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Ranking the MCU

How does one rank 29 movies (and counting)? It seems like such a Herculean task and yet it looks like everybody else has already done it. Perhaps, I should have kept tabs along the way or perhaps I should have been more ruthless in my final decisions. Nevertheless, here it is…my ranking of the MCU from best to worst. I’ve chosen to split the films and television shows into two separate categories because they are designed differently. The films have a single runtime which usually maxes out at 3 hours, whilst the TV shows split many hours of content over 9-ish episodes in a televisual format. Also, fitting them in was too hard but know that they all make the lower quarter of the list.

I’d love to tell you this is the final ranking but it will continue to fluctuate for as long as I live. It won’t fluctuate by much, however, meaning everything here is in roughly the correct order. “Correct”, of course, being my own subjective opinion.

Avengers: Infinity War

The beginning of the end of 10 years of build-up. It can also be seen as the last part of the Infinity Stones Saga if you wish to disown Endgame. It’s full of a decade worth of payoff and features an astounding ending that still provides chills.

Captain America: The First Avenger

The best of Phase One, featuring the most likable and relatable of its heroes. Steve Rogers was the everyman and, despite his newfound powers, continues to fight for the everyman. Hugo Weaving also provides a stunning performance as Redskull and it doesn’t shy away from the nazi angle. It’s technically a War Flick and I thoroughly enjoyed it, which is something I can’t say of that genre as a whole.

Ant-Man

Despite spending years in development hell, this managed to be the funniest of all the MCU installments. Casting the ever-likable Paul Rudd definitely helped and giving him relatable issues makes him sympathetic. Also features the best Thomas the Tank Engine cameo of all time.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

This was a surprise. I fully expected a film built on fan service and callbacks but instead it was a solid story that provided a decent continuation of old stories for the most part. Still works better if you’ve seen the prior Spider-Man franchises but doesn’t rely on them. Also, Defoe is allowed to go full ham and it’s thoroughly engaging.

Thor

The best of his trilogy, the original story for the God of Thunder is gorgeous. Director Kenneth Brannagh was a perfect choice to bring a very Shakesperean reality to life and Hemsworth is inherently likable despite playing somebody who is kind of selfish. Grand in scale, shot wonderfully and it introduces Hawkeye.

Iron Man

The very first and one of the very best. RDJ was a perfect pick for the role and the warmongering subplot has remained annoyingly relevant throughout the years. Remember when superhero films used to be about something important, as opposed to pandering to fans? We’ve come a long way from the pseudo-realism in this film but it remains great.

Avengers: Endgame

I wouldn’t have this one so high on the list if it wasn’t the end of an era. There are elements that still annoy me to no end and I disagree highly with several character decisions but that final battle clenches it. It also doesn’t destroy the ending of Infinity War, allowing the heroes to live with their failure.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Marvel really decided that this character was going to have hilarious, relatable and often tragic installments. It’s more cohesive than the first but no less energetic and it’s about family. Perfect little palette cleanser before the last two Avengers films.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

Again, it’s about family. James Gunn is known for stories driven less by plot and more by character actions and dynamics with this being no exception. Big one for Marvel fans with Daddy Issues and fans of David Hasselhoff. From here on out, the films are going to be what I’d classify as “lower-mid tier” so this is a good one to look at before the fall.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

An action flick featuring Steve Rogers should be an instant win but this is more of a generic film. It also heavily features Black Widow who is wasted by this franchise on top of being a bland character. Good Nick Fury angle though.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

More Nick Fury! He truly is underutilized in this franchise, not that he should ever be a focal point. The highlight of this one is the demonstration/adaptation of Mysterio’s powers and Jake Gyllenhaal gives a delightful performance. Was never keen on this Peter Parker so it’s a little difficult to become invested.

Captain America Civil War

A definite turning point in the MCU but not entirely for the better. This marked the beginning of a solo movie no longer being entirely focused on the titular character, with this one getting dubbed Avengers 2.5 by fans. Held together by a moderately compelling story and Baron Zemo.

Iron Man 3

Underrated, but not perfect by any means. Acts as the conclusion to Tony’s arc but isn’t particularly memorable. That said, it has some excellent moments such as the destruction of his home.

The Incredible Hulk

Also underrated. This one is more of a character analysis than a plot-heavy flick but it does feature a magnificent performance from Tim Roth as The Abomination.

Black Panther

Fairly forgettable aside from being a major deal for people of colour. The final battle sequence noticeably needed more time and Martin Freeman isn’t the greatest of actors. Kept afloat by brilliant performances, especially by the late Chadwick Boseman and Michael B Jordan.

Doctor Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch is really trying his best with that accent but it’s just not working. As origin stories go, this one isn’t particularly notable although it does feature Wong. It’s the special effects that save this one, especially if you saw it in 3D.

Guardians of the Galaxy

It’s fun enough and the characters are likable enough but the romance between Starlord and Gamora really drags this one down. When people talk about “Marvel Humour” this is one of the films where it’s more prevalent, except James Gunn at least writes engaging characters.

Thor: Ragnarok

Entertaining on a first watch but grating whenever I revisit it. Thor has always been one of the most underdeveloped MCU characters and he shows a little growth here but it gets undone by the end. Also the comedy is prime “Marvel Humour” which is a shame because Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett are in this.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Kind of a mess, though still not as bad as some fans claim. Ultron is entertaining, the battles are intense and The Avengers are constantly on edge but there are too many plot threads that don’t really get resolved. It’s another set-up movie, which is a hindrance.

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Ah, the second best movie of Phase 4… not that it’s a high bar. For all the talk of Martial Arts films as inspirations, this comes off as more of an imitation than a homage. Those snappy Marvel edits remain intact and the final battle is primarily CG, which has become tiring. Sam Liu as Shang-Chi is lovely and it was a delight to see Trevor Slattery again.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

The Vulture is the only thing keeping this film from being closer to the bottom of this list. Peter Parker’s determination to please Tony Stark and Tony’s consistent presence throughout the plot, really don’t feel necessary. It draws the focus away from Peter and his adorable little friendship with Ned.

Thor: The Dark World

Another installment that’s an absolute mess, but isn’t as bad as fans claim. Kat Dennings as Darcy has always been underappreciated and Loki’s story in this one is full of melancholy but it does feel like several different films spliced together.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

This should have been better with Sam Raimi at the helm with this premise. I talk a lot about managing fan expectations, but with a movie title that promises madness across the multiverse, it’s reasonable to expect that. This film doesn’t deliver it and has the most obvious fan pandering I’ve ever seen with The Illuminati. Visually cool though.

Iron Man 2

This one is just really mean-spirited. Tony is at his most unlikable, Arnie Hammer has too similar a personality and Whiplash is underutilised. Plus Pepper and Tony are going through a rough patch and Rhodey has to be the one to restrain him. Just unpleasant to watch.

Captain Marvel

A lot of fun with a colourful aesthetic but categorically basic as films go. Designed primarily to pander to a female market who presumably are sick of being pandered to (I know I am). Rushed to introduce the character before she serves as a Deus Ex Machina in Endgame. Even if this was Top Tier Marvel, the motives drag it down.

Avengers Assemble

There’s no denying how culturally important this film is but when you strip that away, it’s not that good. The camerawork is astoundingly bad with constant close ups and cuts during scenes. The dialogue is very “of the director” too, who obviously doesn’t deserve to be named. It looks and feels like an episode of TV and it’s the only MCU film like that, which only makes it more jarring.

Black Widow

Remember when people wanted this film when the character was introduced in 2010? And then they didn’t make it until 2019, only releasing it after the character had been wasted for a decade and murdered violently? And then they refused to release it during The Pandemic, causing a lack of already waning interest? And it was a basic spy flick, which seemed designed to set up the next generation of Black Widows, with bad greenscreen effects?

Thor: Love and Thunder

The levels of cringe radiating off this film are unparalleled. The shots are flat, the characters wasted, the tone uncaring. Yet it seems so smug about its own existence. Gorr the God Butcher and The Mighty Thor both deserved better than this, considering they were the highlights.

Eternals

This one reeked of Oscar-Bait and the studio did not attempt to hide it. That kind of vibe doesn’t fit the MCU but, worse than that, most of these characters suck. Kingo, Karun and Phastos retain my interest but the rest are bland or unlikable. For the most part, the film also looks exceptionally grey, like an early DCEU movie. Uninspired and dull.


Hawkeye

Clint Barton has gone unappreciated in his time, so it’s great to spend more time with him. He also has an adorable relationship with Kate Bishop who is a lovable dork. Plus it has all the vibes of christmas.

Wanadvision

The only one on this list that justifies being a show instead of a film. It makes good use of different sitcoms for the first half, with excellent performances from Liz Olsen and Paul Bettany. It also brings back Darcy, which is an instant win.

Loki

The running theme here seems to be “characters I care about” and Loki is no exception. His relationship with Mobius is great and it doesn’t make a mockery of time travel. The series finale also sticks the landing, which is a nice change.

What If

Full of interesting ideas but it never carries any of them to fruition. The primary interest here is The Watcher, who could be one of the coolest characters in the MCU if they allow it. The worst aspect is that, despite occurring over multiple dimensions, every iteration of each character looks the same.

Moon Knight

Came the closest to being like the Netflix Marvel shows but refused to fully commit to the violence or dark themes. Oscar Issac is trying his best with that accent and there are interesting elements throughout the series but it could have been more condensed.

Ms. Marvel

Blurs the line between Disney Channel and Marvel without ever being good at either. Kept afloat by a wonderful performance from Iman Vellani and Kamalas relationship with her family.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

This one really wanted to be about something but again it refused to commit. It’s difficult to have a show about how prevalent racism is when you’re also trying to condem people who think that *checks notes* there shouldn’t be borders because the world works better that way.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer
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Jessica Jones Series 1

If Daredevil came with a word of warning then Jessica Jones would require an advisory screen. Whilst the former is filled with violence and dark undertones, the latter is a borderline phsycological horror. It’s unlike anything Marvel Studios has ever produced, with the only project that had the ability to come close being the Disney+ show Moon Knight, which ultimately fell short. It manages all of this while being an excellent detective show too, more specifically a Noir Mystery, right down to the husky voiceover. The series sees the titular Private Investigator take on an old enemy/lover whilst reuniting with old friends and making new ones.

One of Jessica Jones‘ greatest aspects is that it doesn’t feature much set-up. Daredevil was focussed on the founding on Nelson and Murdock, the rise of Kingpin, and the establishment of the city that is Hell’s Kitchen. Jessica Jones has less scope, focussing primarily on the rivalry between Jessica and Killgrave as well as her relationships. Considering the lonliness of the character, it’s a good choice to isolate her story like this but that doesn’t mean that the wider shared universe goes unacknowledged. Nurse Claire Temple from Daredevil makes an appearance and even discusses her history with superpowered individuals, namely the Devil of Hells Kitchen himself although she never name drops him. It’s a nice little “if you know, you know” moment. There’s also the introduction of fellow superpowered individual Luke Cage, who would later go on to get his own series, but he’s not just here for set-up. He’s present in this story because he is important to the narrative and is a particular lynchpin in Jessica’s life, meaning he actively moves the plot and characters forward.

The other lynchpin of the show is Kilgrave, who is one of the greatest villian’s Marvel Studios has ever produced. He also has powers, being able to make people do literally anything he tells them, which makes him a major threat without even having to introduce him immediately. Actor David Tennant embues the character with a pompous air that would make him unlikable, even if he wasn’t using his powers for evil. Unlike Kingpin, it’s difficult to think of him as sympathetic because he revels in his cruelty. He claims his motive is love, because he’s just trying to convince Jessica to get back together with him of her own free will, but he’s still an awful person. When his softer side is finally revealed, along with his tragic backstory, there’s a moment where the audience could feel bad for him…before he reminds you that you shouldn’t. He clearly believes himself to be a victim but the show never agrees with him. His final stand-off with Jessica is a literal stand-off as opposed to the usual one v one fights that many Marvel fans are used to and ends as bluntly as Killgrave deserves. He doesn’t get his final glorious, poigniant, self-reflective moment and that is immensely satisfying.

The style of the show is interesting too. Much like Daredevil, it makes excellent use of colour. There’s plenty of purple, which is Kilgrave’s signature, while flashbacks have their colour subdued to differentiate them from the present. The camerawork is often closer to the ground, keeping focus on the characters without ever getting too close to them, with a decent amount of wide shots. This feels like how Jessica sees the world as a PI, with a focus on individuals but occassionally taking a step back to look at the bigger picture. The show is often seen from her perspective, including her PTSD attacks which are intense to sit through. Frantic camera movements and sweeping motions with an added blur effect that distorts the world around her is a very 2015 way to get the attacks across but it’s effective.

Series one of Jessica Jones is excellent on its own but paired with Daredevil it’s exquisite. Like that show, it’s filled with interesting characters and themes but it’s more trauma-heavy. It’s the most adult production that Marvel Studios has crafted since 1998s Blade but it manages to achieve that without spilling as much blood. This doesn’t mean there’s no blood though, in fact it features as much as Daredevil. This show is a beautifully intense.

Thor: Love and Thunder (Spoilers)

“You’re over 1000 years old and you don’t seem to know who the hell you are”

This is the analysis of Thor made by Starlord in the opening scenes of Love and Thunder. It’s an astonishingly non-self-aware statement because, after 11 years, the MCU doesn’t seem to know who he is either. He is, at the very least, a character re-experiencing the same narrative for multiple films in a row. Thor is unsure what kind of man he is and must embark on a journey of self-discovery either by choice or by force. Being unsure of yourself can be a lifelong experience but Thor seems to revert to stage 1 after every adventure so that he can be easily molded into whatever kind of hero that specific narrative requires. This time, he’s a buffoon whose trauma and emotions are often the butt of the joke.

By contrast, Thor in the previous solo installment Ragnarok was often the one setting jokes up. Actor Chris Hemsworth has excellent comedic timing and it was on full display there but here, he’s more akin to the man we saw in Avengers: Endgame. You remember, he was funny because he was fat(!). Had this film taken him seriously it could have had more to say about toxic masculinity and how stereotypically “feminine” emotions aren’t societally accepted in men. Instead, the audience is invited to laugh at his pain, or at the very least to find the image of a grown man crying amusing. This tone isn’t just directed at Thor, it’s present throughout the entire movie, and this makes it near impossible to care about any of the characters.

One such character is Doctor Jane Foster who returns after being absent from the MCU for 9 years barring a minor Avengers: Endgame cameo. Actress Natalie Portman had previously declined to return to the role due to “creative differences” during the making of Thor: The Dark World (which is one of my favourite Hollywood reasons by the way. Like, was there a screaming match? Were you refusing to pay her as much as Chris? I need specifics). As a result, the announcement of her return was a major deal for fans, with the added excitement of seeing her take up the Mighty Thor mantle. In the comics, she uses the mystical powers of Mijolnir to combat her cancer before it becomes evident that the iconic hammer is hindering her healing as opposed to helping it. Given how serious this subject matter is, fans were unsure if it would make it into Love and Thunder but it did. If done right, this could have provided solid emotional grounding for the plot and characters as well as providing a new Thor for a new age but this isn’t what happened. Her cancer is treated with the same levity as everything else, although it’s never used as a punchline. To cap it off, she dies. Despite a long run in the comics and the popular fan perception that she would be taking over as Thor…she dies. This makes Thor very upset, which seems to be the only role that MCU Jane is destined to play. She makes it to Valhalla so if she happens to get resurrected later (a la the comics) then her death will be even less impactful in retrospect.

On the subject of being non-impactful, Love and Thunder‘s gay representation is abysmal. Director Taika Watiti and actress Tessa Thompson both claimed it would be “queer AF” whilst many reviews heralded it as being for “the she’s, they’s and gay’s” but this isn’t the case. The one canon gay character is the rock-being Korg who holds hands with a male of his species, which is their equivalent of intercourse, however it falls flat because Taika is (as far as we know) straight. This somehow isn’t the first time that a straight director has portrayed a gay character in the MCU either. Why wasn’t this effort being put into Valkyrie, who passes for straight so well that she might as well be locked in the closet? Making seductive eyes at a woman and using the term “girlfriend” isn’t queer representation, it’s every party girl after a couple of drinks. All of this accounts for less than a minute of screentime too, so those foreign markets that Disney loves so much can cut it without losing anything. The “she’s, they’s and gay’s” deserve better and have better (Jennifer’s Body, Heathers and Booksmart to name few).

As mentioned in the Spoiler-Free review, there’s still things to like. The designs of the costumes and sets (like Omnipotence City) are gorgeous, whilst the soundtrack is comprised of some of the greatest Rock and Roll anthems of all time. However, Love and Thunder‘s biggest asset is the drastically underused Gorr. Actor Christian Bale turns in a riveting performance, as he so often does, with this semi-tragic God butcher. He feels betrayed by these all powerful dieties, feeling that they serve only themselves and care not for their subjects, including Gorr’s recently deceased young daughter. He’s still willing to kidnap and threaten the lives of all the children in New Asgard though, which seems a bit odd for a recently bereaved parent. Of course, this is a Marvel film so these children are never actually going to die but Gorr feels like he would murder these children without hesitation if the age rating allowed it. He’s also delightfully manic, giving off what can best be described as Joker Vibes. The Dark Realm, where he resides, is amazing too with its monochrome pallette which is only filled with colour from the light of Mijolnir and Stormbreaker. Tragically, he’s only present for 20 minutes and dies at the end so this is likely the only time we will ever see him.

“Tragic” is an apt description for Love and Thunder as a whole. It has plenty of potential in its foundation with the option for major character progression and grand Galaxy-wide scale but it never goes down these routes. Instead, it spends two hours filling the screen with cringe-worthy humour and a large amount of flat shots which are broken up by action scenes and establishing shots. Had it chosen to commit to all the great aspects hidden within, it might have been a great send-off for Chris Hemsworth…although Hemsworth isn’t leaving. After 11 years playing Thor, which makes him the longest-standing Avenger, he’s sticking around for whatever comes next. Maybe it’s for the best because he deserves a better send-off than this.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Daredevil (Series 1)

When I was a girl, Marvel studios created the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some people may try to convince you that it had a grand plan from its inception but this simply isn’t true. There was certainly a rough outline, with some things more likely to happen than others, but never a concrete plan. This uncertainty is present throughout the ABC Studios series Agents of SHIELD, which eventually diverged from the core MCU timeline into it’s own entity, and in the hit Netflix series’ produced under the Marvel banner.

These shows exists in a bizarre state of limbo, with their canonicity to the larger MCU bordering between non-existent and questionable. It’s present from the very first episode of Daredevil, which was the very first of the lager pantheon of Netflix Marvel shows. Reporter Ben Urich has articles, written by him, framed on his wall about the Hulks rampage in Harlem and the pivotal Battle of New York meaning that the canon of the films do exist here. However the favour isn’t returned as none of the plot points, locations, or characters from the Netflix series’ ever appear in the big screen outings (I know…I discuss it here.) This occurred because current head of the MCU, Kevin Feige, wanted these shows to eventually appear alongside their cinematic counterparts but the people in charge at the time did not, vying for both a television empire and a theatrical one. As a result, Daredevil exists, for lack of a better phrase, as Kevin Fieges headcanon.

The show follows lawyer Matthew Murdoch who, having been blinded by chemicals as a child, uses his heightened senses and martial arts training to fight crime. Simultaneously, he is attempting to keep his newly established law practice afloat as well as friendships with fellow lawyer Foggy Nelson and client-turned-secretary Karen Page. However, as the light rises, so too does darkness to meet it. Across the first 3 episodes, a shadowy figure looms large over the neighbourhood of Hells Kitchen, controlling all the major crime syndicates. This shadow finally reveals itself toward the end of episode 3 as Wilson Fisk, in an introduction that perfectly captures why this series works so well.

Wilsons presence, despite only being off-screen initially, is overbearing. His determination to complete his goal is without question and his willingness to kill whoever stands in his way is more than apparent. Yet, his first on-screen appearance is a gentle one. He stands in an art gallery, musing over a canvas painted in several shades of slightly-off white. When asked by the art curator how it makes him feel he responds by saying that it makes him feel alone. This is a stark contrast to the typical “villain” one might expect. He’s driven by emotion and doesn’t truly yearn for violence…he’s just doing what needs to be done. He’s a grounded character that exists in a moral gray area and this is what this show does so well. There isn’t a single character here who’s presented as purely good or evil, everyone is willing to do something a little sketchy if they aren’t already doing so.

It’s often seen in the friendship between Matt, Foggy and Karen which fractures as the series goes on. It doesn’t happen because they want it to, instead it happens because they each come to harbor a major secret. Even when there is some reconciliation towards the series’ end, it’s clear that the dynamics are forever changed. This isn’t the typical “Act 3 Break-Up”, it has lasting implications. Even their interactions with secondary and tertiary characters change the course of the plot. Aforementioned reporter Ben Urich teams up with Karen as they work to take down Fisk through journalism, with the repercussions being some of the most heartbreaking moments of the show. Meanwhile, Father Paul Lantom’s discussions with Matt provide an interesting look at the moral gray areas which are central to the core of the plot. He also isn’t a holier-than-thou preacher, he’s a down to Earth realist who happens to have devoted himself to God and does what he can to keep Matt on the right path. It’s a really good portrayal of Christianity and preaching God’s word.

Capping it off is the brutal action which is present from the very first episode. With a 16+ rating in the UK (TV-MA in the US), Daredevil makes the most of the violence which is allowed. The prime example is episode 2s famous Hallway Fight which lasts around 5 minutes. It’s shot as a continuous take which makes it feel more grueling and only switches angles when it’s truly necessary to keep that feeling going. By the end of it, Matt is bruised, bloody and tired which is a far cry from the heavy hitters of the MCU like The Hulk or Captain America. Daredevil isn’t a superhero, he’s just a hero who happens to do super things. Then there’s the copious blood, which is more often seem from Fisks victims…particularly an unfortunate Russian who has his head caved in with a car door. It displays yet another core aspect of the show which is how far people are willing to go for their causes. How far do things go before murder is a viable option?

This first season of Daredevil is the blueprint on which the following Netflix Marvel shows were founded. It has a different tone to the theatrical releases, opting to be more grounded and dark, although there are plenty of laughs too. Ultimately, this is why it will be remembered, regardless of whether or not they ever become canon.

Thor: Love and Thunder

Comedy and film journalism are vaguely similar concepts. Responses to both are based on objectivity and are there to entertain, so when it comes to reviews of comedy films it’s probably best to form your own opinion. You can certainly gauge what your reaction might be if you have a reviewer whose opinion you often share but their objectivity is not yours. The following piece is a reflection on how I felt about Love and Thunder (the good and the bad) which some may agree with and others may not. Regardless of that, here’s hoping it still entertains.

Thor: Love and Thunder follows the titular God as he embarks on a mission to stop Gorr the God Butcher from carrying out his murderous plan. He is assisted by old friends Valkyrie and Korg, as well as returning romantic interest Dr. Jane Foster who has gained the powers of Thor. Director Taika Watiti returns, having helmed the previous installment Thor: Ragnarok, but it feels like his best comedy was used there. When the running gag is a couple of screaming goats, it’s not a great sign. Regardless of the fact that it’s a dead meme from over a decade ago, it only works when it has shock value to it, which is lessened over its 5 or so uses.

The dialogue isn’t great either. When it isn’t spouting exposition, which it so often is, it’s one-liners with a snarky undertone. Very few lines in Love and Thunder feel genuine or grounded in these characters that have been around for so long. When it isn’t that, it’s the several voiceovers from Taika as Korg, which feel unnecessary. They seem to be there to set the tone as opposed to carrying the plot forward, but the tone is so in-your-face that a voiceover isn’t required.

There are things here that are likable. The film is visually gorgeous, from the cast to the locations. Every scene is bursting with colour, much like Ragnarok was,, which gives the film a more comic-book feel compared to the Earthier hues of other MCU installments. When the cinematography is allowed to fully display these locations crafted by the talented (and over-worked/underpaid) folks in VFX, it’s utterly gorgeous. Omnipotence City (home of the Gods) is caked in classical, golden architecture akin to Asgard. The shadow Realm (residence of Gorr) is totally devoid of colour but is still interesting with its barren landscape across a miniature planet.

Gorr the God Butcher is Love and Thunder‘s greatest strength. Christian Bale’s performance is occasionally comical but never loses that sinister edge and is best demonstrated when talking with the Asgardian children he’s kidnapped. None of these children are going to die because this is an MCU flick but there’s never any doubt that Gorr would take them all out. Unfortunately, he isn’t present for the majority of the film’s runtime, which brings us to the largest of the issues. Thor: Love and Thunder wastes its characters.

A big deal was made about the return of Natalie Portman as Dr. Jane Foster but her presence here seems to primarily be furthering Thors arc. His arc, as per usual, is about discovering what kind of person he is but the plot refuses to take his arc or character seriously. His fragility is often the butt of the joke and his trauma is dismissed with similar hilarity. Meanwhile, Valkyrie (who still isn’t gay enough) is here to primarily chaperone Jane, whilst Korg (who is somehow gayer) is here to spout one-liners and exposition. Then there are the Guardians of the Galaxy who feel like a hold-over from Avengers: Endgame that need to be gotten rid of before the real plot can progress. Nebula is still great though. Her lines are some of the film’s best.

Ultimately, Thor: Love and Thunder is damaged most by its lack of seriousness. If the film doesn’t care about the lore, characters, or stakes, then why should the audience? It’s one of the weakest entries in the MCU and no amount of classic rock songs on the soundtrack can hide that.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Spoilers)

Wanda Maximoff is dead. Perhaps not literally but metaphorically. After 7 years of wasted potential, like most women in the MCU, this shouldn’t come as a shock, but it does. The TV Series Wandavision focused primarily on Wanda’s grief after killing her one true love, Vision, and allowed Elizabeth Olsen to demonstrate the full range of her acting capabilities. As a mother, she can be caring and full of warmth. As a wife, she can be loving and kind. As an adversary, she can be powerful and vengeful. With the series finale, Wanda finally fully embraced the title and powers of The Scarlett Witch, a big deal for the MCU who have thus far been legally unable to use that moniker. With the Darkhold in her possession and a fierce determination to steal alternate dimension variations of the children she manifested and lost out of magic, she seemed primed to cause havoc on a multiversal scale.

Multiverse of Madness sees this character development and raises you…possession. The Darkhold corrupts everything and everyone around it, leading to Wanda and The Scarlett Witch being treated as two separate entities. This could have been a fascinating dynamic, with Wanda’s non-child-murdering morals combatting. The Scarlet Witches hold over her body but this is not the route taken. The only time that the “real” Wanda makes an appearance is during a scene that takes place in her mind where she is buried under a mound of rubble and can only utter a single “help me” before being pulled back inside. This confirms that the entity known as The Scarlet Witch (a manifestation of the Darkhold) has full control which absolves Wanda of literally everything that occurs during the plot. Wanda isn’t evil or morally questionable like she was in Wandavision, she’s just an innocent victim. To further demonstrate this, The Scarlett Witch speaks with Elizabeth Olsen’s natural American accent instead of the Sokovian accent that she puts on for Wanda. It does mean that Olsen isn’t being held back by an accent that she has struggled to maintain in the past but it also acts as a constant reminder that there is no Wanda anymore.

To cap it all off, she sacrifices herself to destroy the temple where the original Darkhold spells are inscribed. Now, of course, this is the MCU so nobody is ever really dead. As the building collapses on top of her, we see a small poof of red smoke, seemingly to signify that she has teleported out of there. But if this is the case, then it’s not really a sacrifice so any emotion from that moment is lost. The worst-case scenario is that, somehow, the smoke wasn’t a teleport and she’s dead. But what are the chances of the MCU killing off a popular female character…?

The other major spoiler is handled much better. Having been a large part of the marketing (maybe too large a part), the presence of Marvel’s Illuminati comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the characters they chose and the actors who portray them. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo makes a welcome return as a variant of mainline Mordo. His warm charisma and underlying resentment for Strange serve as proof that mainline Mordo should finally make his return to the MCU. Haley Atwell’s Captain Carter is sure to excite fans, even if the trailer spoiled her presence, especially considering Peggy hasn’t been seen in live-action since 2016. Anson Mount reprising his role of Black Bolt from the unacclaimed Inhumans show is a welcome surprise for those who recognise him. Lashana Lynch returns as Maria Rambeau, taking up the mantle of Captain Marvel. The most divisive casting choice is John Krasinski as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic. It’s a casting that fans have been clamoring for, but his presence here seems to imply that he won’t be taking on the same role in the mainline MCU, which may be for the best. He’s fine in the role but his presence is fairly distracting and his uniform is the worst in the entire group. The final member of the Illuminati is proof that nobody is ever really finished playing their most popular character…it’s Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier. Here he’s portraying a live-action version of the character from the 1997 animated series. His entrance is even accompanied by a snippet of the animated show’s iconic theme, which may be pandering but is sure to provide a smile at the very least.

What may not provide a smile is what happens next. The Scarlett Witch arrives and annihilates the Illuminati. It’s a horrific scene to watch, purely because of the terrifying way in which she dismantles each member. The first sign that you’re about to witness a massacre like no other is when she removes Black Bolt’s mouth, meaning that when he screams (a scream with the power to destroy anything in its path), his head literally caves in. It doesn’t ease up from here with spaghettification and decapitation providing a manic display of her power. This is where the classic Raimi horror element really comes into its own. Using these characters like this may feel like a waste to some but it’s a heck of a perfect demonstration of what The Scarlett Witch is capable of.

The credits scenes are neat too. The first introduces actress Charlize Theron as Clea – daughter of Dormammu and possible love interest for Strange. Obviously, there are many big-name actors in the MCU, many of whom got there in part due to the MCU, but Theron is already a huge name. It feels like proof that the MCU is only getting bigger and that it isn’t slowing down anytime soon, which is a thought that may exhaust some. The second scene brings back one of the most entertaining cameos in the entire film – Bruce Campbell as Pizza Poppa. He provides a zany, early comic book movie energy that only Campbell could provide, and which should leave the audience smiling as they depart the cinema.

As discussed in the spoiler-free review, there is plenty to enjoy in Multiverse of Madness. The Raimi vibes really work but many of the decisions made by the creative team will be divisive, if not infuriating. It’s still worth watching for the little moments of gold…not that MCU fans have much of a choice. Missing one story may mean missing an important piece of context for future tales, so keep your eyes fixated.

If you’re lucky, you might get rewarded with a Bruce Campbell.

(My thanks to Nate at Natflix for checking this one out with me. Check his review HERE)

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Spoiler Free)

Director Sam Raimi created one of the greatest superhero films of all time. It’s a sequel, so it doesn’t have to spend much time establishing character backstories. The villain’s origin is full of tragedy while the character themself is immensely likable. The hero is a quip machine with the charisma of a young Tom Cruise. Above all, despite often being a campy comic book movie, it has solid horror elements embedded into it. It is unmistakably a Sam Raimi production and doesn’t feel like it was poked or prodded by studio executives. That masterpiece’s name is… Spider-Man 2.

This is why, when it was announced that Raimi would be taking over directing duties from Scott Derickson on the sequel to Doctor Strange, excitement was high. When the trailers finally started appearing, it seemed as if Multiverse of Madness would be a much darker tale than any in the MCU, and it was… so why doesn’t it feel like a top-tier Marvel production?

The plot sees Dr. Stephen Strange attempting to save multiverse-hopping-teen America Chavez from the clutches of The Scarlett Witch (aka Wanda Maximoff). Despite a promising premise, there is very little of the multiverse actually being explored. The first time that Strange and Chavez jump to a different universe they crash through 20 separate universes, but they will spend the majority of the runtime in the final one they land in. These universes look absolutely stunning, and they are brimming with potential as well as looking like they could house an interesting story. Instead, the plot is split between the universe they land in, dubbed 838, and the one they came from, dubbed 616 (a cute comic nod as the actual designation is 19999). It allows more time to be spent with the 838 characters, which is fine as they’re all interesting enough, but it’s difficult not to feel a little disappointed when you’re promised a multiverse. Using more universes could have further demonstrated how ruthless, powerful, and merciless The Scarlett Witch is. It could have shown off more variations of Stephen and Wong (who is sorely lacking in the rest of the plot) as proof that 19999 Stephen is the only nice one. It could have been an opportunity to shove in more cameos, should the studio be inclined.

This doesn’t mean that there are no shoe-horned cameos. It’s a move that’s sure to divide audiences on several different levels. There will be people who feel like the plot doesn’t warrant these cameos, those who disagree with the characters chosen, those who disagree with the actors chosen for these roles, and those who disagree with how these characters are utilised. Personally, I only disagree with having the characters present, but to say any more would be to venture into spoiler territory, which is also the case with The Scarlett Witch. Throughout this piece, she has not been referred to as Wanda Maximoff because Wanda hasn’t been present. The film robs her of any real agency which, in turn, prevents her from being a sympathetic villain, which is a shame because this may be the defining performance of actress Elizabeth Olsen’s career. Wanda, as with most MCU women, has taken a backseat to her male counterparts but Olsen has always been terrific in the role. She was really allowed to display the full range of her capabilities in the show Wandavision which earned her deserved acclaim. It’s present here too, with The Scarlett Witch being one of the gravest threats any hero has ever faced and providing some truly chilling moments.

Divisiveness is rife in Multiverse of Madness. The aspects that don’t work (Wanda, presence of cameos, pacing, some of the humour) are noticeable but the moments that do work provide some MCU highlights. When Sam Raimi’s signature voice is allowed to shine through, it provides a comic-book vibe similar to his work on Spider-Man and an MCU experience like no other. Many have suggested that the film is too scary for a 12 rating but scaring young people (if the film does so) is a good thing, as if children aren’t allowed to experience fear then they don’t learn how to cope with that fear. Besides, many children enjoy the rush that comes with being scared. Saying that, although the film may not have earned a 15 rating, it may have been better had it been allowed one. Raimi can work well within restrictions, but if he’s being allowed to craft a horror film then he should be allowed to craft a full-Raimi horror film. When his voice comes through, it provides some wonderfully dark stuff and Zombie Strange is straight-up one of the best characters in the MCU. Partnered with Danny Elfman’s beautifully chilling and occasionally triumphant score, it provides some stellar storytelling. Where it falls apart is in the “MCU” of it all.

Perhaps the future should be a little less multiversal and a little more mad.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Eternals

I’ve often said that there are no bad movies in the MCU, with even the lesser-appreciated installments like Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World are more entertaining than the other poorly received films being tossed at us by the rest of Hollywood. Despite this, only one installment has ever been nominated for Best Picture at The Academy Awards – Black Panther. Arguably, this was less due to its quality and more due to it being the first mainstream superhero film led by people of color. Whether it deserved an award for that or if the awards mean as much as they used to are entirely different conversations, but the point remains that no superhero film has ever won Best Picture.

Enter director Chloe Zhao. Her drama Nomadland won Best Picture in 2021, after creating a lot of buzz on the Film Festival circuit, and she is a huge fan of Marvel the Eternals comics. So much so, that it was her who pitched the movie to Marvel Head Kevin Fiege, which was quickly given the green light. Oscar-nominated directors have directed MCU movies before (like Sir Kenneth Branagh with Thor and Joe Johnston with Captain America: The First Avenger) and Zhao wouldn’t win her award until after production on Eternals had wrapped, but she is still the first Oscar-Winning director in the MCU. So can her talent finally bring Best Picture to a superhero film? Can Eternals be the one to break that glass ceiling? Probably not… but why?

The plot centers on a group of supernatural beings, known as Eternals, who were sent to Earth to destroy supernatural monsters, known as Deviants. Their mission has long since ended, with each Eternal having gone their separate ways, but they must reunite when the Deviants return. The film has several issues, with one of the biggest being the pacing. In the span of 2 hours and 40 minutes, we are introduced to 9 brand new characters through both their past and present lives. Eternals is littered with flashbacks, which are either short and unnecessary (like with Phastos and the Atomic Bomb) or long and unnecessary (like with Sersie and Ikaris’ romance). These flashbacks provide a large amount of exposition which is already naturally deposited throughout the rest of the runtime, meaning that it becomes really tiring really quickly. Eternals even goes so far as having an opening text crawl which is, again, full of information we are about to learn anyway.

This opening crawl is part of a larger problem – the tone. Eternals feels like Oscar bait: a movie with complex themes and characters which practically screams self-importance, designed primarily to win Academy Awards. This aspect was only amplified by the marketing campaign which focused primarily on this film’s importance within the MCU. There’s certainly a conversation to be had about campaigns centered on hype and how it can ruin a film but, even without that, Eternals feels like it wants you to take it seriously. It’s not like other superhero movies. It is, as it happens, entirely correct to make such a statement… because other superhero movies are fun. Oddly enough, Eternals feels more like something that the ever-uncertain DC Company would put out. More specifically, it feels like a Justice League movie. There has often been an overlap in superpowers between the two companies, as after all, there are only so many powers to go around, but it’s really distracting here. Granted, it isn’t helped by DC releasing two Justice League films in the span of three years, but it certainly doesn’t help to casually refer to your Superman stand-in (Ikaris) as Superman.

This isn’t to say that Eternals isn’t noteworthy. The cast is predominantly made up of POC, and it also features a deaf character and a gay character, which is worth praising even if the characters themselves are not. The deaf character is in some kind of relationship with the resident narcissist-playing-God and the gay character is barely is given the passionate-kiss-for-if-I-die which is usually reserved for heterosexual romances, and which comes off as pandering. It doesn’t matter that there’s a gay character here if he’s barely utilised and if the plot is still primarily focussed on a straight relationship. It means even less when the straight couple gets a (passionless) sex scene before becoming a love triangle in a move so out of left field that it nearly knocked me out.

In all of this madness, there are a few saving graces. One is the relationship between Kingo and his valet, which is a delight to witness. Every time they are on screen they fill it with warmth and humour, to the extent that I was audibly annoyed when it became clear that they weren’t going to be present for the final battle. Then there’s the score, composed by Ramin Djawadi, which is grand and ethereal. It achieves the vibe that the rest of the film was going for, whilst providing the main theme for the characters which may be better than the one given to The Avengers. Much of the cinematography is equally grand. The semi-villain of Eternals is their creator Arashim, who is a Celestial (the closest thing in the MCU to God) and who is roughly the size of a solar system. His vast size and immeasurable weight are felt whenever he appears, which is no easy task. Some have claimed that Eternals looks better than every other MCU film, which I think is incorrect and downplays the cinematography in the rest of the MCU. Not each installment is brilliant the entire way through (looking at you Avengers Assemble) but each one has moments of gold.

Finally, we come to the inevitable moment in every MCU film – how it sets up future MCU projects. First is the introduction of Dane Whittman, who becomes the hero Black Knight in the comics, and is eventually greeted by the off-screen voice of the MCU’s Blade, long before his own film enters production. Not to sound straight, but in his brief screentime, Dane becomes one of the most charming, charismatic, likable characters in the MCU although it’s currently unclear what his future is. Then there is the introduction of Thanos’ brother Eros and his best friend Pip the Troll, portrayed by Harry Styles and Patton Oswalt respectively. There are plenty of things to discuss here: the introduction of trolls, the less than brilliant CG of said troll, why Eros looks like a human man, and where either of these characters will show up again. But the main point here is that Harry Styles (the best member of former boyband One Direction) is in the MCU. Sure, this might say more about me than anything else, but frankly, his presence is one of the best things about Eternals.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Road to No Way Home

It’s no secret that I was hesitant about Spider-Man: No Way Home. The third in the MCU’s trilogy of Spider-Man films seemed like it might be filled with nostalgia and very little else. This was the cap on an iteration of a character that I hadn’t been overly fond of in a franchise that has been known to rely heavily on connections to itself. I was hesitant.

Then I saw it and came to a conclusion that I did not expect – it was good. It wasn’t perfect, not the new “Best Spider-Man Film” as many fans claimed, but that over-reliance on nostalgia never manifested. Instead, there was a decent story, with the occasional flaw, which ultimately resulted in a solid origin story for the MCU’s Peter Parker.

However, it never occurred to me that this might be the case. I hoped, of course, but never let myself believe it and I made my hesitancy known. What follows is a collection of every single tweet I made in regards to No Way Home, both on my professional and private accounts. It is preserved here as a reminder, both for you and myself, that opinions can change. You never truly know what a movie or television show is going to give you until you see it for yourself.

(08/12/20) Do not drag the Raimi trilogy into the MCU. Stop.

(09/12/20) If Disneys Spider-Man 3 fails, people will cite that it’s because there were too many villains/characters. I would like to be the first to say, miles ahead of time, that this is incorrect.

(09/12/20) If they called it Spider-Man: No Place Like Home, I would die of embarrassment on Disney’s behalf. Be funny though.

(30/01/21) Listen. I like canon as much as the next nerd BUT I doubt that the MCU will make Agents of SHIELD and The Defenders and its associated shows canon. IF any characters make their way into the MCU, it’ll probably be as alternate versions of those characters. This also applies to the upcoming Spider-Man 3, Doctor Strange 2, and WandaVision because this will end up being a massive multiverse just NOT in the way that you think it will.

Please remember to manage your expectations

(24/02/21) Good morning to the MCU fans who thought we were getting a Spider-Man 3 title because Tom Holland was on a talk show last night.

(24/02/21) I would not at all be shocked if we only get a Spider-Man 3 title when WandaVision is over. Maybe even a “Wanda Will return in Spider-Man: Home Run” at the end of Episode 9

(24/02/21) Spider-Man: No Homo

(24/02/21) With the announcement of Spider-Man: No Way Home, I would like to tell you all that the FIRST Spider-Man 3 is good and that Marc Webb deserved to make Amazing Spider-Man 3. This should be the 3rd time we’re being entertained by a “Spider-Man 3

(17/04/21) My fave thing about Alfred Molina returning as Doc Ock is the use of de-aging in some scenes. So they’re almost definitely pulling the old “he’s been in the MCU all along, we just haven’t heard from him yet” bit. It’s kinda ridiculous and I’m kinda here for it

(1/05/21) Spider-Man: No Way Home is trending today and it will trend again tomorrow due to one of these 3 things. 1) The trailer doesn’t come out and people get upset. 2) It comes out and confirms the involvement of Maguire and/or Garfield and everybody loses their collective minds 3) It comes out and DOESN’T confirm their involvement prompting a backlash. REGARDLESS of the outcome, Disney is going to get free publicity for their movie so react however you want because it literally does not matter to them. (Personally don’t want them involved btw)

(31/05/21) When we do get a trailer for Disney’s Spider-Man it will ABSOLUTELY use at least their voices. The amount of hype it would produce would be unfathomable. I wouldn’t agree with this tactic but I’d understand it. Still don’t want them in the movie though.

(01/06/21) Spider-Man: No Way, Homo

(23/07/21) SPIDER-MAN TRENDING AGAIN?? They will release it when they release it.

(23/08/21) Waiting for the official release of the Spider-Man: NWH trailer like a good little nerd

(24/08/21) I will not let the No Way Home Trailer nostalgia-bait me. It is a lazy tactic to draw me in… I’m still gonna watch the movie though. Doc Ock looking fine.

(27/08/21) SURE SPIDER-MAN 3 ISN’T PERFECT BUT IT ISN’T THAT BAD. I DON’T WANT A SINGLE PERSON TO PRAISE NO WAY HOME BECAUSE “IT MADE MULTIPLE VILLAINS WORK”

(08/11/21) Me saying that I don’t trust spoilers and then being proven right is pure narcissistic joy.

(08/11/21) All Spider-Man: Now Way Home fans

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(9/11/21) Perhaps Sony is releasing images of Tom Holland on a bridge to remind you that this is a Tom Holland Spider-Man movie because SOME of you seem to have forgotten that.

(9/11/21) If not seeing Tobey and Andrew in NWH will “ruin” that movie for you, if you’re going to throw a hissy fit because “Sony lied” then do us all a favour and please keep that opinion to yourself.

(26/11/21) Hot MCU Spider-Man takes.

*Peter should have been an adult

*No Way Home feels like it was made as a reaction to Into The Spider-verse

*Making MJ a WOC was their best decision

*Villains are the main reason the films are good

*Venom doesn’t fit the MCU

(10/12/21) This might be a tad controversial but This Picture, TO ME, is emblematic of my main issue with NWH. Marvel is just using these characters because they can. So that they can rush a Sinister 6 film. They will just adapt the characters we love to fit their narrative.

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(13/12/21) 31st December. That’s the soonest I can see it. “Frustrated” doesn’t cover it.

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(15/12/21) Sometimes a small-scale story is OK. Not everything has to be bigger than the last. Yes, this is about No Way Home/ Dr. Who

(15/12/21) Saw Spider-Man: No Way Home spoilers and the WORST thing is that I kind of don’t care. It just confirms my hesitations about the film. Hoping I still have fun with it but full thoughts in a couple weeks I guess.

(22/12/21) Marvel having their whole NWH marketing campaign be about avoiding spoilers, only to start marketing the follow-up barely a week later is the most hypocritical, corporate BS I’ve ever seen.

(27/12/21) Keep thinking about how I will have seen No Way Home by the time the year ends. Absolutely wild. It’s been part of Conversation for like 2 years now and soon it’ll be over. And then it gets to consume my thoughts for another few months presumably. Pray for me.

(31/12/21) Spider-Man: No Way Home is good. Peter Parker faces off against multiversal foes in a story that is fun but held back by relying on the worldbuilding of other creators. It’s exciting to see these characters again in what is the best MCU Spidey movie but it also makes some bad choices.

Spoiler-Free Review: https://shakesqueer.home.blog/2022/01/08/spider-man-no-way-home-spoiler-free/

Spoiler-Filled Review: https://shakesqueer.home.blog/2022/01/09/spider-man-no-way-home-spoilers/

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Shang-Chi and the Legend of The Ten Rings

The MCU has tried its hand at many genres. There have been action, drama, comedy, fantasy, and adventure, but never before had it attempted martial arts. Despite being new to the MCU, it is not new to Marvel Studios, who had already attempted martial arts with the Netflix show Iron Fist, the first series of which received generally poor reviews. Critical and audience opinion was more favourable with the second series, where both the action and the pacing had improved. This did not prevent Netflix from cancelling the show and all other Marvel projects on the streaming service in 2018, however there is a continual interest from MCU Head Kevin Feige in reviving these projects as part of the MCU. The most interesting link between Shang-Chi and Iron Fist is not that it shares a genre, but that it almost shared an actress. Jessica Henwick, who portrayed Colleen Wing, was offered the role of Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing but turned it down in the hopes that one day she could return as Wing.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (often shortened to just Shang-Chi) follows the titular hero and his best friend Katy as they reunite with his sister Xialing and attempt to stop his father from opening a sacred gate in a mystical land that will unleash a horde of demons. The film handles its lore extraordinarily well, expositing it in a way that feels natural. Like The Lord of the Rings, it opens with narration but unlike The Lord of the Rings it is being given in-universe as a story to our hero at a much younger age. All of the lore is provided in-universe and it never feels clunky, forced, or complicated. It also never feels like it doesn’t fit within the parameters of the MCU, although that universe has been beyond absurd for quite some time now. It may have started out as a slightly more fantastical version of our own universe but it entered a realm all of its own years ago. Films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange pushed the MCU into a world of oddities and magic, with Avengers: Endgame changing it forever. As the film itself remarks, this is now a universe where half of the world’s population could vanish at any moment.

Both Katy and Shang-Chi are at a similar stage in their lives, although the ways in which they arrived at that point couldn’t be much more different. Katy bounces from job to job, never settling because she is trying to find the one thing that she is passionate about getting good at. When she arrives in the mystical village of La Pao, she discovers that she is a skilled archer. She is an entertaining character, even if she is too skilled for a novice and the role of archer in the MCU is already filled by a more likable character. She aptly provides comedy to Shang-Chi’s more serious life. He starts as Katy does, bouncing from job to job, but he does so because he is trying to hide from his dark past. His father, leader of the criminal organisation The Ten Rings, trained him to be a killer from childhood, which is a life he refuses to live. He’s a man in hiding, although he’s not doing a particularly good job of it, so it isn’t long before his father finds him and forces him to fight for his life.

Given that this is a martial arts film, the fights themselves are an important aspect to discuss. They are, by no means, close to the greatest fights ever choreographed, but they are still more entertaining than the majority of action setpieces elsewhere in the MCU. The issue is that they are still shot like action sequences. Classic martial arts films knew that the fighting was the main draw of the piece, so the camera often lingered on shots, allowing the mastery to be witnessed. There were very few, if any, alternate camera angles, which is something that Shang-Chi fails to take into account. The first fight sequence is the best by far because it takes place on a bus, which restricts the amount of space that can be used. More than this, it allows for the bus itself to become a part of the fight, with the standout moment being a camera pan along its length, in an homage to the Korean film Oldboy. Unfortunately, very little of this martial arts prowess is present in the final battle which, once again, comes down to fighting a big CGI creature. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when it makes up the majority of conclusions in the MCU and the conflict between Shang-Chi and his father has already closed the emotional arc, it is a tad unnessecary.

The MCU connection is everpresent. This is an origin story but the universe in which it takes place has changed drastically since the origin stories of old. It can no longer focus primarily on itself, although considering how important the titular organisation has been, it was never going to. They first appeared in 2008’s Iron Man before seemingly playing a pivotal role in Iron Man 3 and, because the MCU hates having loose threads, the latter’s plot is fully explored. This is done through a small monologue from Shang-Chi’s father, as well as bringing back Sir Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery, in a move that I’m sure everybody loved. Having been imprisoned at the end of Iron Man 3, Trevor was broken out and brought before the real leader of The Ten Rings, who allowed him to survive as a sort of court jester. This escape was shown in the Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King, but that short is not necessary to understanding his presence here. Trevor acts as the comedic sidekick, despite that role already being filled by Katy, although he is probably just here to bring his story to a proper close. As mentioned, it is something the MCU often likes to do, although it is becoming more frequent by the year because so many loose threads were left in the franchise’s early days. You will often hear that there is a “Grand Plan” for the MCU but this plan is a lot vaguer than the company will ever admit. If a project does poorly then the plot is rarely ever addressed again, and if a film does particularly well then it is guaranteed a sequel or spin-off. Disney/Marvel are still a company, beholden to the opinions of the audience and the money they provide, even if they pretend not to be.

The MCU has a “Grand Plan” but the precisions of that plan are likely still to be mapped. I don’t think anybody was expecting to see The Abomination make his return in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer