How I Would Rank the Phase Four MCU Films
I was watching Thor: Love and Thunder on Disney+ recently. Later, I had the epiphany that we have only one movie left from the MCU’s Phase Four.
Yes, when Black Panther: Wakanda Forever arrives in November, that’ll conclude this phase.
I suspect most fans would consider Phase Four underwhelming, especially compared to Phase Three.
So, I wanted to take this opportunity to rank the six films to date in Phase Four of the MCU.
I was recently discussing Pixar movies in another forum, and I jokingly slagged The Good Dinosaur.
There’s nothing wrong with that movie. It’s just not on the level of various Pixar titles. Like, it’s not even close.
I don’t evaluate Thor: The Dark World the same way. That film is objectively substandard and an editing debacle to boot.
Marvel watched an early cut of the film, recognized it was a failure, and then tried to tweak it too late.
Contrast that to Eternals, which the same executives believed was worthy of a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards.
Now, the rest of us disagreed, but Marvel was proud of Eternals. That statement alone identifies that we’re talking about a different quality scale.
Eternals may not be as good as most MCU movies, but it is perfectly solid popcorn entertainment.
My initial review of the movie graded it as a B. Since then, I’ve probably bumped it down to a C+.
As an Eternals comic book superfan, I’m disappointed with the outcome, but I still watch it whenever it’s on.
The relationship between Thena and Gilgamesh deserves a better standalone movie, though.
5) Black Widow
Everything else we’ll discuss here falls somewhere between good and exceptional.
I feel strongly about that, even though I recognize several of these projects have become lightning rods for criticism.
With Black Widow, some fans believe the project falls under the umbrella of too little, too late.
A few other unhappy sorts are never going to like a female lead in anything, which is such a depressing way to live.
Personally, I graded Black Widow as an A- at the time, which strikes me as a bit generous in hindsight.
I’ve watched the film at least four times and had it on in the background on several other occasions.
Some elements of the movie, especially the de facto family, work extremely well. Others, like the third act explosion fest, aren’t as strong.
Black Widow is good, not great, but Florence Pugh is a star. Marvel has gotten the Yelena Belova casting right.
Now all we need is the resurrection of Natasha Romanov.
4) Thor: Love and Thunder
Completely unrestrained Taika Waititi isn’t for everyone. The internet has made that clear.
Even I find him a bit much at times. What We Do in the Shadows does absolutely nothing for me, much to the chagrin of my wife.
However, I fully understand why Disney loves him and has developed a strong working relationship.
Waititi transitions easily between character and storyteller, perhaps best demonstrated by his voice work in the Thor franchise and his villainous portrayal in Free Guy.
With Love and Thunder, Waititi maybe miscalculates a bit by trying to be too serious at times. That’s not his wheelhouse.
So, the Gorr the God Butcher character and his realm of utter blackness feel disjointed.
Those frustrations don’t undo the charm and wit of many aspects of the movie, though. Even the reveal about the film’s name demonstrates whimsy and optimism.
I recently graded Thor: Love and Thunder as an A-, and that feels right.
3) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
I’ve gone back and forth on three different titles, debating which one I like the best. You can tell by the grading that I eventually settled on Dr. Strange 2.
I’ve been watching Sam Raimi movies since the 1990s, and I was part of the syndicated crowd that kept Xena: Warrior Princess on the air for six seasons.
I also watched Hercules before I found out that the guy playing Hercules was a human garbage bag.
So, I get Raimi’s sense of humor and knew what to expect from Multiverse of Madness.
That “jazz hands” scene from Spider-Man 3 is closest to the pin on who Raimi really is as a storyteller.
Knowing this, I found the music battle utterly charming and laughed too loudly at all the Evil Dead references in Dr. Strange 2.
We’ve since confirmed that this film isn’t for everyone, but it is definitely for Sam Raimi fans. Now we need to get him working on a Xena reboot.
2) Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Long-term storytelling is a thing, and I admire that the MCU embraces this fact. Two of the Phase Four projects share connective tissue with Phase One.
The villain from Black Widow is someone mentioned in The Avengers. Loki employs a kind of mental torture against Natasha by bringing up her sordid past.
Meanwhile, the villain in Shang-Chi – and also the father! – runs the terrorist organization that kidnapped Tony Stark in Iron Man.
So, we had a nine-year gap in the resolution of one story and thirteen years for the other.
However, the story in Shang-Chi plays out much better because the protagonist seems like such an underachiever.
Then, we gradually learn that he is on the run from a parent he fears. Meanwhile, he’s desperately searching for a sister he unintentionally abandoned.
Also, this character’s best friend provides the cliché comic relief, but since it’s Awkwafina crushing every line of dialogue, we don’t care.
On first viewing, I graded Shang-Chi as an A and indicated that it might move up to an A+ on repeat viewing. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a really good movie!
1) Spider-Man: No Way Home
Disney probably winces at the thought that the best Phase Four movie comes from Sony.
Yes, Disney takes a hefty cut from this revenue, but it’s still problematic. Disney has produced five Phase Four films, while Sony only managed one. Sony’s is better.
That’s just me saying that. No Way Home is one of less than 100 movies ever to earn an A+ Cinemascore.
This service surveys opening night crowds to determine how well they liked a movie.
As recent examples, The Woman King also earned an A+, while Don’t Worry Darling managed a B-.
In Cinemascore terms, anything under an A- is worrisome. Anything under a B might as well be an F. And an actual F Cinemascore is a likely candidate to become an MST3K film.
No Way Home is the polar opposite of that, a damn near perfect movie that has thrilled audiences everywhere.
Somehow, the latest Spider-Man movie earned the sixth-most box office ever amidst a pandemic when nobody else was approaching $500 million.
No Way Home lives up to that hype as a thoroughly satisfying exploration of three different Spider-Man characters. It’s brimming with humor but also drama.
I could care less about the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies, and yet I cheered with joy when he saved someone from falling to their death.
Moments like that exemplify what I want from Marvel titles. I hope to see more of this during Phase Five…and in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as well. That’s the final film in Phase Four.