2021 was the most packed year of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever. And while COVID played a role in that, it doesn’t seem like the speed with which they’re rolling is going to slow down any time soon. With a whole bunch of movies and T.V. shows coming out in 2022 as well.
With so much to talk about, why not take a day to rank each of these releases in order from worst to best.
#10: Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Movie | Released 1st October
It’s bad. Honestly, I don’t really count this one. I just wanted to make this list into a nice round ten.
#9: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Movie | Released 3rd September
I ended up not really liking this movie a whole lot after some time away from it. It was a movie I felt that started really strongly, as a cool homage to kung-fu flicks of the past. But by the time we got to the final act, it devolved into yet another CGI driven giant battle sequence.
One that, unlike the many other examples in the franchise, didn’t feel like there was any weight behind it. I didn’t especially feel all that invested in the characters in the same way I was in an Avengers or a Black Panther.
I just never connected to Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi or any of his supporting cast, nor his daddy issues storyline. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t think the movie was bad or anything. It just didn’t connect with me.
Movie | Released 5th November
Like Chang-Chi, the Eternals was trying something different and opening up a new corner of the MCU. And also like Shang-Chi, I personally feel like we’re starting to really stretch the world of the MCU a little more than I’d like.
Despite being a movie with some very cool concepts and a number of absurdly cool visual moments, this is another one I never felt myself connect too strongly with. Most of the characters fell flat for me. Lacking the dynamic personalities of the Guardians movies.
In the end, the two brand new editions to the MCU that came out in 2021 ended up being the least impressive. Which I guess is kind of worrying if you’re super invested in the idea of another 10 years of good MCU.
#7: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Series | Aired 19th March – 23rd April | 6 Episodes
I genuinely did like all of the Marvel series we got on Disney Plus this year. But on this list, one of the shows needed to be on the bottom, and right now The Falcon and the Winter Solider is the show I feel the least strongly about.
It was a series of peaks and valleys. Daniel Brühl was scene stealing, Anthony Mackie was super earnest and presented as a real great carrier of the mantle of Captain America and the visual of Wyatt Russell as John Walker with the bloody shield is one of the most striking single images from 2021’s entire MCU run.
But at the same time, it had a weak villain with a motivation that came across half baked. One that could have been super interesting had had they dedicated a little more time to it. It was a good snow, but one that probably could have stood to have made better use of its time. Or simply been less episodes.
#6: Black Widow
Movie | (Eventually) Released 9th July
I actually didn’t see this one till really late. Until a bit after it came out on streaming. This really feels like a movie that should have come out a lot earlier than it did. Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff was one of those side characters who developed so much over the course of the series despite never getting her own movie.
By the time she did get one, it was too late… Because she was dead.
Which is too bad, because this movie is actually really good. It adds a whole bunch of new elements and characters to the world that are a whole lot of fun. Which, unlike Eternals, which overpack an established workd with all new elements, build on the established lore and give them more conect compared to what they already had.
It’s a ton of fun and introduces Florence Pugh as Nat’s sister Yelena Belova, who ended up being a highlight of Hawkeye.
#5: What If…?
Series | Aired 11th August – 6th October | 9 Episodes
What if…? was Marvel’s first foray into the world of animation. And it was an impressive first step as well. The unique animation style sets it apart from anything else out there, combined with the returning talents of… most of the actors from the MCU’s live action iterations.
What if itself was a series of ups and downs for me. When it was good, it was amazing, but there were enough dud episodes in there that it kept it from being any higher on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hayley Atwell to pieces, but her episode felt like it kept too close to the original story for my liking.
I felt similarly about Killmonger’s episode. Anything involving the dark Doctor Strange whipped though, and seeing his inclusion in the new, live action Doctor Strange trailer was totally wild.
Series | Aired 9th June – 14th July | 6 Episodes
Tom Hiddleston really embodies this character in totality now. His portrayal of Loki as this swaggering conman combined with a lost puppy that just wants to be loved has always made the character endearing, even when he was the bad guy of the original Avengers.
Seeing this Loki, a different Loki than the one we knew from Dark World and Ragnarok going through that same journey again felt like it might be a little redundant at times, but the wild new concepts introduced in this series more than made up for a slight backpedalling that forced Loki to go through the same development again.
While I felt the concepts introduced into Eternals and Shang Chi seemed a little forced, the idea of the Time Variance Authority as an outside element that won’t actually interact with the main timeline of the MCU works really well for me. Especially how it all wraps up with the actual creation of the Multiverse that acts the biggest driving force behind the future shows and movies of the MCU.
Series | Aired 24th November – 22nd December | 6 Episodes
Is there an element of recency bias here? Possibly. I only saw the final episode of Hawkeye a few days ago, but I really do think it’s one of the standout shows/movies to come out of the MCU in 2021. Like Nat, Clint Barton has been hanging around in the MCU for a decade now and it’s a crime he didn’t get his own story until now.
Told in the guise of a Die Hard style Christmas Action Comedy, Hawkeye returns us to a more decidedly street level of crime and I love it for that. I am really missing the more grounded stories of the MCU and the inclusion of characters from Netflix’s Daredevil back into the MCU is reminding me of what I’m missing even more.
Hailee Steinfeld’s journey as Kate Bishop is fantastic as well, starting off the series as a spoiled, entitled rich kid. One that honestly came off a little unlikeable to me in the early episodes, but really grew over the course of the series and came to realise what it takes to be a “superhero”, especially one without a tin suit or filled with super juice.
I find myself wondering if the split between cosmic level threats and street level threats are going to straddle the line between the movies and the Disney Plus series’s. Time will tell I suppose. Also, as I said in the Black Widow section; Florence Pugh is scene stealing every time she shows up.
I swear to God, if they killed off Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk I’m going to be so mad…
Series | Aired 5th January – 5th March | 9 Episodes
WandaVision was the first MCU thing to come out in 2021, and in addition to that ended up being one of the most ambitious. The show started based on a high concept, with the titular characters existing within the world of American, sitcom television from across the decades. The mystery behind the whole thing being what drove the characters on the outside for the early episodes.
The show was simultaneously a great loving send up of the types of television it was referencing, while also being a fantastic look at how someone as powerful as Wanda deals with grief. As well as slowly building to the point where she fully becomes the Scarlet Witch from the comics.
I loved practically everything about this series, Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are both amazing in their roles and their relationship is a super sweet one, which makes the tragedy of Vision all the more impactful when Wanda is finally forced to face it and the damage she’s doing to the town she’s taken over.
My only real complaint is that the ending feels like it drops a few balls in regards to characters like Monica Rambeau and Evan Peters’s “return” as Quicksilver, which turned from an amazing reference with countless possibilities to a bit of a red herring that felt like it did more harm than good once it was revealed.
WandaVision was the most different show that came out this year, even more so than Loki, and I have to give it massive props for that. The MCU returning after a break with this show of all things was pretty ambitious, and honestly I think it worked for them amazingly. I love for them to get weirder like this more often.
Let’s hope that’s what the new Doctor Strange movie ends up doing when it comes out later this year.
#1: Spider-Man: No Way Home
Movie | Released 17th December
Man, this movie… It’s so good. I was kind of worried about the movies of the MCU this year not being anywhere near as strong as the Disney Plus shows, but this movie blew everything else out of the water in a fashion much like Infinity War and Endgame did before it, except for Spider-Man.