Since first showing up on viewer’s screens in 2008 with marvel’s Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the MCU) has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry hitting its peak with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. With the major story arc of the MCU finally wrapped up (and epilogued by Spider-Man: Far From Home) fans started asking what was next and more importantly will it be any good? After getting nothing in 2020 due to the pandemic, 2021 has been jam-packed full of content but is it any good?
The Delightfully Mad.
Wandavision kicked off this year’s supply of MCU goodness with an insane mystery that explores the psyche of the two titular characters. It had a very interesting concept; attempting to explore the mind of an incredibly traumatised individual through the medium of various sitcoms across the decades. The entire cast of characters are incredible throughout which is a testament to the writing team and the actors involved. However, due to various plot rewrites (thanks to the pandemic) and a reluctance to commit the finale feels mostly empty. This show was good overall but it definitely could have been better had it spent more time in the oven.
The Overwhelmingly Marvellous.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a complete blast from start to finish. The action, humour and characterisations are exactly what you could want out of a piece of marvel media. It manages to have this fun whilst telling the first outwardly political story in the MCU since 2008’s Iron Man. The serious aspects of this story however are the most polarising factors as it attempts to tackle a lot of serious problems with varying degrees of success. Carl Lumbly was amazing as Isaiah Bradley as he stole every scene he was in with his incredibly emotive performance. Wyatt Russell as John Walker and Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo also put in stand out performances respectively. With some of the best acting in the MCU, fantastic fight scenes all around and a intriguing story about legacy this has easily become one of my favourite MCU productions.
The Somewhat Mediocre.
Black Widow is the first MCU movie to come out this year and it was definitely another marvel movie. That’s not to say it was bad, just very middling. By the end of the opening credits I was excited as it had shown an interesting personality. It then lost all of this personality and traded it in for the typical marvel formula. It suffers from an identity crisis as it seems reluctant to lean into the spy aspect of the film. This movie desperately wants to be taken seriously but doesn’t take itself seriously; too many quips and a lack of realism kill the tone of this movie. However, Black Widow is still not a bad film, just underwhelming when compared to what it could have been. I enjoyed some parts and wished they had stuck to that film instead of playing it too safe with yet another marvel movie.
The Beautiful Mess.
Okay, so this one might be a long one and I’ll remind you I am a human being with biases. Loki as a series is a misguided mess and probably the most disappointing thing marvel have released in a while for me. This show has a lot of fans but that’s mostly just because the character of Loki already had a fanbase. This show does near to nothing for the Loki character that we haven’t already seen, instead opting to retread the ground already covered better in his previous MCU appearances.
There’s a weirdly forced, narcissistic, somewhat incestuous love plot that keeps being hinted at before seemingly dropped for how uncomfortable it is, thus pleasing nobody who enjoys this subplot or anyone who finds it weird and creepy like myself. This aspect of the show was handled very poorly because the two characters in particular have sibling like energy; they play off each other well but in a playful way and not a romantic way. The entire energy from a scene leaves when it feels the need to shoehorn in this subplot.
Okay moving on from that the science fiction elements are fun and I did really enjoy the design. The set, costume and prop design elements of this show were the stand outs for me. That may sound weird but they clearly had a lot of fun with making this show and those elements worked really well. Unfortunately, a lot of the science fiction elements just don’t make sense with the internal logic of Endgame.
The music for the show and sound design were good and Tom Hiddleston as always did a good job as Loki. It was Owen Wilson, however, as Mobius who was my favourite actor to watch in this show. The Loki TV series was a bit of a mess at times but with interesting concepts nonetheless. The ending had one of my least favourite TV tropes of ending on a cliff-hanger. The story therefore did not conclude in any meaningful way.
Was it any good? and what’s next?
Well first off yes… well kind of. So far this phase of the MCU has been good. Not great, just good. They’re demonstrating a lot of interesting ideas but seem unable to commit to them. Marvel could be worried that people won’t keep coming back after the finale of Endgame so are playing it safe but they just seem unable to commit to anything they haven’t done before. Whether this be with the Wandavision marketing making it seem more action oriented than it was, Black Widow not being the unique movie it could have been or not allowing the Loki character to develop any differently to his movie counterpart. Despite these commitment issues marvel has been committed to the overarching theme of legacy. Legacy has been a focal point of each project released so far and has helped make them all feel far more coherent.
It is looking like the next movie slated for release (Shang-Chi) will continue the theme of legacy. I am optimistically hopeful for this film as Simu Liu has looked spectacular so far. Liu is backed by an excellent supporting cast including Awkwafina and Tony Leung Chiu-wai the latter playing the villainous Mandarin. Shang-Chi is a master of martial arts and this film will aspire to be like enter the dragon but with superpowers.