel.
#1. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Now, the biggest film of 2021 and one of the biggest superhero films ever. There was no way any other film was going to top this list. Spider-Man: No Way Home is the perfect film to wrap up Tom Holland’s Spider-Man trilogy and complete his transformation into the fullest version of Spider-Man.
Featuring an All-Star cast from prior Spider-Man franchises including Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx and J.K. Simmons, Spider-Man: No Way Home is the perfect legacy sequel as it manages to balance all the legacy characters well along with developing Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and his story.
The film perfectly balances the comedic elements and the dark tones of the story, while giving fans one of the most pleasing and fully developed superhero films to date.