Soooooooooo... obviously this is a little bit late. Long story short, had a covid exposure scare ON New Year's Eve, and that really sucked out a lot of my enthusiasm for ringing in 2022. But this was still a pretty big year for the MCU, especially after the drought that was 2020. The start of Phase Four, the first (and maybe only for a while at least depending on how 2023 shakes out) year with four theatrical releases from Marvel Studios, the first year with Disney+ original MCU content, just an overall interesting mix of old and new stuff. So I figured "eh, so what if it's a little late, it's worth talking about I guess". Which brings us to this, my general thoughts on each of the Marvel projects that came out in 2021.
- Wandavision: I was waking up at three in the morning to catch these episodes live. As a sitcom homage, I absolutely love it. The performances are fantastic, the little nods and effects they use to keep it feeling like an authentic product of whatever time period it's supposed to be are great and only make the points where the curtain peels back all the more unsettling. But once all the sitcom stuff falls away to solve the greater "mystery" of what's going on, I think it goes from being a really great series to just kind of okay, and the ending leaves a really sour taste in my mouth. Then again, full disclosure, I kind of hate the MCU's Wanda, and this didn't really change my mind on that. Still, I think this is probably the most genuinely ambitious MCU project in a while just in terms of genre-busting scope even if it stumbles at the end, and I hope to see more projects... not necessarily like it, but with the same sense of trying to push the boundaries of what MCU installments can be.
- The Falcon And The Winter Soldier: It's okay. But it really needed either one or two less subplots, or two or more extra episodes. Everything about Falcon's journey to accepting the mantle of Captain America is really damn good, and I'm super-excited to see him again in whatever they do for Captain America 4. It's just a shame that the rest of the plots have to duke it out for resolution. Bucky's arc is woefully understated and I don't think the resolution is as satisfying, Walker's story feels like it's missing a huge chunk in between its hypothetical second and third acts, Zemo's as superfluous as he is completely badass, and honestly I think the villains are incredibly weak-sauce. All in all, this series feels like it got hit with one of the worst cases of "hyping up whatever's coming next at the expense of its own story"-itis of anything this year. I do really enjoy the dynamic between Sam and Bucky though, and they continue to have Sam do some really neat stuff with his apparatus.
- Loki: Decent show, but I think with the exception of episode 5 it's an honestly terrible Loki show. For a supposed tricksy god of mischief, it doesn't feel like he actually pulls a lot of tricks or really has much in the way of coherent schemes going on, and he feels ridiculously underpowered compared to previous showings. Except in episode 3 for some weird reason, which I actually assumed for the entire week after it aired had to be an illusion because so little of it makes sense. I give them major props for having the finale be mostly a conversation rather than a big drawn-out CGI fight, and for at least using one episode to explore the concept of what it means to be a Loki, but I'm hoping for a little more of that from Season 2.
- Black Widow: I know there was a lot of corporate BS going on keeping it from happening, but I really think this would have been a much better movie if they had made it for a 2016 release. There's surprisingly little espionage and spywork for a movie based around Black Widow, the stakes of the action feel particularly unconvincing given Natasha's plot armor until Endgame, and even though the family dynamic is cute and gets some laughs, I have a hard time buying that it's such an important part of Natasha's life just from the way it's presented. Taskmaster feels like they used the name just to put butts in seats, which is kind of disheartening because not only do I feel like we should be past that kind of thing, but Taskmaster feels like a deep enough pull that the name was only going to attract nerds like me who were still going to see this anyway because it's the next big Marvel release. Yelena is an absolute delight though, and I look forward to them putting her in as many future Marvel projects as she can stand to be a part of.
- What If...?: Probably my least favorite MCU release in a while, because I'm a giant nitpicker. Most of these don't feel like they could have organically spun out of the MCU as we know it, and since it all builds to a big multiversal team-up I feel like it defeats the purpose of calling it "What If" in the first place. If you want to make Exiles, that's fine, just make the Exiles. That aside, there's some genuinely great stuff here, Strange Supreme is heartbreaking and very well done, Star-Lord T'Challa is amazing, and the murder mystery episode was very well written, but the show loses some major points for undercooking Marvel Zombies and the less said about Party Thor, the happier I'll be. Honestly I hope maybe they'll try some longer episodes for season 2? It doesn't feel like any of these really get the time they need to flesh their concepts out in 30 minutes.
- Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings: I think this is the best thing Marvel's released all year. Literally the only real weak point for me is that I wish the final fight hadn't turned into a battle between big CGI monsters, but even then, it's decently well done and the only reason it disappoints me is because I was so enthralled with the hand-to-hand combat in the rest of the movie. Not really much else to say, it's a beautiful movie with great performances, spectacular writing, and awesome fight choreography. I can't wait for the sequel.
- Eternals: I don't think this movie would have been better as a Disney+ series, but I do think it needed one more pass in the editing room. Kro could've been cut out of the third act entirely and left as a dangling issue to be either resolved in a sequel or handled elsewhere by another party, and Ikaris and Sersi just aren't all that engaging, so maybe some of the screentime put toward enforcing their "epic romance" could've been better used establishing their connections to the other characters/developing them as individuals instead? I definitely respect that this movie was trying to be more of a thinker, but there's some definite weakpoints to be patched up. Also, more Druig and Makkari in the sequel please. That's the real most valuable relationship here.
- Hawkeye: I hate the LARPers. Other than that, I think this show's really damn good, probably the best of the Disney+ series just in terms of nuts and bolts structure, and tying the whole thing into the Christmas season gives it a surprising amount of charm. Kate's another welcome new addition to the MCU and I'm eager to see where she shows up next. Also I'm not a relationship expert or anything, but I feel like Clint and Laura have one of the healthiest, most communicative marriages I've ever seen in a TV show, and it's just really refreshing.
- Spider-Man No Way Home: Okay I'm really not going to go into any details on this one because it's still relatively recent and still in theaters, but I feel like it's worth stating: I don't think this is the best Spider-Man movie, in general or live action. Honestly I don't even necessarily think it's the best Tom Holland Spider-Man movie. But god damn if slamming the nostalgia center of the brain doesn't count for a lot, because I definitely had the most emotional reactions to this movie out of any of the other Marvel stuff this year. By this time next year I feel like I'm going to look back at this movie and think it was just "pretty damn good", but there are moments in this that will probably never stop making me tear up just thinking about them.
All in all, I'm pretty happy with how this past year of Marvel content's turned out. There's a bit of an awkward "finding the footing again" feel to the whole sandbox again, but after Endgame I feel like that's actually pretty fitting. We're not just in Phase Four, we're in a new Phase One for whatever's following up on the Infinity Saga, and the most intriguing thing, I think, is that there's things building up across a whole bunch of different corners. And even while trying to plant seeds for whatever's coming next, most of these installments still work very well as entertaining and fulfilling experiences on their own, even if they're also keeping the hype machine running in the meantime.
Thanks to all those who decided to humor my ramblings by reading this, feel free to comment on what you thought about any of the Marvel stuff that came out this past year. And here's to an even better 2022 (hopefully)!