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MCU Phase 4 Report Card: The Good, The Bad, The Thunder

Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is complete, with the premieres of "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" and "The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special." What a ride it's been, friends. The fandom has never been more divided and it's all thanks to the mediocrity of the first installment of "The Multiverse Saga." This is Marvel Studios' biggest phase yet, with seven movies, two special presentations, eight Disney+ series, and whatever "I Am Groot" is. That's a whopping 18 projects for one phase, while Phase 3 had just 11 movies.

These 18 projects were dished out over just two years, whereas the Phase 3 films were released over three years. That's... a lot. When Kevin Feige revealed that the MCU was introducing television series to the mix, we were elated. It was a beautiful time. MORE MCU? YES! If we knew then what we know now, we wouldn't be chanting for it. We'd beg Feige to halt the non-stop production of logo-embroidered baseball caps and slow things down a bit. 

Phase 4 had a lot to live up to, and you have to admit there was no way it had any way of matching the perfection of Phase 3. We can't forget that as we go through our Phase 4 review, and it's something we urge the MCU fandom to remember when knocking this recent installment in any way. But that doesn't excuse Phase 4 from being tremendously "mid," as the kids call it. Let's break down everything under the Phase 4 umbrella as we celebrate its much-needed finale.

Also, this is Looper's assessment, so we're not ranking anything here based on Rotten Tomatoes scores (but we'll mention them a time or two) or audience rankings on IMDb. Let's go ahead and get that out of the way.

The As of Phase 4

When it comes to everything Phase 4 did right; there were six stellar projects worth re-watch after re-watch. Movie-wise, "Spider-Man: No Way Home" and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" are the best regarding Phase 4 feature offerings. These two prove that Marvel Studios can still deliver origin stories as well as cameo-packed team-ups. Once the buzz circulated around Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire appearing in "No Way Home," the movie had already succeeded. Fan service is not always the right way to go, but it was absolute perfection in this case. Sure, there was some really terrible dialogue in "No Way Home," but those things can be overlooked when something is well-rounded and features Willem Dafoe.

"Shang-Chi" is also one of Phase 4's underdogs. You can think of it as the "Guardians of the Galaxy" of the phase, as it was one of the movies no one was really hyped for, but it went on to exceed all expectations. "Shang-Chi" has one of the best new casts we've seen in the MCU in a long time. The movie had it all: great story, stunning visual effects, incredible fight choreography, perfect stunts, and a top-notch villain. The origin flick certainly has us excited for "Avengers: The Kang Dynasty," which is in the hands of "Shang-Chi" director Destin Daniel Cretton.

As far as the Disney+ series (these might be where the fandom is most divided), only two landed at the top for us: "Loki" and "Hawkeye." Again, Marvel Studios is proving they can handle stories on opposite ends of the spectrum — galactic/otherworldly and street-level. "Hawkeye" needfully focused on the most-overlooked Avenger and introduced one of Phase 4's best new characters: Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld). Another incredible new character? Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson). What a triumph "Loki" was. The Tom Hiddleston-led series was a visual spectacle, and its story led to the biggest ramifications for Phase 5.

The As that surprised us

We can't talk about the best of Phase 4 without discussing its Special Presentations. The MCU is batting 1000 regarding this new format thanks to the perfection that is "Werewolf by Night" and "The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special." It hasn't been confirmed that more Special Presentations are on the way, but plenty of rumor-mill outlets have suggested some are coming for characters like Ghost Rider, Nova, Silver Surfer, and Mephisto. Again, these are rumors that you can find in abundance on Twitter.

Never mind what might be coming; let's focus on these Phase 4 gems. Not every character or story needs a six or nine-episode series. Not every character or story needs a two or three-hour movie. Some things are told best in 40 minutes. "Werewolf by Night" did something so different, and it excelled. Its homage to old horror films was executed perfectly, and it gave us a well-rounded story in under an hour. Not to mention it also introduced Man-Thing, who is another character you can add to the "Best of Phase 4" list.

The "Guardians" special put Mantis (Pom Klementieff) at the forefront and delivered a fun Christmas adventure worth a re-watch every holiday season. This story would have failed as a series and wasn't big enough to be a feature film, proving why Special Presentations are needed. They're fun, mostly standalone, and they don't have the same stakes that come with bigger-budget projects. More of these and fewer series, please.

The good-not-great Bs of Phase 4

Phase 4 had some really decent projects that didn't quite excel but weren't bad. Falling under the umbrella of "good" Phase 4 projects are "WandaVision," "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," "Ms. Marvel," and "I Am Groot." We know we've already lost some of you here, as "WandaVision" is hailed by many as the best MCU series so far. For us, it's not. The issue with the first-ever MCU-Disney+ series is that it's half great and half meh, and when over half the episodes in a television series are not good, it means the show isn't. It's also devastating when a finale totally fumbles. Speaking of fumbles, the handling of Evan Peter's return as Quicksilver is one of the biggest misses we've ever seen in the MCU. A bohner joke? Really?

Regarding "Wakanda Forever," we're looking at the movie objectively, and one of its biggest issues is that it's entirely too long. Eliminating Val (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) would have helped tremendously, but the story also suffered some issues. We stated our case that "Wakanda Forever" whiffed on its Black Panther successor, and it probably should have been Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) or M'Baku (Winston Duke).

"Ms. Marvel" also falls into the good category and ranks at the top of MCU projects, according to Rotten Tomatoes. Yes, per the aggregator site, this is the best thing in the MCU per critics' scores. This is another underdog example; the less excited people are about a project, the better. "Ms. Marvel" was surprisingly fun and endearing, but it's a little bit forgetful, which doesn't make it one of the Phase 4 greats.

We're also throwing "I Am Groot" in here because it's a good time and something fun for an up-and-coming MCU fan who just isn't ready for the more adult themes in every other project.

The mediocre Cs

Let's get down to where Phase 4 thrives: mediocrity. Somehow, this phase managed to have fans leaving the theater (or turning off the TV) and going, "Hmm, that was alright." Only to later have them reevaluate and think, "Actually, no, that wasn't good." A great example of this is "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" — a perfectly bland movie masquerading as a good one. For a film that should have been thrilling and inventive, it was boring and messy. The fan service didn't quite pay off, proving that's not always the way to go.

"Moon Knight" unfortunately falls into our mediocre category when it should have been one of the greats. It started out that way with a solid first half but absolutely tanks on the back nine. Oscar Isaac really nails the role of Marc Spector, and Moon Knight is one of the best-looking heroes we've got at this point. With a better story, Moon Knight should be one of the better characters moving forward in the MCU.

We've also thrown "What If...?" into the mix here because while it's fun to imagine those kinds of scenarios, no one was asking for this series. It's just something to pass the time as live-action properties are worked on. Better get used to it, though, as we're definitely getting at least two more seasons of "What If...?" (per Deadline).

The Ds of Phase 4

Let's move into the downright bad of Phase 4, and the category belongs to two projects that had no business being here: "Black Widow" and "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier." Let's kick off with the former. This was just a case of too little too late. We just watched Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) perish in "Avengers: Endgame," and seeing her in a prequel (not even an origin-story prequel that would have been better) was just a big "who cares?" We moved on from Natasha. We didn't need to know what she did between "Captain America: Civil War" and "Avengers: Infinity War." Yelena (Florence Pugh) could have been introduced a million other ways, but it was good to see her on-screen with her sister. That being said, Yelena takes the cake as our absolute favorite Phase 4 newcomer, and she can lead the whole damn thing going forward as far as we're concerned.

Now, "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" might be the biggest letdown of Phase 4. Are there worse projects? Absolutely, and we'll get to those morons soon, but this should have been some "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" greatness. It had everything going for it and delivered on none of it. Despite director Kari Skogland shutting down rumors about the script overhaul (via Collider), we'll always believe there was originally a pandemic storyline that was scrapped due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The only thing "FaWS" did well was the handling of Isaiah Bradley's (Carl Lumbly) storyline and the discussion of Black superheroes. Otherwise, the whole thing was a dud put together to let us know Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) was now Captain America. It could have been an e-mail.

The absolute Fs of Phase 4 (and the MCU)

It's time to get into it. The worst of the worst of Phase 4, and these should come as no surprise to anyone. "Eternals," "Thor: Love and Thunder," and "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" collectively make up the dumpster fire portion of this phase. These projects should be ashamed of themselves. They didn't just let us down; they let themselves down.

"Eternals" should have been the talking point of Phase 4. It should have been the greatest project we got out of all 18, but it was (almost) the worst. It is the lowest-rated MCU movie to date and the only rotten film of the lot on Rotten Tomatoes. What a truly boring movie. We were introduced to too many new characters at once (perhaps this one would have benefited from a Disney+ series), and it was somehow impossible to become emotionally invested in any of them or the story itself. But "Eternals" is not the worst movie of Phase 4. That honor belongs to "Thor: Love and Thunder."

Are Gs a thing?

If you're able to see the good and beauty in "Thor: Love and Thunder," we commend you. You seem like a positive, encouraging person. That's just not us. "Thor: Love and Thunder" is the worst movie in the MCU, meaning yes, it ranks below "Thor: The Dark World" and "Iron Man 2." They didn't know it at the time, but when the powers-that-be gave Taika Waititi total control of the fourth "Thor" flick, they signed its death warrant. He had no business writing and directing an MCU film, and it showed.

"Love and Thunder" was dumb joke after dumb joke and made one of Marvel Comics' most admirable and powerful heroes a laughing stock. To be fair, that groundwork was already being laid, but the fourth origin film cemented it all. There are too many plot points; the story is inconsistent; Gorr (Christian Bale) is drastically underused; there's comedy that's not comedy, and it has the crappiest dialogue ever heard in an MCU movie. "Thor: Love and Thunder" is the worst joke Marvel Studios has ever told, and we hope the fifth "Thor" film (we fully believe there will be one) doesn't have Waititi attached.

We'd be remiss to talk about the worst Phase 4 projects without mentioning the atrocity that is "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law." This show has absolutely no idea what it wants to be but parades as a legal comedy. It's not. Aside from the fact that the CGI is some of the worst you'll see in the MCU, "She-Hulk" is a garbage origin story. Titania (Jameela Jamil) is an unnecessary non-villain, and Intelligencia's motives make absolutely no sense. The biggest bummer is that Tatiana Maslany is fantastic as Jennifer Walters, but the terrible writing and non-story make this the worst Disney+ series we've seen.

We're still not worried about the MCU

When we break it down, Phase 4 had more bad than good because those we labeled as mediocre were only barely above the line. We're not slamming these projects because of MCU fatigue; we're getting MCU fatigue because we're being fed too much mediocrity. They can't all be winners; we know that. But two-thirds of what you're putting out needs to fall somewhere between good and great. You can say that about the first three phases but not the fourth. Granted, Phase 1 and 2 had significantly fewer projects, but the ratio is right.

One of the biggest criticisms Phase 4 got along the way was that nothing was really connected, and it seemed like there was no direction. Despite the bashing we gave Phase 4 here, that's not a take we agree with. In Feige, we trust. When Phase 1 came out, none of us knew what the hell was going on — we were just having a great time at the movies. We can't be worried about where it's going because they know. Kang is our next big bad, and there's no universe where Jonathan Majors lets us down, folks, so if you're feeling bad about where the MCU is heading, just know that he's about to carry Phase 5 on his very broad shoulders.

Phase 4 suffered from poor writing when it all boils down to it. If you look at what separates the good from the rest here, it comes down to the story. Never mind bad jokes and poor CGI; bad storytelling is the death of any movie or TV series. There's not a doubt in our mind that Feige has heard the critics and fans loud and clear. We're just hoping he holds his hand more firmly on the wheel in Phase 5 and beyond.