I’m Vengeance

The Batman is the darkest the Dark Knight has ever been. No superhero has had more adaptations than Batman. There’s practically a new incarnation every decade. It seems excessive, but The Batman has a very complicated production history. The Batman was originally meant to be a solo film written, directed, and starring Ben Affleck in the DCEU. Despite only appearing in lackluster team-up movies, Affleck proved himself as a worthy Dark Knight. The Batman was meant to take place primarily in Arkham Asylum with Batman battling Joe Manganiello’s Deathstroke. Though it sounded like a cool and unique Batman movie, Affleck eventually decided to step down as director. Warner Bros. sought an “auteur” who could bring something different to the Caped Crusader. Matt Reeves was only supposed to replace Affleck as director, but the entire movie changed the moment he was hired. Including a more psychological tone and a younger inexperienced Dark Knight.

So the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman was recast for the 7th time in live action. Which of course meant another controversial actor in the lead role. Between Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck, it’s practically tradition at this point. Robert Pattinson sounded like a joke the moment he was announced, but like so many people I couldn’t separate him from his Twilight image. Even though Pattinson has proven himself in more independent arthouse films, he’s not above returning to another major blockbuster. Playing a bat was a natural progression after playing a vampire. Just about everyone wanted to know how The Batman would turn out, but the movie was delayed so many times thanks to the Pandemic. Production was suspended 2 months into filming and Pattinson tested positive 3 days after resuming. Although The Batman was moved from 2021 to 2022, DC managed to piece together a teaser 1 year and 6 months before its release. The dark and gritty teaser proved The Batman was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before…

16. The Batman

Batman confronts Catwoman

The Batman is currently the second longest theatrical superhero movie. It’s a bat-epic with a daunting 2 hour & 56 minute runtime. There were so few cuts, because Matt Reeves is a very meticulous director. Compared to the equally lengthy Zack Snyder’s Justice League or Avengers: Endgame, The Batman wasn’t about a team of superheroes. Batman is on his own for the first time since The Dark Knight Rises. Reeves thought about setting The Batman in the DCEU, but the realistic feel doesn’t entirely fit a world full of superheroes. It’s almost like every Batman reboot gets darker and darker. Adam West’s Batman and Joel Schumacher’s Batman are the only exceptions. Tim Burton’s Batman was gothic, but still fun. Christopher Nolan’s Batman was darker and more grounded. DCEU’s Batman was more brutal and brooding until he softened up. On most nights Gotham City is practically pitch black with constant rain and rampant crime. You’d think the persistent darkness would be too much, but The Batman is surprisingly well-lit.

I don’t normally mention cinematographers, but Greg Fraser manages to find the beauty in a corrupt city like Gotham. Using red for the title and poster was another unique choice that set the movie apart from other Batman films. My parents aren’t a big fan of excessively dark movies, but I convinced them to see The Batman with my brother and I. In the case of Joker or Birds of Prey, it was the R rating that kept us from seeing them as a family. Despite frequently challenging the MPAA, there’s never been an R rated standalone Batman movie no matter how intense they get. I knew The Batman would be PG-13 the moment they made toys and LEGO sets. Although children love Batman, I’m not sure how I feel about kids seeing the movie. The Batman is very gritty with an F bomb, drugs, severed body parts, domestic terrorism, voyeurism, and other heavy themes. Reeves was inspired by R rated crime thrillers like Taxi Driver and Zodiac. Along with elements from popular Batman comics like The Long Halloween and “Year One.”

It may not be an ensemble, but The Batman does manage to weave Catwoman, The Riddler, The Penguin, and Carmine Falcone into the story. Batman’s reputation as the World’s Greatest Detective is given a lot more attention than usual. As a superhero movie, The Batman has the most in common with The Dark Knight trilogy, yet it can just as easily be a noir mystery. Batman has the best rogue’s gallery in DC comics, but the main villain that made the most sense was the Riddler. The Riddler is one of the most well known Batman villains known for using riddles and puzzles as a weapon. Frank Gorshin, John Astin, and Jim Carrey treated the Riddler like a joke, but Cory Michael Smith showed how threatening Edward Nygma could be in Gotham. This version uses the comic accurate birth name Edward Nashton and was inspired by the Zodiac Killer. Although comedian Jonah Hill was considered for either the Riddler or the Penguin, Paul Dano is an underrated actor that people tend to underestimate. The Riddler is clearly insane, but you’re genuinely afraid of what he’ll do next. Dano wears glasses like the Zodiac Killer, but his face is mostly concealed until the end.

Unlike the comics, the Riddler wears a dark green coat with a single question mark and a combat mask over his glasses. The Batman opens like a horror movie with the Riddler watching Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. from a distance before horrifically beating him with a tool and taping his face shut. The neo noir approach was the perfect excuse to use narration for the first time in a Batman movie. The young Bruce Wayne has been Batman for 2 years. Everyone knows his origin, so there’s no reason to once again show Thomas and Martha Wayne being shot. Not that it isn’t a driving force for the movie. The Batman is unique for being the first live action movie to have more Batman than Bruce Wayne. It’s more strange to see Robert Pattinson out of the batsuit than it is to see him in it. Pattinson got into superhero shape, but he’s not as jacked as Ben Affleck. The batsuit is more tactical with dark grey armor, gauntlets, a traditional cape, sleek cowl with longer ears, a black utility belt, and a bat-symbol that doubles as a batarang.

Every live action Batman needed to wear eyeliner, but Pattinson is the first one to keep it on when the mask comes off. I won’t argue that Pattinson is an emo Bruce Wayne, but turning him into a reclusive billionaire makes sense for this portrayal. Since he was inspired by troubled singer Kurt Cobain, the song “Something in the Way” by Nirvana is used in the trailer and movie. Bruce conceals his identity even when he isn’t Batman just to scope out crime. The bat-signal is a warning that strikes fear into the criminals of Gotham who think he might be hiding in the shadows. Including a gang of street punks wearing clown makeup. The conflicted gang member with half makeup is played by Jay Lycurgo who ironically ended up playing Tim Drake/Robin in Titans. Although slowly emerging from the shadows, Batman isn’t trying to hide. The “The” part of the title refers to Batman’s larger than life reputation. There have been so many great Batman themes, but Michael Giacchino blew everyone away with his epic score.

The first unlucky criminal gets a brutal well choreographed beatdown reminiscent of the Arkham Asylum video games. It was that shocking moment in the teaser that I knew I could accept Pattinson as Batman. Christian Bale and his Tenet director Christopher Nolan both gave their seal of approval. You expect him to say “I’m Batman,” but instead he says “I’m vengeance.” A reference to the famous Kevin Conroy monologue from Batman: The Animated Series. Pattinson’s bat-voice is deep and mysterious, but he’s more expressive with his eyes and teeth. Batman has his traditional grapple gun along with a very interesting new gadget that allows him to record his nights with high tech contact lenses. I’m not sure that will ever be a reality, but it’s useful for Batman’s detective work. Like The Long Halloween, Batman is called in to investigate the first victim on Halloween night. Current GCPD Commissioner Pete Savage taunts Batman by telling him “Happy f***ing Halloween.” Although the police question allowing a vigilante into a crime scene, Lieutenant James Gordon trusts him. Jeffrey Wright was a surprisingly good fit for Gordon. As long as he has glasses and a mustache, I didn’t care that he was race changed.

Similar to Batman Forever, the Riddler sends Batman riddles and ciphers that he tries to solve with Alfred’s help. Wayne Manor is more like a spooky castle that Bruce barely has time to live in. He spends most of his time working in the Batcave. This version of the Batcave is another underground railroad with bats and a work area for the batcomputer. After his limited role in the MCU, Andy Serkis continued to show his face in another superhero movie. His take on Alfred Pennyworth is a war veteran turned butler who attempts to maintain the Wayne family legacy. Bruce is distant with Alfred and doesn’t care about his wealth. Being Batman is treated like an addiction that helps Bruce cope with his parent’s death. The first clue leads Batman and Gordon to find a thumb drive with the Mayor’s severed thumb attached. This may be the darkest Batman movie yet, but it does have an equally dark sense of humor. The drive contains blackmail photos of the Mayor with a woman at the Iceberg Lounge. The comic accurate nightclub is operated by the Penguin. Batman knocks on the front door and ends up beating up several security guards (including one with a bat) until he gets to Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot.

The Penguin is another top tier Batman villain known for his penguin-like features and classy appearance. Burgess Meredith, Danny DeVito, and Robin Lord Taylor all managed to capture a different side of the Penguin. After playing Bullseye 19 years ago, Colin Farrell is completely unrecognizable under impressive penguin-like makeup. He wears a purple suit with a bowtie, but no over-the-top monocle, top hat, or umbrella weapon. The Penguin has never had a clearly defined voice, but Farrell sounds like an exaggerated Italian American gangster. He’s a minor antagonist that people underestimate. When he fails to give any useful information, Batman gets answers from seductive waitress Selina Kyle. Although Batman has had many love interests, nothing can beat Catwoman. The Feline Fatale has been recast almost as much times as the Caped Crusader. Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, Anne Hathaway, and Camren Bicondova have all worn the catsuit in live action. After her small role in X-Men: First Class, Zoë Kravitz voiced Catwoman in The LEGO Batman Movie.

Since Catwoman has been black several times before, I didn’t mind her race change either. She was the first Selina Kyle to finally have a comic accurate pixie cut. Kravitz is a purrfect Catwoman who manages to be mysterious, flirtatious, and morally grey. Selina has a lot of cats and lives with her “strictly platonic” roommate Annika. Bruce spies on her while she’s changing into her catsuit. Catwoman has the same sexy black catsuit, but her nose covering cloth mask is underwhelming to say the least. She doesn’t have claws, but she does have a whip that’s never used. Her cat burglar skills come in handy when attempting to crack a safe. The Bat and the Cat meet when they have a close quarters fight. Kravitz is aggressive yet feminine at the same time. Selina reluctantly partners with Batman in order to save Annika when she’s kidnapped. Though Bruce never shares a scene with Selina, Pattinson and Kravitz have a lot of sexual tension that makes their romance work. Batman has Selina infiltrate the Iceberg Lounge using the contact lenses to collect information.

They discover a bunch of corrupt cops and political officials high on a fictional drug called drops. The only one who gets top-billing is Peter Sarsgaard as current district attorney Gil Colson. Selina loses focus when Annika is mentioned and she runs into Carmine Falcone. Along with Salvatore Maroni, Carmine Falcone is the biggest mob boss in DC comics. He’s a realistic villain that’s been portrayed only two times before in Batman Begins and Gotham. Falcone is basically John Turturro with a mustache, but his eyes are constantly obscured by vintage sunglasses. Turturro’s cold delivery makes Falcone even more menacing. Falcone has most of the city on his payroll including the district attorney who ends up being the Riddler’s next victim after the Commissioner is killed in a livestream. Bruce makes a rare public appearance at the Mayor’s funeral where he’s confronted by potential candidate Bella Reál who asks him to do more with his money. Although it’s obvious what they’re trying to do with Reál, the political commentary is subtle. Bruce saves a kid who may or may not be Robin and suits up when Gil Colson arrives with a bomb strapped to his neck. Batman and the Riddler talk for the first time when the latter plays a game of riddles over another livestream.

SPOILER ALERT! You think Colson will make it out alive, but the bomb goes off right in front of Batman who somehow survives. The unconscious Batman is taken to GCPD where he has a heated confrontation with everyone who isn’t Gordon. They create a diversion in order for him to escape on a rooftop. My personal favorite moment is Batman donning a flight suit and flying across Gotham City. He somehow survives a crash landing and relays the rest of what he knows to Gordon. The Riddler’s cipher refers to “El Rata Alada” (The Rat with Wings), which refers to a mystery informant responsible for a drug bust that put Maroni away. The first suspect is the Penguin, but Catwoman returns only to blow their cover once she finds Annika dead. It leads to an exhilarating car chase between Batman and the Penguin. Although Batman is mostly seen riding a batcycle, nothing beats hearing the Batmobile’s engine roaring in the rain. This version of the Batmobile is more like a simple muscle car with the classic rocket booster. The Batman doesn’t look like it has a lot of special effects, but the rain is all CGI.

The chase may be a little hard to follow, but Batman manages to intercept the Penguin on a highway with an awesome upside down shot of the Dark Knight. Batman and Gordon take the Penguin to an abandoned location where he helps them decipher a code that allows them to talk to the Riddler over a secure computer server. The next clue leads them to the abandoned orphanage. A handcuffed Penguin waddling like an actual penguin is another good bit of comedy. At the Wayne funded orphanage, Batman discovers the Riddler’s next victim is Bruce Wayne himself. A panicked Bruce attempts to warn Alfred, but he’s too late to stop a letter bomb from going off. I was so afraid they would kill off Alfred since the movie has been so different up to this point. Luckily Alfred is recovering in the hospital, but Bruce is left to solve the Riddler’s riddles on his own. Selina seeks Batman’s help to find Annika’s killer on a rooftop where she reveals Falcone to be her father. The reveal is ripped straight out of The Long Halloween. Selina considers the wealthy Wayne family to be just as guilty as the rest of Gotham’s elite. Ironically, Batman and Catwoman share their first kiss soon after.

What follows is the longest sequence with Bruce Wayne outside of the batsuit. He discovers a report where the Riddler exposes Thomas Wayne’s attempt to threaten a journalist who wrote a story about Martha having a mental illness. This time it’s a disheveled Bruce who knocks on the front door of the Iceberg Lounge in order to find answers. Another similarity to The Long Halloween is Falcone having his life saved by Thomas Wayne when Bruce was a child. He confirms that he was the one who had the journalist killed, but Alfred affirms Bruce that his father was an honest man. Bruce and Alfred reconcile in the hospital where the former accepts him as a father figure. Batman returns when Catwoman threatens the cop who had Annika in his trunk. She attempts to kill him and Falcone after jumping off the roof. Batman follows her after he and Gordon realize “El Rata Alada” is referring to Falcone. Falcone brutally strangling Annika is leaked and Selina nearly kills her father to avenge her mother. Batman taking heavy gunfire before stopping Selina is another badass moment. The Riddler’s clue about bringing the rat into the light literally means bringing Falcone into his line of sight where he’s shot from a building.

Edward Nashton is finally revealed in a coffee shop where he’s arrested by GCPD. They learn more about him at his hideout where they discover one final clue. Nothing can top the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight, but Batman interrogating the Riddler is a close second. Since he isn’t a physical threat, Dano has to be intimidating with just his words. Nashton saying the name Bruce Wayne is chilling even though he doesn’t know Batman’s identity. His motivation is destain for the Wayne’s who left him suffering in an orphanage. Batman ironically inspired his crusade by using a little focused violence on the criminals of Gotham. It’s at this point that I started to question the runtime when Batman returns to Nashton’s hideout looking for more clues about his ultimate goal. It takes a random cop to identify the Riddler’s weapon from earlier as a carpet tool that he uses to find his plan underneath. Turns out the Riddler used an army of online followers to plant explosives around Gotham in hopes of flooding the city. The Batman has been pretty subtle up to this point, but a giant flood is exactly the kind of bombastic comic book climax I was expecting. The inspiration came from the 2013-2014 comic series “Zero Year.”

Mayor Reál is shot from a vantage point by Riddler minions at a flooding stage where Batman strategically takes out every goon. When he’s overwhelmed, Batman takes out his aggression using a shot of adrenaline. Gordon and Selina manage to hold him back, but it’s one of the minions saying “I’m vengeance” that really affects him. Batman choosing to become a symbol of hope instead of vengeance was inspired by the 2000 comic Ego. It’s a heroic moment where Batman saves Gotham citizens from the drowning water. The flooded Gotham is under martial law with the Penguin looking to seize control. I’m sure we’ll find out more in his HBO Max spin-off series. Batman embracing the city would’ve been a triumphant note to end the movie on, but we still have 2 additional scenes that could’ve been after-credits. The Riddler is locked up in Arkham Asylum where he’s greeted by a laughing inmate who wants to be his friend. I just knew DC couldn’t resist teasing another version of the Joker. Despite already having a role in Eternals, I had a feeling that’s who Barry Keoghan was playing.

His Joker laugh is silly, but his obscured face may be a little too horrifying. There was originally a Silence of the Lambs style deleted scene where Batman visits the Joker in Arkham seeking his criminal insight. The Joker is hideously scarred with a creepy permanent smile. Since they already have history, I’m not sure what they’ll do with the Joker in the future. The final scene shows the Bat and the Cat saying goodbye as Selina decides to runaway to Blüdhaven. They share one last kiss and go their separate ways on motorcycles. The Batman may be long, but it’s worth every minute. I don’t care how many Gotham based movies or shows they make without Batman, nothing beats seeing the Dark Knight in action. The Dark Knight is still my favorite Batman movie, but The Batman comes awfully close to replicating its praise. I hope the planned trilogy can maintain the quality of The Dark Knight trilogy. I would be fine if Robert Pattinson’s Batman joined James Gunn’s DCU, but I’d be just as happy if The Batman remained a solid standalone detective story.

17. The Batman

Batman confronts the Penguin

Project Starfish

The Suicide Squad does exactly what Suicide Squad did, but better. Although it was a financial success, almost every sequel or spin-off idea didn’t pan out. Birds of Prey was the closest thing to a Suicide Squad sequel, but it was just an excuse for more Harley Quinn. The DC Extended Universe has always been a mess despite making relatively smart decisions like releasing Zack Snyder’s Justice League. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is a lost cause, so I never expected him to return as director. Since Suicide Squad was already blatantly copying Guardians of the Galaxy, they might as well make it official by hiring controversial director James Gunn. Everyone knows the story of Gunn being fired by Disney after his past “edgy” tweets resurfaced. I knew Gunn’s hard R reputation long before directing Guardians of the Galaxy, and although I never understood taking a chance on him, it’s hard to argue with the results. Warner Bros. were quick to use the horribly beautiful mind of James Gunn.

His unrestrained vision makes The Suicide Squad the closest thing to a soft reboot in the DCEU. Ever since Justice League, the DCEU gradually became less dark and more optimistic with greater comic book visuals. Gunn drew inspiration from 80’s Suicide Squad comics and 70’s war films. An R rating was another calculated risk, but it makes more sense for a Suicide Squad movie than a Birds of Prey movie. Without studio interference, Gunn was free to kill whoever he wanted in the most over-the-top violent way possible. Like Wonder Woman 1984, The Suicide Squad was forced to release simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. My brother and I saw it in theaters, while our parents stuck to HBO Max. Some people blame the Pandemic or a lack of bankable stars, but I know it was the R rating that led to the movie bombing at the box-office. Even though The Suicide Squad is a vast improvement, I’m not always on board with James Gunn’s R rated material…

21. The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad in Corto Maltese

The Suicide Squad is different in more ways than just the “The” in the title. Suicide Squad looks R rated with aggressively dark visuals and gritty character designs. The Suicide Squad looks PG-13 with bright visuals and colorful comic accurate character designs. Proving a movie doesn’t have to look edgy to be for adults only. Titans and Doom Patrol are a good example of DC shows that are unapologetically TV-MA despite staying true to the source material. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn chose a roster of C-list supervillains that even the most hardcore DC fan never heard of. Including Robert DuBois/Bloodsport, Christopher Smith/Peacemaker, Nanaue/King Shark, Abner Krill/Polka-Dot Man, Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher 2, Brian Durlin/Savant, Gaius Grave/The Thinker, Richard Hertz/Blackguard, Corey Pitzer/T.D.K. (The Detachable Kid), Gunter Braun/Javelin, Mongal, and Weasel. I was fine with the obscurity since I didn’t expect everyone to live. An R rating meant a genuine suicide mission where Task Force X could have their heads exploded at any minute.

The only returning characters are Amanda Waller, Colonel Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, and of course Harley Quinn. Viola Davis wasn’t given the best material to work with before, but she’s always been ideal casting for Amanda Waller. Waller has always been the woman behind the Suicide Squad, so it was important to leave her in. The tone may be comedic, but Davis is somehow funnier with a straight face. Joel Kinnaman isn’t the best actor, but Rick Flag has always been the A.R.G.U.S. approved field leader of Task Force X. Kinnaman is more laidback and Flag finally wears his comic accurate yellow t-shirt with a less accurate picture of a cartoon rabbit on it. The forced gangster look is thankfully gone, but Jai Courtney is the biggest reminder of the first movie. I think they chose to bring back Captain Boomerang, because it would give Harley Quinn someone familiar outside of Flag to return to. The only actor DC specifically requested to bring back was Margot Robbie. Harley Quinn has had so much attention in the DCEU, but she never feels the same in any of her appearances.

Suicide Squad was her most sexually charged portrayal that was mostly reliant on her obsessive love of Mr. J. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) gave Harley independence from the Joker and a team of women that she never joins. That R rated portrayal carried over into The Suicide Squad, but she never explicitly mentions events from her past. Harley finally wears a tactical red & black jester costume that was inspired by Batman: Arkham City. Her pigtails are braided and her “Rotten” tattoo is removed for obvious reasons. We can however see the words “Live fast, die clown” on her jacket. Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, and Harley Quinn are sent on the first mission with a motley team of misfits. The Suicide Squad opens with a classic song hand selected by James Gunn. Nothing can compete with Guardians of the Galaxy, but the off-beat soundtrack makes a lot more sense than the first Suicide Squad. We hear “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash in solitary confinement with Savant. Yondu may be gone, but at least Michael Rooker could continue his collaboration with Gunn by playing the lesser known villain. Savant is an expert shot who establishes the movie’s tone by killing an adorable bird. His appearance is comic accurate with long white hair, goggles, and a red shirt.

Flag introduces his team with no unnecessary backstory. Walking punchline Pete Davidson only plays Blackguard, because the character’s real name is Dick Hertz. His maskless mercenary outfit looks nothing like his ponytail costume from the comics. Nathan Fillion is another frequent Gunn collaborator who finally gets to play a DC superhero. Although Green Lantern would’ve been better than original creation T.D.K. The Detachable Kid has the appearance and ability of one of the dumbest superheroes in DC comics history. Arm-Fall-Off-Boy is a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes with the useless power to use his detachable arms as clubs. It’s so lame that it gets one of the biggest laughs in the movie. German YouTuber Flula Borg plays the aptly named Javelin. He has comic accurate blonde hair, a bright blue & yellow costume, and a javelin as a weapon. Though Mayling Ng has the physically imposing stature to play an orange alien mass murderer, Mongal is probably the most forgettable villain. She doesn’t say much, but she is ripped straight out the comics with a purple costume.

There’s no shortage of obscure comic characters, but the anthropomorphic Weasel is easily the most useless member of the team. He’s basically a stretched out version of Rocket with Sean Gunn once again performing motion capture. I kind of hate Weasel’s idiotic appearance, but he is good for a few laughs. Gunn can also briefly be seen in prison as the modern version of Calendar Man. James Gunn’s signature writing style is apparent right off the bat with casual conversations on a plane to their destination. Javelin flirts with Harley and everyone assumes Weasel is a werewolf. Jokes are hit or miss, but anything is better than the cringy dialogue from Suicide Squad. Instead we have Gunn’s frequent use of penis jokes. The only instances of nudity are blink & you’ll miss it shots of a pantless man and topless woman. Waller is now entirely behind the scenes with a team of A.R.G.U.S. agents betting on who dies first. Steve Agee and Gunn’s future wife Jennifer Holland play important A.R.G.U.S. agents John Economus and Emilia Harcourt respectively. The destination is Corto Maltese, a fictional war-torn South American island nation first featured in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

SPOILER ALERT! The Suicide Squad storm the beach, but the R rating officially kicks in with the brutal death of almost the entire team. Blackguard betrays the team and gets his face blown off. Harley fires a rocket at the enemy and Captain Boomerang slices through someone’s skull. I had to look away from some of the gore, but T.D.K. having his floating arms shot is a hilarious visual. Mongal dies in a helicopter explosion and Captain Boomerang surprisingly dies when he’s impaled by debris. It’s a devastating loss for Harley, but she’s given purpose when a dying Javelin bequeaths his javelin to her. Savant freaks out and is made an example of when Waller detonates his explosive. All of this before the creative opening credits appropriately set to “People Who Die” by The Jim Carroll Band. Title cards are equally creative with words written in the environment. Turns out Team 1 was just a diversion for Team 2 who safely enter Corto Maltese undetected. The official team consists of Bloodsport, Peacemaker, King Shark, Ratcatcher 2, and Polka-Dot Man. Belle Reve inmate Bloodsport is a black weapons specialist and expert marksman with a daughter to protect. If that sounds exactly like Deadshot, it’s because Will Smith was too busy to return.

Instead Idris Elba turns Bloodsport into a genuinely compelling reluctant leader. Bloodsport first appeared in the 1987 Superman #4 with a commando outfit and red bandana. Like the comics, Bloodsport is in prison for shooting Superman with a Kryptonite bullet. His orange & blue costume is more padded with a skull helmet and specialized weapons that Bloodsport creates himself. Storm Reid plays DuBois’ troublemaking daughter that Waller uses against him in order to enlist him in Task Force X. F bombs are expected, but they feel especially lazy when the father and daughter are saying “f*** you” over and over again. Peacemaker does exactly what Bloodsport does, but better. He’s also a ruthless killer trained by his father at a young age. You can learn more in his 2022 HBO Max series, but at the time Peacemaker was not a household name. Peacemaker first appeared in the 1966 Fightin’ 5 #40 as a patriotic superhero turned deadly vigilante. Like the comics, Peacemaker believes in achieving peace no matter how many people he has to kill to get it. His red, white, and blue costume, metal helmet, and weapons are all very accurate to the comics.

There are so many physically imposing superheroes he could’ve played, but charismatic wrestler John Cena is surprisingly perfect as Peacemaker. His immature sense of humor is balanced by his bloodthirsty sense of virtue. The man-eating King Shark is a suitable replacement for Killer Croc. He’s basically the Groot of the team with a limited vocabulary and great physical strength. King Shark from the comics is a lot more vicious looking than the pudgy Great White that they went with. Steve Agee does stand-in for the CGI King Shark, but Sylvester Stallone steals the show with his innocent voice performance. This was Stallone’s second collaboration with Gunn after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Ratcatcher is another obscure Batman villain who can control an army of rats. Ratcatcher 2 has the comic character’s green hood and rat mask, but this version is the daughter of the original Ratcatcher. Beneath the mask is cute Portuguese actress Daniela Melchior. Cleo is young and perpetually tired, but her rat controlling is more than a one-note power. Her rat companion Sebastian is another tiny scene stealer.

Polka-Dot Man may be the goofiest Batman villain ever created, but James Gunn somehow found a way to make him the most tragic figure in the movie. Like the comics, Polka-Dot Man wears a silly white jumpsuit covered in multicolored polka dots. Polka dots are used as a weapon, but they’re also a virus that Krill has to expel in order to survive. Although David Dastmalchian has appeared in many superhero movies and shows already, Polka-Dot Man may actually be his best character yet. It’s a dysfunctional team where Bloodsport is afraid of Ratcatcher 2’s rats, Peacemaker and Bloodsport have constant gun measuring contests, King Shark tries to eat Ratcatcher 2 before befriending her, and Polka-Dot Man remains closed off. They do end up sharing some of their backstories as the movie progresses. DuBois reveals his past trauma with rats and Cleo reveals how her homeless father found comfort with rats and died of a drug overdose. Taika Waititi has an unexpected cameo as the original Ratcatcher. Krill’s polka dot virus is the result of his mother who worked at S.T.A.R. Labs and wanted him to be a superhero. Everyone looking like his mother is a good joke taken a bit too far. Waller debriefs the team with a mission to infiltrate and destroy the Jötunheim research facility in Corto Maltese before the nation’s dictator seizes control of it.

The Suicide Squad has a political slant, but it’s hard to say whether the message is Anti-American. Interfering in foreign affairs was inspired by real world events. There are so many characters in the movie that you almost forget about Harley or Flag. Harley is captured by Corto Maltese soldiers and has her own side story where the hunky dictator Silvio Luna wishes to marry her. She’s dolled up in a red dress and has a romantic montage with Luna that’s bizarre even for her. Luna is no Joker, but Harley knows enough to shoot him before things get serious. Harley is taken prisoner while Major General Mateo Suárez assumes control. Meanwhile, Task Force X finds Flag in a rebel camp that they brutally murdered. It’s an excellent bit of dark comedy disguised as a badass action scene. Brazilian action star Alice Braga plays original rebel leader Sol Soria who assists Flag and the Suicide Squad to complete their mission. The Thinker is a super intelligent villain primarily based on the New 52 version with plugs in his head. Peter Capaldi is a nasty piece of work since the Thinker is the lead scientist behind Project Starfish.

The last thing I ever expected to see was a faithful live-action adaptation of Starro the Conqueror in a hard R DCEU movie like The Suicide Squad. Starro is well known as the first ever villain the Justice League fought in the 1960 The Brave and the Bold #28. He’s basically a giant colorful alien starfish that controls minds with his smaller offspring. Task Force X needs the Thinker in order to erase any trace of Project Starfish. They find him incognito at a nightclub where we can see a brief cameo from Pom Klementieff. Half of the team captures the Thinker and the other half finds out about Harley while being taken prisoner. When they escape, they decided to rescue Harley first. Harley’s escape is similar to the police station scene in Birds of Prey, but it’s a little more bonkers with Harley seeing cartoon flowers and birds. She reclaims Javelin’s javelin and treats it like a spiritual quest. Harley officially joins Team 2 on their way to the research facility. Elba ironically returns to Jötunheim, but this is very different from his time in Thor. The entire sequence is split in 2 different perspectives with Flag and Ratcatcher 2 taking the Thinker underground to discover the harsh truth behind Project Starfish.

Turns out the American government had been secretly using Corto Maltese citizens as test subjects for 30 years. Starro is understandably angry with humanity. Gunn gets away with a lot, but I think he only crosses the line with Starro controlled mutilated corpses. Flag finally has enough and plans to expose the truth from a hard drive. Until Peacemaker tries to stop him. Peacemaker is already a villain, but the betrayal is no less shocking. Following Waller’s orders is his misguided way of keeping the peace. An explosion causes Starro to escape and kill the Thinker while Flag and Peacemaker fight to the death. I never thought I’d care about Flag, but his brutal death at Peacemaker’s hands is surprisingly impactful. He turns his attention to Cleo, but the rest of the sequence is shown 8 minutes earlier from the perspective of King Shark, Bloodsport, Harley, and Polka-Dot Man. King Shark finally finds colorful mutant fish friends in an unusually beautiful sequence. Meanwhile, DuBois, Harley, and Krill have a lengthy discussion about Milton the bus driver who gets killed. When the aforementioned explosion goes off, Nanaue’s friends turn on him and he goes on a violent feeding frenzy.

The rest of the very human team members escape unharmed except Peacemaker who is seemingly killed by Bloodsport’s smaller bullet. The climax is the Suicide Squad vs. Starro the Conqueror. Starro plans to conquer Corto Maltese by mind controlling its civilians. Unlike the comics, people are basically dead the moment a starfish attaches to their face. Waller is the true villain of the story by refusing to allow Task Force X to save the country. Similar to the first movie, they go off mission in order to save the world. Waller intends to detonate everyone in a profane tirade that ends with unassuming A.R.G.U.S. agent Flo Crawley finally knocking her out. Remaining A.R.G.U.S. agents assist Task Force X in defeating Starro. Bloodsport breaks out the big guns, King Shark nom noms on Starro, and Polka-Dot Man takes out a leg by imagining his mom. I didn’t see a lot of the deaths coming, but the death of Polka-Dot Man after declaring himself a superhero was the most telegraphed. Ratcatcher 2 unexpectedly saves the day by unleashing millions of rats on Starro.

The sight of rats eating Starro from the inside and Harley diving into his eye with her javelin is not something I ever expected to see in a comic book movie. In the end, Corto Maltese is back in civilian hands, DuBois’ daughter is proud of him, the surviving team escape punishment by threatening to leak Project Starfish, and Bloodsport finally warms up to Sebastian. The mid-credits scene is just Weasel surviving the beach massacre, but the after-credits scene ties directly into Peacemaker. Agents Harcourt and Economous find him alive in the hospital where they need his help to save the f***ing world. James Gunn managed to find some coherency in the messy DCEU, but the R rated approach isn’t gonna work for everyone. I’ll admit I was nervous when I saw the mostly incoherent red band trailer. For a movie with so many characters, plot points, and tonal shifts, it’s honestly impressive that they didn’t repeat the mistakes of Suicide Squad. The Suicide Squad doesn’t save the DCEU, but it’s enough just to have a bloody good action adventure.

22. The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad on their mission

Preceded by: Suicide Squad

The Snyder Cut

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is what you get when fans scream loud enough. Although I was disappointed by Joss Whedon’s Justice League, I frankly thought it was a failure from the beginning. A problem that steamed from how poorly Warner Bros. handled the DCEU. As big of a DC fan as I am, I never really understood people begging the studio to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. The same people who were disappointed by Zack Snyder’s grim take on Batman v Superman. Although Zack Snyder and writer Chris Terrio had an even darker Justice League in mind, the response to Dawn of Justice did inspire a more hopeful tone. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. continued to push for more jokes and a shorter runtime. When Joss Whedon eventually came on board for rewrites, they practically seized the opportunity to have him direct after Snyder left.

The less than glowing response to the movie led to a complete reworking of the DCEU. One so drastic that the DC Extended Universe slowly became less interconnected. Similar to Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, fans felt the “Snyder Cut” would be way better than the movie we ended up with. Both movies had a last minute director switch that drastically altered the tone of each film. I tried to ignore the “Snyder Cut” movement, but I was constantly bombarded by crazed fans yelling as loud as they could. All that yelling finally led to a completed movie in 2021 that officially restored the original footage seen in the trailers. Released on HBO Max, the first teaser looked good, but the aspect ratio change was a bizarre creative choice. The R rating felt unnecessary and the 4 hour runtime seemed extremely excessive. Zack Snyder’s Justice League turned out a lot better than anyone was expecting, but that tends to happen when a movie is roughly the length of a miniseries…

Zack Snyder's Justice League

The Justice League stand together

SPOILER ALERT! The difference between the “Snyder Cut” and the theatrical cut is made explicitly clear right off the bat. The darker tone is reestablished by showing the death of Superman in slow motion. When Doomsday impaled the Man of Steel, he screamed so loud that it could be heard across the world. Batman, Wonder Woman, and Lois Lane witness this first hand. A sullen Cyborg, fearful Atlanteans, and battle ready Amazons all witness their respective Mother Boxes activating. Lex Luthor is still in the genesis chamber learning about Steppenwolf when he hears the Kryptonian cry. The scene of a bearded Bruce Wayne traveling to a fishing community makes a lot more sense after an opening like that. What follows is a series of parts meant to make the 4 hour experience more bearable.

Part 1: “Don’t Count on it, Batman” – Bruce Wayne meeting Arthur Curry is a lot less joke heavy with more focus on his mission to build an alliance of warriors. Aquaman is a lot more no-nonsense when speaking the Icelandic language and turning down Wayne’s money. The main difference is a group of creepily aroused Icelandic women singing a folk song when Arthur rips his sweater off and dives into the sea. It’s nothing compared to Whedon’s version, but that doesn’t mean Snyder isn’t prone to WTF moments. Bruce & Alfred have a far more straightforward conversation afterwards when Aquaman says no. Scenes of Metropolis mourning Superman are cut out with more focus on Ma Kent foreclosing the farm and Lois visiting his monument. Former Jimmy Olsen actor Marc McClure plays the friendly police officer that she brings coffee to. Wonder Woman’s introduction is still at the London bank, but everytime Diana or the Amazons appear, Junkie XL plays an operitic siren call. Every… single… time!

We still hear her epic Dawn of Justice theme during a more action-packed slow motion fight, but the other theme is just excessive. The Black Clad gentlemen terrorists are a bit more sinister with one of them dropping the first of only 3 F bombs in the entire movie. There’s no question that Wonder Woman kills the lead terrorist when she strikes her bracelets. Immediately after killing someone, Diana has time to inspire a girl who wants to be just like her. When Steppenwolf arrives to face the Amazons, he has a far better alien design with spikes, bulging muscles, and a more threatening voice still provided by Ciarán Hinds. The Amazons declare their lack of fear to Steppenwolf when his Parademons attack. Violence is really the main reason for the R rating as CGI blood splatters during every action scene. Steppenwolf is ruthless in his pursuit of the Mother Box. He tosses horses and flexes arrows out of his body. Connie Nielsen is a bit more physical as Queen Hippolyta puts up an even more desperate fight that ends exactly the same way.

Part 2: The Age of Heroes – The next section bridges the gap between the old and new age of heroes. Bruce & Alfred only discuss searching for Barry Allen while on their plane. Ben Affleck was determined to soften up Batman regardless of director, so he’s still on a path of redemption. Gal Gadot hasn’t changed much between versions either. The main difference is having Diana slowly discover the history of the New Gods in an underground cavern after her mother lights the beacon. Jason Momoa is a lot more serious with Arthur’s link to the ocean. He has another obligatory shirtless scene as water consumes him to the tune of “Icky Thump.” Willem Dafoe is fully restored with Nuidis Vulko scolding Arthur over taking up Queen Atlanna’s trident. Since Aquaman’s mentor was first seen in Aquaman, you can tell even more that Atlantis wasn’t fully developed beforehand. Especially since Vulko also does the stupid air bubble thing. Joe Morton is immediately shown to have a bigger role as Silas Stone working at S.T.A.R. Labs when a janitor is kidnapped by a Parademon.

Ryan Zheng is also restored as Ryan Choi aka the second incarnation of Atom. He speaks with a Chinese accent and works with nanotechnology by the end. Silas returns to an even more angry Victor who watches over their Mother Box. The other better change made to Steppenwolf is having his motivation be redemption for his betrayal of Darkseid. He’s forced to conquer 150,000 worlds in order to return to Apocalypse. He speaks with master torturer DeSaad voiced by Peter Guinness, but the true big bad of the DC Universe will always be Darkseid. Turns out the “Snyder Cut” was finally enough to bring the ultimate world conqueror to live-action voiced by Ray Porter. His CGI design mostly resembles the comics with his imposing grey appearance and blue helmet. The centuries old battle between man, Amazons, Atlanteans, Old Gods, and a Green Lantern is even better and bloodier with Darkseid leading the charge. Robin Wright even makes an appearance as Antiope. The battle is far more epic as the Greek gods tear into Darkseid and ununite the Mother Boxes. Diana tells Bruce about Darkseid’s defeat as he continues to work on that Flying Fox plane.

Part 3: Beloved Mother, Beloved Son – Turns out Barry Allen was supposed to make his first appearance applying to a pet shop. Although Ezra Miller had his moments before, I have no doubt now that he is the strongest comic relief in the move. Even without Whedon’s B material, Snyder manages to keep the Flash lighthearted. Iris West is fully restored with Kiersey Clemons becoming the second black actress to play Barry’s love interest. Their romantic relationship is only hinted at with loving glances. Barry’s superspeed is really taken advantage of in a beautiful sequence of him saving Iris to the tune of “Song to the Siren.” As long as you ignore the cringy moment of Barry grabbing a wiener mid Speed Force. Barry visiting his father in prison isn’t changed much, but Billy Crudup is given more to work with.

The scene of Bruce & Diana discussing recruits is shown in full as the latter mentions a war between Amazons & Atlanteans. Bruce recruits Barry roughly the same way, but thankfully there’s no mention of brunch. Declaring himself to be rich was apparently a Snyder quip all along. Jeremy Irons has a lot less cringy lighthearted moments as Alfred, but I’m not sure we needed tea time with Diana. Creating a blast resistant bat-gauntlet is a better use of his time. Steppenwolf only finds Atlantis when he brutally interrogates an Atlantean. His fight with Mera is about the same except for her violently sucking out his blood. Aquaman shows up to the fight, but the outcome with the Mother Box is the same. One thing I definitely didn’t notice before is a British accent that Amber Heard inexplicably gives Mera.

Arthur & Mera’s bubble conversation is a bit more connected to his solo film than it was before, but the biggest change is everything involving Cyborg. Ray Fisher was the most vocal critic of Joss Whedon’s behavior while filming Justice League. It got to a point where he was practically whining over and over again. I wasn’t surprised when Fisher was fired, but his characterization is more memorable than it was before. Victor’s entire origin as a noble football star, the death of his mother Elinore played by Karen Bryson, and the resentment he feels for his father is all fully restored. Cyborg is practically turned into a tech god that can literally control the entire world. He learns to fly and gives a struggling family money. Although he is still grim while dropping a second F bomb in his encounter with Diana. Everything changes when Silas is captured and Victor buries the final Mother Box.

Part 4: “Change Machine” – J. K. Simmons’ role as Commissioner Gordon is almost exactly the same as it was before. Even the rooftop scene wasn’t changed. The team arrives at Gotham Harbor where they engage in a better first fight that isn’t undermined by jokes. Steppenwolf now interrogates people using a Starro type device that sees into their mind. Victor shows that he still cares for his father when he’s threatened. Cyborg displays further abilities that include an arm cannon, talking to Bruce’s plane, and growing a third arm. He mostly helps S.T.A.R. Labs employees to safety. The Flash isn’t a wimp who uses his superspeed to fight a Parademon and quickly help civilians. Batman puts up a good fight using Alfred’s power absorbing wrist blades and commanding the Knightcrawler before Cyborg steps in. Wonder Woman is still the best fighter in both versions when she engages in an even more intense duel with Steppenwolf.

Aquaman swims in the same way, but the team coming together in the Batcave is entirely different. I have no doubt that Cyborg was meant to be the main character after he explains the origin of the last Mother Box when it was taken by Nazis, then used by Silas to fix his son. The team much more calmly decides to use the Box to revive Superman. Diane Lane and Amy Addams have a much more heartfelt scene of Martha & Lois grieving at the latter’s house. Although the nice moment is kind of undercut by the revelation that Lois was talking to Martian Manhunter the entire time. His CGI could use some work, but apparently Harry Lennix was always meant to be the shapeshifting martian. Not exactly the cinematic debut I pictured for him. Meanwhile, Darkseid finally speaks when Steppenwolf discovers the all important Anti-Life Equation that can control all life in the Multiverse. Only after “The Unity” will Steppenwolf earn his freedom.

Part 5: All the King’s Horses – The grave robbing scene is completely different with Barry & Victor discussing Superman & Wonder Woman. Diana & Arthur are also nearby discussing the significance of an Atlantean teaming up with an Amazon. Alfred has another nice moment with Bruce continuing to make breakthroughs with his trust of Superman. Silas is more directly involved when the Justice League enter the S.T.A.R. Labs Kryptonian scout ship. He allows Victor to pass without interference. The Flash charging the Mother Box to revive Superman isn’t that different apart from Aquaman objecting to the idea more. Cyborg also sees a post-apocalyptic future when connected to the ship. It shows Darkseid successfully invading Earth and controlling an evil Superman.

Diana is buried by the Amazons, Arthur is killed underwater by Darkseid’s Omega Beams, and Superman holds the cowl of Batman over the body of Kilowog. Clark coming back to life and fighting the Justice League obviously hasn’t changed depending on the scenes without his CGI lip. Except for Cyborg helping a cop and the Flash running into Aquaman. Everything Wonder Woman does is the same including her infamous “Kal-El no!” line. The main difference is Clark’s encounter with Batman where he silently uses his heat vision on the Dark Knight. This time Lois was already in the area. We see her with a pregnancy test and walking away from the monument beforehand. Steppenwolf actually arrives to take the final Mother Box this time. It’s more tragic when Silas heroically sacrifices himself trying to destroy the Box in front of his son. DC borrows a line from Marvel when Cyborg tells the team to go get the son of b*tch.

Part 6: “Something Darker” – Although I planned to go all the way, it was at this point that I needed a bathroom break. Clark taking Lois to the Kent farm is far less childish without Whedon’s dialogue. Talking to Lois about his engagement ring and embracing his mother is better when Henry Cavill looks more optimistic. Unfortunately, I’m not crazy about his choice of wardrobe. I know black suit Superman is synonymous with his resurrection, but that’s just another problem with setting Dawn of Justice before Justice League. Superman really should have his classic red & blue suit when with the team. Otherwise both him and Batman are wearing black. Despite being more hopeful, Clark chooses the black suit as the conflicting words of his human and Kryptonian father fill his head. Superman flies into the heavens to join the fight. Meanwhile, the Justice League have a calmer discussion about how to find Steppenwolf after meeting Alfred.

Cyborg intends to disconnect the Mother Boxes while the Flash builds up a powerful electric charge. Arthur opens up a bit to Barry, but he doesn’t need a Lasso to do it. Bruce also brings up the Knightmare to Diana before they head out to Moscow. Thankfully there’s no pointless Russian family to save. The power of “The Unity” can be felt from Themyscira to Atlantis. Alfred meets Master Kent for the first time when he comes searching for the others. The final battle is rightfully restored to its original nighttime color palette. Batman still destroys the barrier, but using the Batmobile is given more weight. Most of the time Batman stays away from Steppenwolf in order to take out Parademon sharpshooters. After the team have another group shot, Cyborg, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman face Steppenwolf directly. He tries to get under Diana’s skin by reminding her of the Amazons and attempts to keep Victor from the Boxes.

Steppenwolf swings his axe on Cyborg, but an unimpressed Superman arrives just in time to use his arctic breath on it. Superman’s powerful display is rougher, but not much different from the theatrical edition. Aside from removing cheesy one-liners, the suit was actually colored black in post-production. When a Parademon somehow manages to hit the Flash, it becomes too late to stop “The Unity.” Darkseid appears in a portal alongside DeSaad and a presumably digital version of Granny Goodness on Apocalypse. As the world crumbles, the Flash really shows his immense power by turning back time in a breathtaking Speed Force run. No doubt that the Justice League are in fact gods among us. Cyborg views his family when revived, but sees past the deception in order to break the Boxes. Steppenwolf won’t go down without a fight this time. Until he’s impaled by Aquaman, punched by Superman, and actually beheaded by Wonder Woman. Darkseid knows enough to retreat, but still plan an old fashion invasion later on. The Justice League standing together is about the same apart from the distracting black suit.

Epilogue: “A Father Twice Over” – Rather than have Lois close out the movie with a Daily Planet article, Victor listens to the recording left by his father that he destroyed earlier. Silas Stone gives similar words of encouragement as the heroes go their separate ways. Victor embraces his role as Cyborg, Arthur talks to Vulko & Mera before leaving to see his father, Barry similarly tells his father about his forensics job, and Diana returns to her Amazonian monastery. The Hall of Justice scene is the same and so is Bruce buying the bank for Clark. The only difference with Clark is him opening up his shirt to reveal a silver ‘S’ underneath. The after-credits scene is now part of the movie with Lex escaping Arkham, but having a different conversation with Deathstroke. Jesse Eisenberg and Joe Manganiello are about as serious as they were before. Except that now their conversation foreshadows the original The Batman solo movie with Lex revealing Batman’s secret identity.

Although that’s a natural place to stop, there’s still an entire Knightmare to get through. The post-apocalypse is shown in more detail with trench coat Batman, weaponized Cyborg, British Mera carrying Aquaman’s trident, the Flash wearing an armored costume, Deathstroke as an ally, and even the Joker. Since all of this was brand new, Ben Affleck, Ray Fisher, Amber Heard, Ezra Miller, Joe Manganiello, and Jared Leto never look like they filmed together. After his terrible portrayal in Suicide Squad, Leto makes up for it with a more subtle tattooless Clown Prince of Crime. Not that his dialogue isn’t a little cringy and drawn out. Batman & the Joker discuss Robin, Harley Quinn, and the Caped Crusader actually drops the final F bomb. Which is followed by the evil Superman attacking. By this point I was done, but even that’s not the end when Martian Manhunter finally shows up to tell Bruce he’ll fight with them in a future we’ll never see.

In conclusion, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is better than the theatrical cut, but it’s not the masterpiece some fans call it. If you need 4 hours just to tell a story properly, than I wouldn’t exactly call that genius. Despite the larger runtime, Snyder still couldn’t use every idea he had. Like using Wayne T. Carr as John Stewart Green Lantern instead of Martian Manhunter at the end. Although Snyder did get even more self indulgent by making a black & white version of the movie. The Leonard Cohen version of “Hallelujah” is only heard during the credits. Fans continue to press Warner Bros. for an “Ayer Cut” of the similarly botched Suicide Squad. Along with the full restoration of the Snyderverse featuring a Justice League trilogy. Although this was a good effort, I’m still not a fan of his radical vision for famous DC characters. The solo approach to the DCEU isn’t a perfect one, but I’m fine with it as long as the movies are good. In the end, Zack Snyder completed Justice League for his daughter, so I guess I can’t fault him for that.

Justice League

The Justice League unite

Theatrical film: Justice League (2017)

Imperius Rex!

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a very difficult sequel to get right. As the thirtieth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was faced with continuing the legacy of the Black Panther without T’Challa. Although I continue to have complicated feelings about the success of Black Panther, there’s no denying the impact that it left on superhero movies and black cinema. Of course Marvel Studios wanted a sequel as soon as possible. After a record breaking box-office gross, the highest Rotten Tomatoes score for an MCU film, and their first Best Picture nomination, I wasn’t sure Black Panther II could measure up to the original. Everything changed with the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman in 2020. I was stunned when I first heard the news.

Like so many Black Panther fans, I wondered about the character’s future. There’s no right answer to such an unfortunate circumstance, but I’m still very much on the side of #RecastTChalla. T’Challa is Black Panther and I believe producer Kevin Feige’s decision not to recast was a mistake. Director Ryan Coogler was put in a very difficult position to rework a nearly completed screenplay. Although I had every reason to be nervous, the title Wakanda Forever seemed promising. I was even more won over by what may be one of the greatest teaser trailers I’ve ever seen. The teaser makes perfect use of a somber “No Woman, No Cry” cover by Tems that becomes progressively epic and hopeful. I knew Wakanda Forever would be an emotional tribute, but I was more excited to see the long-awaited MCU debut of Namor the Sub-Mariner…

63. Black Panther Wakanda Forever

The new Black Panther arrives

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is officially the final movie in Phase Four of the MCU, but I’m not sure that was always the case. The Pandemic made the release schedule very messy and several projects had to be rearranged or pushed back. Without an Avengers movie, Wakanda Forever became the epic conclusion instead. And I do mean epic; with a staggering 2 hour & 41 minute runtime. One of my biggest complaints about Phase Four is the inconsistent length of each movie. Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings were longer than they had to be, but Eternals was the biggest offender. Spider-Man: No Way Home was also long, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder overcompensated by making their movies way too short. Although I was never bored like I was with Eternals, Wakanda Forever is still too long and a bit aimless at times. Lack of a definitive main character put too much emphasis on a supporting cast that was still grieving the loss of their star Chadwick Boseman. Letitia Wright is given top-billing since Shuri is arguably the lead character.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! from here on out. Despite being the plucky comic relief in Black Panther, the scientifically proficient Shuri desperately prays to Bast in an effort to save her big brother T’Challa. It’s a disorienting sequence where Shuri attempts to replicate the heart-shaped herb that Killmonger destroyed. As Queen Romanda enters her daughter’s laboratory, she announces the terrible news that her son has joined the ancestors. T’Challa’s off-screen death is caused by an unknown illness that mirrors Boseman’s private battle with colon cancer. Boseman managed to make 7 films at the time of his illness: Marshall, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, 21 Bridges, Da 5 Bloods, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He was a real life superhero, but using his death as a plot device feels disrespectful to such a beloved character. Though not as disrespectful as rearranging the Academy Awards with the possibility of Boseman winning a posthumous Oscar. There are so many talented black actors who could’ve carried on the legacy that Boseman forged, but it’s too late to recast.

Death seemed to follow T’Challa in every movie he appeared in. When King T’Chaka was assassinated, T’Challa said death was not the end for his people. In Black Panther, Killmonger presumably killed his cousin, only for T’Challa to triumphantly declare himself not to be dead. T’Challa was eventually snapped out of existence in the war against Thanos, but he was the first to return through a portal. Even Boseman’s final voice role in What If…? spoke about death. Wakanda Forever was meant to follow King T’Challa trying to readjust after being gone for 5 years, but it was never meant to be. T’Challa is given a tearful and celebratory Wakandan funeral with all of its attendants dressed in white African garments. A moment of silence is given to the Marvel Studios logo that pays tribute to Chadwick Boseman the same way Disney+ retroactively did for the first movie. It was so quiet that I could hear everyone in the theater start to tear up. Wakanda Forever is very somber and emotional throughout, but I didn’t cry like most people watching it. Of course it was heart wrenching, but I already mourned the loss of Boseman 2 years ago.

Though there are much needed moments of levity, the heavy tone is a far cry from the rest of the MCU. From the silly Thor: Love and Thunder to the laughable She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. The horror themed Marvel Special Werewolf by Night is the only thing that can be taken seriously beforehand. Wakanda Forever is a step down from its predecessor, but it does retain a lot of the cast and crew that made Black Panther so groundbreaking. Ryan Coogler moved the plot in the best possible direction. Angela Basest delivers an Oscar worthy performance as the reinstated Queen of Wakanda. 1 year later, Queen Romanda speaks at a United Nations summit. Despite promising to share resources with the rest of the world, Wakanda chooses not to share Vibranium with invading countries. The Dora Milaje make a grand entrance in order to stop French mercenaries from stealing it. Without a Black Panther, General Okoye ends up doing most of the action, but Danai Gurira is more than up to the task. Okoye is given her own arc and emphasis is also placed on new Dora Milaje member Aneka played by Michaela Coel.

Aneka is in a lesbian relationship with Ayo just like the comics, but it’s another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene that can be easily edited out. Florence Kasumba has been Ayo ever since Captain America: Civil War. She’s been making appearances ever since, but The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was her biggest role. Romanda returns to Wakanda the same way her son did in the first movie. Oscar winning composer Ludwig Göransson returns with more African beats and other appropriate themes. The Queen Mother visits her daughter on the anniversary of T’Challa’s passing. Shuri has matured to the point of focusing on scientific study and advancement of her country. Her appearance is also more mature with a more androgynous hairstyle compared to the ones she had before. I never realized Trevor Noah was the voice of the Wakandan A.I. from the first movie, but he returns in a more prominent role as Griot. Though Shuri has developed a few interesting pieces of technology, nothing stands out the way it did in the first movie. Mother and daughter share a quiet moment in the African savannah where Romanda burns her ceremonial funeral robes in order to grieve. Though Shuri is less eager to accept what she can’t change. As next in line to the throne, Wright steps up her performance physically and dramatically.

Though it isn’t the same without T’Challa, the Vibranium race is enough to bring out a new threat. After 83 years, Namor the Sub-Mariner finally made his live-action debut. First appearing as far back as the 1939 Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 before officially debuting in Marvel Comics #1. Bill Everett created the water based Namor in response to the fire based Human Torch. Although Aquaman is considered to be the quintessential superpowered King of Atlantis, the Sub-Mariner predates the DC hero by 2 years. Namor is the first Marvel superhero and the first comic book antihero at the same time. During the Golden Age, Namor was often presented as a villain to the surface world, but his nobility kept him on the side of good. Namor fought in World War II alongside Captain America and the Human Torch. They were Marvel’s first trinity, but Namor’s role continued to change overtime. During the Silver Age, Namor was still around thanks to his immortality. Although Stan Lee had no role in creating the Sub-Mariner, he did enjoy writing Namor with more Shakespearean dialect that included his famous catchphrase “Imperius Rex!” In his long history, Namor has played a role in every Marvel superheroes journey.

Namor has gone against the Fantastic Four and been infatuated with Sue Storm. Since Namor is half human-half Atlantean, that technically makes him Marvel’s first mutant before the introduction of the X-Men. Namor has been part of the Avengers, the Defenders, the Invaders, the Illuminati, and just about every other team you can think of. So it’s kind of shocking that it took so long to bring Namor to the big screen. A live-action Sub-Mariner TV series was planned in the 50’s starring Richard Egan, but nothing ever came of it. Another live-action series was intended for the 70’s, but it was scrapped thanks to a similar series called Man from Atlantis. Namor only had animated appearances including a starring role in The Marvel Super Heroes segment “The Sub-Mariner.” Though his theme song is the least memorable. Namor continued to make major guest appearances before suddenly disappearing from Marvel media in 2006. Namor: Sub-Mariner or The Sub-Mariner is a movie Marvel intended to make as far back as 1997. When Marvel foolishly sold their rights to Universal, they held up the character for over 2 decades. Making bad adaptations is one thing, but it’s a new low for a studio to deliberately hold onto a character without ever making a movie. I had a feeling Marvel Studios regained the rights, but it was never outright confirmed until Wakanda Forever.

A S.H.I.E.L.D. map in Iron Man 2 made it seem like Atlantis was on their radar. Then fans thought Namor might appear in Captain America: The First Avenger, but that was just a rumor. The closest thing to a reference was Okoye mentioning an underground deep sea earthquake in Endgame. They considered using Namor in Multiverse of Madness, but that wouldn’t have been the best introduction. Atlantis finally makes its presence known, but it’s now called Talokan. Although I welcomed Namor into the MCU, I had mixed feelings about certain deviations from the source material. Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta plays Namor. Though he’s been acting since 2006, Huerta is generally unknown to American audiences. He was an unconventional choice, but I expected Marvel to once again capitalize on diversity. Since there are barely any prominent Hispanic superheroes in Marvel comics, Namor and the underwater civilization of Talokan was inspired by Mayan culture. Though I don’t think the name change was necessary, it actually makes a lot of sense for Talokan to be an ancient Mesoamerican kingdom. The title Sub-Mariner is never used, but his people do refer to him as the feathered serpent god Kukulkan. In the comics, Namor is white, but he’s always had exotic features. Most people assumed an Asian actor would play him, but Shang-Chi made that less likely.

Coogler was smart to embrace the unique aspects of the Sub-Mariner. Namor is known for his pointy ears and sharp eyebrows that predate Spock by several decades. His most defining feature is a set of ankle wings that give him the ability to fly. The physics never make sense, but I’m so happy to finally see it play out on screen. Since Wakanda and Atlantis have always had a complicated history, it made sense to make Namor the main villain of the movie. Wakanda is blamed for an attack on CIA agents hoping to find Vibranium deep beneath the Ocean. Like the comics, Homo mermanus have blue skin and can only breath underwater. Advanced technology is used to help them breath on dry land. Talokanil people are also denser and more formidable with weapons like water bombs and mind controlling capabilities. The attack scene is excessively dark, but it’s great seeing Namor in the shadows. He takes out several helicopters including one that contains Black Widow voice actress Lake Bell as a CIA scientist. Namor makes his presence known to Shuri and Romanda as he rises from the Wakandan ocean using his wing feet. Though I was skeptical, Tenoch Huerta is more than worthy of being Namor. He very much captures the Sub-Mariner’s conflicting ideologies as an antihero who protects his kingdom, but kills when he has to.

Huerta is charismatic and his thick accent is easy to understand. Although since Namor is a walking shirtless scene, he could’ve worked out a little harder. I also wish he didn’t have facial hair. Oscar winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter returns to create more colorful African garments along with several Mesoamerican outfits. Namor retains his trademark green fish scale speedo, golden belt, and wristbands. He’s also given leg gauntlets, beaded necklaces, jade earrings, and a nose ring. The face jewelry is too much for me, but it’s not as distracting as I thought it would be. Namor gives Wakanda an ultimatum to turn over the scientist responsible for a Vibranium tracking machine or face eternal war. Queen Romanda and members of each tribe are brought together in the throne room to discuss their next move. Merchant Tribe Elder Dorothy Steel sadly passed away before the movie’s release. Winston Duke successfully lightens the mood as the Jabari Tribe enter the room with M’Baku chomping on a carrot and calling Okoye a “bald headed demon.” Okoye is the one who recommends taking Shuri to America in search of the scientist and Romanda reluctantly accepts. Their search is enough to bring back Martin Freeman as CIA agent Everett K. Ross. He never sets foot in Wakanda, but he does help Shuri and Okoye with confidential information.

The American scientist is revealed to be Riri Williams. As much as I loved seeing the oldest Marvel superhero get much needed attention, I also had to deal with seeing the newest Marvel superhero. Ironheart was created by Brian Michael Bendis for the 2016 Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3 #7 & #9. Regardless of race, I can’t stress enough how little I care about a 6 year old Marvel superhero. Riri Williams is a young black scientific prodigy from Chicago who attends MIT in Boston and modeled her suit of armor after her eventual mentor Tony Stark. Her origin is kept intact, but Stark is downplayed for obvious reasons. Dominique Thorne adds Wakanda Forever to her impressive list of black movies that include If Beale Street Could Talk and Judas and the Black Messiah. Thorne was meant to be a source of comic relief similar to Spider-Man, but her sense of humor is very hit or miss. Riri’s introduction is almost a direct ripoff of Peter Parker’s introduction in Civil War. We see her backpack from behind and she’s confronted by another scientific genius/potential mentor. Not to mention her Ironheart YouTube videos and homework excuse that are also exactly the same. Although introducing Ironheart in Wakanda Forever kind of defeats the purpose of her being young, gifted, and black, it does make sense for her to meet Princess Shuri. Both are black female scientists, but Shuri has an African point of view and Riri has an African American point of view. Similar to the relationship between T’Challa and Killmonger, but a lot less sinister.

Riri only retaliates when Okoye attempts to take her by force. She takes them to her garage where she keeps all of her research, blueprints, and the car that belonged to her late father. Although Riri is responsible for the CIA’s Vibranium detecting machine, her presence in the movie feels unnecessary and very similar to Multiverse of Madness. Like America Chavez, Riri is protected by the heroes and sought after by the villain. Unlike Scarlet Witch, Namor’s desire to protect his underwater civilization from detection is enough to excuse some of his villainous actions. Similar to Iron Man, Riri powers up with a clunky Mark I Ironheart suit that she uses against the FBI. She even gets disoriented flying into the atmosphere just like Tony did in his first movie. Her armor is a mostly exposed suit with goggles, a booster pack, repulsor weapon, and heart shaped arc reactor. The car chase is similar to Black Panther with Shuri on a motorcycle and Okoye driving a car while using her spear as a weapon. The FBI is overshadowed by returning Talokanil foot soldiers. They plan to kill Riri, but Okoye puts up a strong fight against Namora and Attuma. In the comics, Namora is the cousin of Namor and Attuma is his long-standing archenemy. Namora and Attuma are portrayed by unknown Hispanic actors Mabel Cadena and Alex Livinalli respectively. Neither of them have much personality, but I suspect big things for them in the future.

Okoye is overpowered and Shuri willingly goes to see Namor with Riri by her side. Though they speak a Talokanil language, Shuri uses a universal translator to communicate. The loss of her daughter and entire family culminates in a powerful speech by Romanda. Resulting in a remorseful Okoye being stripped of her title as Dora Milaje. An unexpected moment where Okoye’s treacherous husband W’Kabi is mentioned. Since Daniel Kaluuya was busy with Nope, W’Kabi is currently in prison for siding with Killmonger. Ross discovers Shuri’s kimoyo beads on a bridge where he’s confronted by the new director of the CIA. Julia Louis-Dreyfus makes a surprise appearance as Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine. After recruiting antiheroes in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Black Widow, Val is given a slightly more prominent role. Though she feels especially out of place and shoehorned into a nearly 3 hour movie. Val randomly mentions being married to Ross and she eventually arrests her ex-husband for conspiring with the Wakandans. Romanda tries to track Shuri using the kimoyo beads that Ross found and she enlists the help of War Dog spy Nakia. Despite being the second billed actress in the movie, Lupita Nyong’o doesn’t appear for awhile.

Turns out Nakia has been living in Haiti ever since the Blip and death of her beloved T’Challa. Nakia now has long dreadlocks and a specially designed minisub that she uses to track down Shuri and Riri. A more diplomatic Namor recounts his origin to Shuri on dry land. Including the entire backstory of Namor is another reason for the movie’s length, but it was a necessary addition. In the comics, Namor McKenzie is the son of a human sea captain and an Atlantean noblewoman. In the movie, Namor’s pregnant mother Fen and Talokanil people ingest a similar Vibranium infused plant that turns their skin blue and takes away their ability to breath air. Though they appear normal underwater, Namor is a confirmed mutant that brings us one step closer to X-Men in the MCU. He was born with normal skin, pointed ears, and wings on his feet. His mutation also gave him an unnatural life-span from the year 1571 to present. Namor’s lack of presence in the MCU makes a lot more sense than the Eternals. His hatred for surface-dwellers stems from the Spanish conquistadors that gave his people disease. They gave him the name Namor which apparently means “the boy without love.” Shuri begins to understand Namor before diving into his underwater kingdom. After Aquaman, it was hard to compete with their depiction of Atlantis.

I didn’t think it was possible, but Talokan is too dark and generic looking with Talokanil residents awkwardly swimming around. I’m just glad they can talk underwater without any unnecessary changes. Oscar winning production designer Hannah Beachler returns, but sometimes it’s difficult to see her work. Namor does have a cool throne made from a jawbone and an over-the-top feathered headdress complete with comic accurate red cape and spear. Although it feels unnecessarily derivative, Talokan has many similarities to Wakanda. Their nation is also rich with Vibranium that they use in their clothing and weaponry. Rather than cross their arms, Talokanil people make a ball that looks suspiciously similar to “Baby Shark.” Namor attempts to convince the emotionally vulnerable Shuri to side with him in his war with the surface world. He even threatens the Queen on a beach if they refuse or attempt rescue. Nakia rescues Shuri and Riri and ignites a war between Wakanda and Talokan by killing one of their own. The attack on Wakanda is ripped straight out of the comics with Namor drowning the country. In battle, Namor is stronger than a whale, he can swim anywhere, he can breathe underwater, and go flying through the air. M’Baku discovers firsthand that Namor is potentially as strong as the Hulk. I’ll admit I did root for Namor at times, but he does cause a lot of chaos. Though she’s now a citizen, Okoye helps Nakia in rescuing Wakandan people and giving them shelter in Jabari Land.

Namor flies directly to the Wakandan throne and goes one step too far by drowning the room with Romanda and Riri in it. Romanda makes the ultimate sacrifice to save Riri, but she’s unable to save herself. Leaving Shuri to mourn the loss of another family member. Though her death was a bit telegraphed, Shuri has now dealt with as much loss as Thor. Giving her the push she needs to successfully recreate a synthetic heart-shaped herb. Although Wakanda Forever continued to tease a new Black Panther, I’m glad they didn’t throw in an unnecessary twist. Shuri obviously takes up the mantle of Black Panther. Similar to the comics, except Shuri doesn’t assume the role because T’Challa is in a coma. Comic book Shuri was jealous of her brother, but movie Shuri is only fueled by vengeance. When she enters the Ancestral Plane, we expect to see her mother, but she’s actually greeted by her cousin Killmonger. Michael B. Jordan’s shocking cameo gives the villain more screen time and allows Coogler to continue working with his favorite actor. Since Shuri is on a dark path, Killmonger fuels her hatred of Namor. When Shuri gains the power of the Black Panther, she unveils a new feminine Panther Habit made especially for her. Though Wright is a lot skinnier, she does manage to feel intimidating. Shuri’s costume is black with more gold accents and markings similar to the ones she had in Black Panther. Her traditional claws are paired with the same sonic cannons she also had in the first movie.

Shuri drops into Jabari Land just like her brother once did. As the Black Panther, newly appointed Queen Shuri initiates a counter-attack on Talokan. Though they’ve had their differences in the past, M’Baku advises Shuri to seek a peaceful solution. Shuri deliberately hides the fact that she saw Killmonger from Nakia, but she still agrees to fight in her war. The conflict is enough to inspire Riri to build an upgraded Mark II Ironheart suit made from Wakandan resources. Since the comic armor is far from iconic, her movie armor is hot-rod red with large booster rockets similar to Samus Aran. I can’t stress enough how derivative this character is. Though she voices her opposition throughout the movie, Okoye agrees to don Shuri’s upgraded Midnight Angels suit. In the comics, Ayo and Aneka are the Midnight Angels, but Okoye replaces the former since she’s given more prominence. Ayo is the new general of the Dora Milaje who leads them in battle. The climax takes place on the Atlantic Ocean with Wakandan forces using a ship called the Sea Leopard. A sonic weapon prevents Talokan from using mind control and a battle takes place on the side of the ship. CGI is dodgy just like the first movie, especially when Black Panther joins the fight.

Shuri figures out a way to incapacitate Namor by taking him away from water. She manages to dry him out using heaters on a Wakandan aircraft. Namor uses his spear to crash the aircraft and their personal fight continues on a desert island. Although I’d much rather see T’Challa and Namor’s rivalry play out on screen, I’ll settle for Shuri ripping off Namor’s wing in order to keep him grounded. Their fight gets so heated that Namor stabs Shuri through the chest, but we’ve had enough death for one movie. Namor finally utters his iconic catchphrase “Imperius Rex!” as Shuri declares “Wakanda Forever!” When a fiery explosion still isn’t enough to take out Namor, Shuri nearly impales him once and for all. The battle only stops when Shuri realizes how similar their nations are from one another. She echos her big brother’s decision to stop letting vengeance consume her. Namor agrees to make peace and move on with Wakanda as an ally. Wakanda Forever takes forever to end with several wrap up scenes in place of an after-credits scene. Though Namora is against peace with Wakanda, Namor assures her an alliance is beneficial for their future. I sincerely hope a solo Namor the Sub-Mariner movie is on the horizon. Hispanic people could use their very own Black Panther or Shang-Chi

Though Riri is unable to take her Ironheart armor out of Wakanda, Shuri does gift her with her newly repaired father’s car. I’m not looking forward to seeing more of Riri Williams, but I’ll still get my answers in her solo series Ironheart. Okoye uses her Midnight Angels suit to break Ross out of confinement, but I’m not sure where that leaves Val. Apart from her upcoming role in Thunderbolts. Shuri chooses not to challenge for the throne, so M’Baku comes full circle by presumably becoming king. Instead Shuri visits Nakia in Haiti where she tearfully burns her ceremonial funeral robes and accepts the death of her big brother. We see a final heartfelt tribute to all the moments T’Challa spent with Shuri. As the fire continues to burn, “Lift Me Up” by Rihanna plays during the closing credits. Wakanda Forever was enough to bring Rihanna back after a 6 year hiatus from releasing a solo. The mid-credits scene continues on the beach where Shuri is joined by Nakia and her surprise son Toussaint.

Chadwick Boseman will always be Black Panther, but I suspected a compromise when Toussaint revealed his Wakandan name to be T’Challa. As long as they age him up, I’ll accept him as the new Black Panther and King of Wakanda. Although a Doctor Doom teaser would’ve been cool, this was a better note to end the movie on. With Shuri as a temporary Black Panther, Wakanda Forever is technically the first major superhero movie with a black female lead. Though it feels like a funeral at times, the movie does manage to celebrate black woman. There are a few PC moments, but nothing that’s likely to rile up fans. Since most people agree that Wakanda Forever could’ve been better, it’s easier to point out flaws without being chastised. I sincerely hope it’s not nominated for Best Picture, but  I’ll welcome other Oscar nominations. For a sequel plagued by tragedy, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever successfully moves the franchise forward.

64. Black Panther Wakanda Forever

Namor prepares for battle

Preceded by: Black Panther

Sweet Child O’ Mine

Thor: Love and Thunder is hard to take seriously. As the twenty-ninth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Love and Thunder is a journey of self discovery for the God of Thunder. Up to this point, Marvel Studios only made trilogies for standalone superheroes. Since Iron Man and Captain America never got a proper 4th installment, their storylines were continued in other projects until they retired in Avengers: Endgame. Thor didn’t retire, since Thor: Ragnarok was such a surprise success that revitalized Chris Hemsworth’s love for the God of Thunder. Academy Award winning director Taika Waititi was a big reason for breathing new life into the character. Marvel Studios made an exception to the three movie rule by letting Waititi direct Thor 4.

Despite directing Jojo Rabbit in the meantime, producer Kevin Feige put way too much faith in Waititi to do whatever he wanted. Even the title Love and Thunder sounded like a joke the moment I heard it. Ragnarok was very comedic, but I always felt like something held Waititi back from being too silly. Like Wonder Woman 1984, Love and Thunder is what happens when you give a proven director too much creative freedom. It’s kind of a mess that ended up beating The Dark World as the second worst reviewed MCU film. Love and Thunder is barely fresh with a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes and a $700 million box office gross. I was neither satisfied, nor disappointed with the final product. Love and Thunder is just another Thor adventure that barely serves a purpose…

61. Thor Love and Thunder

Thor and company in Omnipotence City

Thor: Love and Thunder is so inconsequential that it received a meager 1 hour & 59 minute runtime. With the exception of the 2 hour & 10 minute Ragnarok, Thor movies have always been surprisingly short. After the equally short Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it seemed like shorter MCU movies were becoming the norm. The problem is how much they ended up cutting as a result. Love and Thunder was rewritten multiple times with several characters and storylines being cut out. Phase Four feels especially directionless at this point. Like America Chavez in Multiverse of Madness, I was unenthusiastic when I found out more modern characters from the last decade would be adapted. I had no more interest in Ms. Marvel on Disney+ than I did for Mighty Thor or Gorr the God Butcher. In his trilogy, Thor faced classic villains like his adopted Frost Giant brother Loki, Dark Elf Malekith the Accursed, and Goddess of Death sister Hela. Gorr the God Butcher was created for the 2013 Thor: God of Thunder #2. Hela’s ability to conjure weapons was actually taken from Gorr. I recognized the villain, but I knew nothing about his backstory or title.

Love and Thunder opens with a mostly faithful version of Gorr’s origin. Gorr and his daughter struggle to survive on a barren desert planet. Though they suffer, Gorr puts all of his trust in the god Rapu to grant them an eternal reward. When his daughter dies, Gorr finds a tropical oasis where he comes face to face with Rapu. The sight of a 7 ft. tall god with golden blood is almost as ridiculous as Gods of Egypt. Waititi collaborator Jonathan Brugh plays the ridiculously spiteful Rapu who tells Gorr his life is meaningless. Gorr becomes worthy of the Necrosword and slays the false god with it. In the comics, Kull created the Necrosword and symbiotes. The sword has a similar power to corrupt the one who wields it. Academy Award winner Christian Bale plays Gorr since you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Bale is committed, but the movie’s direction held him back. Only in the opening does Gorr feel like a sympathetic character. Any attempt to make Gorr funny falls flat with Bale hamming it up.

In terms of look, Gorr is supposed to have a black hood with pale white skin, no nose, and alien tentacles for ears. Though similar to Lord Voldemort, they could’ve made the design work on screen. Instead Bale has generic white makeup, white robes, and markings that he scratched out in an R rated deleted scene. Despite gaining the title God Butcher, all of Gorr’s butchering is done entirely off-screen. The Marvel Studios logo plays with a more melodic tune. Love and Thunder officially begins with Korg recapping the life of space viking Thor Odinson set to “Only Time” by Enya. The Thor movies have always had an identity crisis. Thor was a very Shakespearean way to introduce the superhero, The Dark World took itself too seriously, and Ragnarok was a lighthearted space romp. Love and Thunder is almost exactly like Ragnarok in terms of humor, soundtrack, and color palette, but they do find a way to tie every movie together. We see Thor as a baby carrying a wooden hammer with his mother Frigga on the battlefield. A running montage shows Thor as a child, a teenager sporting a classic Stan Lee & Jack Kirby costume, and an adult wearing the costume from the first movie.

Korg talks about all of Thor’s deceased loved ones like Frigga, Odin, Heimdall and Loki three times. The Warriors Three are disrespected even more than they were before. Losing his hammer, the destruction of Asgard, and failing to defeat Thanos were bigger losses that would’ve led any other character down a dark path. After 11 years of playing Thor, Chris Hemsworth managed to keep evolving the God of Thunder. Fat Thor was controversial, but he thankfully doesn’t stay that way forever. Hemsworth is in the best shape of his life with an absolutely jacked god bod. I’m personally happy that Thor managed to keep the long blonde hair that he’s known for. Love and Thunder is also a family affair since the entire Hemsworth family is involved. Thor once loved an alien pirate and a Wolf Woman played by his own wife Elsa Pataky. His twin sons Sasha and Tristan play Thor as a child and older daughter India plays Gorr’s deceased daughter. Since Waititi initially drew comedic inspiration from Guardians of the Galaxy, it only made sense for Thor to join the team at the end of Endgame.

When Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was delayed thanks to James Gunn, I knew Star-Lord, Drax, Nebula, Mantis, Kraglin, Groot, and Rocket had to appear in Love and Thunder. I didn’t think it was possible, but the Guardians of the Galaxy leave zero impression in the movie. Chris Pratt, Dave Batista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel are practically glorified cameos given a “special appearance” credit. Pratt looks a little disheveled after making several blockbusters in a row. Thor and Peter Quill don’t have the rivialy or struggle for leadership that they had before. Drax and Mantis don’t do anything worth remembering. Nebula only stands out with angry outbursts. Kraglin’s presence on the team continues to annoy me with a very unfunny joke about him marrying an alien local. Rocket notably yells at a still teenage Groot on a battlefield. Though not as dramatic as the teaser trailer, Thor’s mid-life crisis leads to him only fighting when he’s needed. So Thor plucks Stormbreaker from the ground and rides it like a witches broom. This is the first Thor film to feature Stormbreaker after it was forged in Infinity War.

Thor’s Guardians ensemble pays homage to the classic yellow boots and blue pants that he originally had in the comics. Though his red vest is more reminiscent of Thunderstrike. His white alien tank top was likely lent to him by Quill. The battle of planet Indigarr is a lot like the first fight in Ragnarok. Thor goes full God of Thunder with a one sided battle set to a classic rock song. Although “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC would’ve made more sense then “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses. It’s a fun fight scene with plenty of lightning and feats of strength like Thor doing a split mid-air. Yet it somehow feels hollow when the threat is a band of alien birds. Thor does something especially reckless when he destroys the sacred temple of King Yakan played by Stephen Curry. Though it doesn’t stop him from giving them a gift that nobody asked for. In Norse mythology, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr are goats that pull Thor’s chariot. Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder were adapted for Marvel comics, but Love and Thunder turns the fearsome creatures into constant screaming goat memes. When I say constant, I mean the joke lasts for the entire movie! It’s funny the first time, but they just keep going.

The Guardians quickly split up with Thor and Korg when they receive distress signals in the wake of Gorr’s god butchering. Before they leave, Thor drags out a hilarious handshake and Quill mentions Gamora while giving him important advice about love. Thor’s love life has taken a backseat ever since Jane Foster dumped him off-screen. Natalie Portman left the franchise after The Dark World and I lost hope that she’d ever return. Her Endgame cameo was a big surprise that signaled her triumphant return. The Thor quadrilogy is a lot like the Toy Story quadrilogy. Jane was absent in Ragnarok before returning as a badass in Love and Thunder. Much like Bo Peep between Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4. Waititi intended to make a romantic comedy, but Jane’s return was also an opportunity to adapt the Mighty Thor storyline that began with Thor #1 in 2014. Like some fans, I wasn’t on board with a female Thor replacing Thor Odinson in the comics. Unlike the movie, Jane’s identity was kept a secret for most of her run. When Thor became unworthy to lift Mjolnir, a mysterious woman came along to claim the title. Nurse turned Dr. Jane Foster was revealed to be battling cancer and the hammer gave her strength.

Since Disney was too afraid to tackle Tony Stark’s alcoholism, I wasn’t sure they’d tackle something as serious as cancer. Scientist Dr. Jane Foster is in fact battling 4th stage cancer in the MCU. They take the subject seriously, but it’s still jarring to have a colorful space battle followed by an MRI machine. Jane explains her work to someone who happens to be reading her book and it feels like she never left. Especially when Darcy Lewis decides to visit her. Darcy is another character I never expected to see again, but Kat Dennings made a welcomed return to the MCU in WandaVision. Where she went from quirky intern to accomplished young scientist. Despite being the comic relief of 2 Thor films, there’s nothing funny about Darcy talking sense into her terminally ill best friend. Jane seeks scientific means to cure herself and it’s enough to warrant a phoned in cameo from Stellan Skarsgård. Erik Selvig was once very important in the early MCU, but he hasn’t made a physical appearance since Age of Ultron.

Love and Thunder features the return of multiple MIA Thor characters. Including Lady Sif who most recently made a surprise appearance in Loki. Tom Hiddleston doesn’t appear since Loki is dead in this sacred timeline. Sif was built up as a love interest for Thor and possible competition for Jane. She made 2 seperate unofficial appearances in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before being left out of Ragnarok. Jaimie Alexander was too busy making Blindspot at the time. Sif sends Thor a distress message on a snowy planet where a comic accurate Falligar the Behemoth was slain. Thor’s first outfit change is probably his best in the movie. He rocks a mostly black viking inspired outfit with a red cape and fur collar. Sif finally wears a comic accurate red outfit with a winged tiara, but her 9 year absence is given zero explanation. Despite Alexander receiving top billing, all Sif does is lose an arm off-screen and get taken out of commision for the entire movie. It’s kind of insulting, but the movie already has an abundance of strong female characters. New Asgard is the new home for Asgardians where Valkyrie is King. The fact that she isn’t Queen is just one minor annoyance, but I’ll get to that later.

Since most of Thor’s cast has been killed off at this point, Valkyrie, Korg, and an apparently female Meik return after becoming fan favorites in Ragnarok. Jeff Goldblum and Peter Dinklage nearly returned as the Grandmaster and Eitri, but what logical purpose could they have served apart from fan service? Lena Headey was also cut, but we’re still not sure who she might’ve played. Like Waititi himself, Korg became too much of a good thing. I wouldn’t call him annoying, but you do get sick of him after a while. In addition to being narrator, Korg serves no role in the movie apart from tagging along. His dude bro relationship with Thor could’ve been filled by literally anyone else. Still no Balder the Brave after nearly appearing in Multiverse of Madness. I’ll even accept Beta Ray Bill at this point. Valkyrie is tired of the bureaucracy that comes with being a ruler. It doesn’t really go anywhere since Tessa Thompson has a weird lazy energy that makes it unclear what Val really wants. She’s not shown to be a very good ruler and being a warrior doesn’t work out for her either. I think her drinking is supposed to be in response to losing her fellow Valkyrie, but even that isn’t fully addressed.

Thompson was way too desperate to make Valkyrie the first LGBT MCU character. She kept baiting fans with the promise of a “Queen,” but the movie has no time for that. All Valkyrie does is kiss a fair maiden’s hand and have a pointless conversation with Korg about a past girlfriend. It’s not as forced as Korg claiming to have two dads that conceived him despite making it clear he had a mom in Ragnarok. It leads to Korg meeting another male Kronan with a mustache in the end. New Asgard has become a tourist destination set to “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses. Asgardians give tours, flying boat rides, and Valkyrie does Old Spice commercials. They also open an Infinity Conez ice cream parlor that feels like the MCU equivalent of opening a Hitler themed restaurant. Another reused joke is having a second Asgardian theater performance depicting the events of Ragnarok. It was funny the first time, but now Waititi is just making fun of his own movie. Luke Hemsworth, Matt Damon, and Sam Neill return as the Thor, Loki, and Odin actors respectively. They perform Odin’s death followed by the arrival of Hela. I’ll admit I didn’t expect Melissa McCarthy, but this is a comedy after all. Even her husband Ben Falcone is there as a stage manager.

Although they aren’t canon, even Daley Pearson shows up as Thor’s flatmate Daryl from the Team Thor shorts. He’s a tour guide who shows people the remains of Mjolnir in a special exhibit. When science fails her, Jane seeks viking space magic for a cure. Thor returns home for the first time since joining the Guardians. Gorr uses shadow monsters to attack the people of New Asgad. Valkyrie brings her renamed pegasus Warsong to the fight wearing her pajamas. It’s a brief reunion, but Thor becomes distracted when he sees his hammer in action. Thor enthusiastically reaches for Mjolnir, but it ends up in the hands of Mighty Thor. Jane has the comic accurate red cape, blonde hair, and helmet that covers her face, but her breastplate isn’t exactly the same. Despite being 5′ 3″, Portman managed to put on an impressive amount of muscle for the part. Jane made jokes before, but now she really tries to be funnier. Most of it amounts to Mighty Thor trying to find a catchphrase. Thor is so confused that he changes his look to a ridiculously primary red, blue, and gold outfit based on his battle armor from the comics. I’m just glad he takes off his goofy helmet mask after discovering Jane is the new Thor.

Korg recounts the events between Thor choosing to live on Earth with Jane and their inevitable breakup that we never got to see. Now it’s definitely a rom-com complete with a cheesy romantic montage set to “Our Last Summer” by ABBA. I’m not sure rollerblading with Mjolnir or Thor dressing up like a hot dog are what they had in mind after the end of The Dark World. Thor and Jane learn from each other, but things get complicated when Thor becomes busy as an Avenger and Jane becomes busy as a scientist. Jane broke up by letter, but they finally reunite 8 years later on the battlefield. Jane’s Mighty Thor origin is adjusted for the continuity of the MCU. Since Thor never became unworthy, a protective enchantment caused Mjolnir to reforge in order to keep Jane safe. Giving the hammer a cool new ability to break apart and come back together again. Thor doesn’t have time to process it when Gorr attacks the God of Thunder. There’s not much of a rivalry between them, but their battles are intense. Gorr only succeeds in kidnapping the children of New Asgard. Thor vows to return the children, but he runs into a few complications.

Though shocked by Jane’s transformation, he’s more jealous of Mjolnir being with someone else. The movie adds a bizarre, but funny love triangle between Thor, Mjolnir, and Stormbreaker. Despite never showing sentiance in the past, Stormbreaker is clearly jealous of Thor’s love for his old weapon. Which effects Stormbreaker’s ability to open the Bifröst. It’s a convoluted way to have Thor and company ride a boat pulled by Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder to their next destination. More convenient is having Heimdall’s kidnapped son magically appear as a floating head to give them directions. The CGI isn’t too bad when it comes to creatures and landscapes, but effects like this are just embarrassing. Astrid Heimdallson has never been mentioned before, but naming himself Axl after the Guns N’ Roses frontrunner makes you take their situation a lot less seriously. I feel like the child element was just an excuse to have Bale, Portman, and Waititi’s children be part of the movie too. Thor visits the children using Axl’s all-seeing eyes and discovers they’re being taken to the Shadow Realm.

Just like the Revengers, Thor puts together a team consisting of Valkyrie, Korg, and Jane. Jane isn’t doing so well, but she has a fleeting female bonding moment with Val. Together they embark on a quest to Omnipotence City. Despite making four Thor movies, Alfheim (home of the Light Elves) remains the only unseen location in the Nine Realms. Even Infinity War depicted Nidavellir when it was necessary. Accepting Norse gods in the MCU was tricky enough, but Love and Thunder introduces gods from almost every mythology. It’s in the comics, but I never expected Marvel Studios to go this far. Omnipotence City is home to the most powerful gods in the universe. Including Olympian god Dionysus, Panther goddess Bast, Japanese god Jademurai, Roman goddess Minerva, Kronan god Ninny of the Nonny, a couple of Celestials, and Zeus himself. Egyptian god Ra is mentioned, but no Moon Knight characters appear for some reason. As a Christian, I am a little turned off by the idea of every religion’s god being real in the MCU. At least most of them are depicted as petty or buffoonish. I knew it was all a joke when a cartoon Bao god showed up.

Sadly, Zeus is the biggest joke that Academy Award winner Russell Crowe can’t even save. His decision to use an authentic Greek accent is very hard to take seriously. Thor looks up to Zeus since they’re both thunder & lightning gods, but he’s nothing like his father Odin. Zeus is technically in character when he talks about human sacrifice and mentions an orgy. Thor is chained up and stripped of his clothing since these shirtless scenes are becoming more gratuitous. Despite the PG-13 rating, Chris Hemsworth shows his butt for the first time since Rush. Thor’s back tattoos reveal a tribute to Loki and a list of other deceased loved ones. Including his father, mother, Heimdall, Tony Stark, and Natasha Romanoff. Zeus dismisses Thor’s plea to fight Gorr and it doesn’t lead to mass carnage in Omnipotence City. Instead Zeus shows off his Thunderbolt skills and forces him to stay. It leads to a battle with Thor, Mighty Thor, Valkyrie, and Korg fighting gold blooded Olympian guards. Zeus throwing his Thunderbolt at Korg would’ve been great if they didn’t once again treat everything like a joke. Korg’s face survives long enough to keep pestering the audience.

Thor surprisingly kills Zeus with his own Thunderbolt despite realizing his friend is alive. The treatment of Zeus is even more baffling when you see a deleted scene of the Olympian god giving Thor fatherly advice and assistance with Thunderbolt. Instead Valkyrie steals the weapon and they escape Omnipotence City. Thor only discovers Jane has cancer after clumsily professing his love for her. They decide to live in the moment and share a passionate kiss. All color fades when they enter the Shadow Realm. Giving the movie a visually unique excuse for a black & white sequence. It’s only at Omnipotence City that Thor discovers Gorr’s plan to wish for the mass extinction of gods using Eternity. I can honestly say I never expected to see the cosmic entity on the big screen, but Eternity’s solar system silhouette is very comic accurate. Mighty Thor realizes it’s a trap when Stormbreaker is revealed to by the key by opening the Rainbow Bridge. Gorr taunts his enemies and threatens Thor’s loved ones until he summons his axe. The fight in the Shadow Realm is an epic battle of the gods where color only returns when weapons are used.

Valkyrie is injured and taken out of commision just like Sif. Gorr manages to snatch Stormbreaker and Jane becomes too weak from using Mjolnir. Thor tries to convince Jane to stay behind and accept treatment, but she joins him anyway in a crazy climax. Thor first arrives through the use of Thunderbolt and saves the children. He gives the kids a pep talk and now possesses the ability to lend the power of Thor to his child army. The sight of children using stuffed animals and other weapons infused with lightning set to “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses may be the silliest part of an already silly movie. Mighty Thor’s arrival on Warsong is grand, but her dismissal of the name Lady Thor is too on the nose. The two Thors defeat Gorr using teamwork to break his Necrosword. SPOILER ALERT! Everyone thought Jane would take the spotlight from the original Thor, but her death is a comic accurate progression of her character.

A dying Gorr manages to reach Eternity, but he decides to choose Love when he sees Thor and Jane together. Though I once called their relationship a schoolyard crush, I finally began to understand their love for each other. Thor credits his worthiness to Jane and that opens his heart to love again. Turns out Gorr’s daughter is literally named Love. While the rest of New Asgard train the next generation, Thor becomes a dad by raising his enemies daughter. I’m sure it’s an excuse to have Chris Hemsworth work directly with his real life daughter. She’s not the best actress and her heat vision is just weird, but I’m glad Thor finally hit the reset button. Only at the end does Thor decide to wield Mjolnir and give Stormbreaker to Love. The title only makes sense when you realize Love and Thunder is referring to the two of them. It’s followed by a colorful rock inspired credits sequence set to the movie’s primary theme “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by (you guessed it) Guns N’ Roses.

The mid-credits scene is something I’ve been wanting to see for a long time. Zeus survives and we can finally take him seriously when he voices his disdain for superheroes and desire to be feared once again. I knew that had to mean Hercules making his MCU debut. I’m not familiar with Brett Goldstein’s work in Ted Lasso, but it’s awesome to see him in a comic accurate orange and green gladiator outfit. The rivalry between Thor and Hercules holds a lot of weight in Marvel comics, but I’m not sure when it will ever be addressed. The after-credits scene is simply Jane being accepted into Valhalla. The only place Idris Elba can make a last minute appearance as Heimdall. Though they show the text “Thor will return” at the end, I sincerely hope Waititi isn’t involved. He did well with Ragnarok, but Love and Thunder goes too far with comedy and it’s treatment of beloved characters. Thor: Love and Thunder is an entertaining mess.

62. Thor Love and Thunder

Gorr the God Butcher

Preceded by: Thor: Ragnarok

The Book of Vishanti

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the closest thing to a horror movie in the MCU. As the twenty-eighth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness explored the multiverse even further. Doctor Strange eased audiences into the magical realm of the Sorcerer Supreme. Which is why Multiverse of Madness is a no holds barred display of witchcraft and wizardry. Unlike most MCU superheroes, Benedict Cumberbatch made 4 separate appearances before finally getting a direct sequel 5 years later. Doctor Strange helped Thor and Loki find Odin in Thor: Ragnarok, helped Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy fight Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, helped the Avengers save the universe in Avengers: Endgame, and recently helped Spider-Man with his secret identity in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Strange has a history of helping his fellow heroes in Marvel comics, but we rarely remember his own adventures. Original director Scott Derrickson wanted to make the first scary MCU film. Producer Kevin Feige supported the idea as long as it was still PG-13. Even the title Multiverse of Madness feels like Lovecraftian horror. Alas, Derrickson became yet another MCU director to leave sighting creative differences. He left to make the more conventional horror movie The Black Phone. Without a director, Multiverse of Madness marked the surprise return of original Spider-Man trilogy director Sam Raimi. Though he kept himself busy producing independent horror movies, Raimi hasn’t directed a film since Oz the Great and Powerful in 2013. His horror roots and experience with Marvel superheroes made him the perfect choice to direct Multiverse of Madness. Making the Doctor Strange reference in Spider-Man 2 even more ironic…

59. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange, Wong, and America Chavez hideout in Kamar-Taj

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a better Doctor Strange sequel than a multiverse movie. After the immense billion dollar success of No Way Home, Marvel fans were desperate for more of the multiverse. What we got in the meantime was the underwhelming Moon Knight on Disney+. It’s possible fan expectations were too high. After bringing so many past Spider-Man characters into the MCU, we all assumed Doctor Strange would travel through every single Marvel movie from the early 2000’s. The idea became a lot less realistic as soon as we found out the runtime was a mere 2 hours & 6 minutes. After the excessive length of Eternals, I’m glad a shorter MCU movie is the one where I desperately needed to use the bathroom. No Way Home was long, but it used its time wisely. I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with the rushed pace of Multiverse of Madness. After a Marvel Studios logo that mostly consists of Doctor Strange clips, we’re thrown directly into the action. Since Doctor Strange’s comic accurate design is already perfect, Benedict Cumberbatch gets a chance to play several unique variants.

Defender Strange is based on his appearance in The Defenders 2011 comic book run. This variant has a cool dark blue & red tunic with no cloak, light blue Mandalas, and a ponytail. He can also speak Spanish since this Sorcerer Supreme is protecting America Chavez. As I’ve said before, I have little to no love for the Marvel characters who were created in the last decade. America made her debut in the 2011 Vengeance #1. I never liked her because she felt so much like a forced PC character. Chavez is a Hispanic, lesbian, woman of color who happens to be named America. As stated in my No Way Home review, America’s MCU debut was delayed until Multiverse of Madness. I expected the worst, but the 14 year old Xochitl Gomez is actually tolerable in the part. Her sexuality isn’t depicted since there’s no reason for it. America has a comic accurate blue denim jacket with stars and stripes, but no short shorts. Her power to open star shaped portals into other dimensions is actually pretty interesting.

Defender Strange tries to protect America’s power, but a monstrous demon chases them through a space between spaces. The Gap Junction is an imaginative location with a purple hue and mosaic patterns. Though it does feel like something you’d encounter in a video game. The visual effects match the psychedelic nature of Doctor Strange, but the glossy CGI monsters are passable at best. The demon manages to give Defender Strange a nasty leg wound. Multiverse of Madness is surprisingly violent, but it never quite reaches R rated territory. Sam Raimi actually hasn’t directed an R rated film since the year 2000. Even Drag Me to Hell somehow got away with a PG-13 rating. You can immediately tell you’re watching a Raimi film based on his disorienting camera techniques and artistic visual style. In order to stop the beast, Strange takes America’s power using the same justification about the grand calculus of the multiverse he used for Peter Parker in the current universe. Exploring the multiverse doesn’t feel quite as special after everything that was accomplished in No Way Home. Probably because Multiverse of Madness was meant to come out first.

The original Phase Four slate was suppose to be Black Widow, Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. Unfortunately, the Pandemic screwed everything up. So Multiverse of Madness went from May 2021 all the way to May 2022. A few rewrites were needed in order to change Strange’s experience with the multiverse. Spider-Man is mentioned in a humorous way, but they don’t dwell on the movie’s repercussions. As an emotionally distressed America gets sucked into her own portal, MCU Stephen Strange wakes from a nightmare. Though he’s far from the arrogant neurosurgeon he once was, the sequel finally addresses the past Strange left behind to become a Master of the Mystic Arts. Of course he still uses magic even to tie a tie for a wedding. Michael Stuhlbarg returns as rival colleague Dr. Nicodemus West who criticizes Strange for his role in the Blip. Rachel McAdams gets a lot more attention as former love interest Dr. Christine Palmer. She’s the one getting married since Stephen never made the relationship work.

Though Christine claims her husband is a big fan of Doctor Strange, he doesn’t play much of a role in their doomed love story. Christine talks to Stephen after he conjures up a glass of wine for her. Strange already learned the lesson to put others before himself, and although he re-learns the lesson, Christine makes him question whether or not he’s happy. That’s about all the character development we get, since Doctor Strange immediately springs into action the moment duty calls. Pulling the Cloak of Levitation out of thin air while spinning around and jumping off a building is honestly one of the most badass suiting up sequences in the MCU. Frequent Raimi collaborator Danny Elfman performs a heroic theme along with several other creepy orchestrations. Doctor Strange encounters an invisible threat pursuing the girl of his dreams. He lifts the veil only to find a massive one eyed tentacle creature that resembles Shuma-Gorath from the comics. Its name was changed to Gargantos since Marvel apparently didn’t have the rights to the name.

Strange uses several new spells like disassembling a bus and conjuring up a giant saw blade. Though his Cloak does a lot of the work when Strange gets knocked out. He’s joined in battle by the Sorcerer Supreme. No Way Home was also the first place we discovered Wong was now the Sorcerer Supreme. I’m still conflicted by the decision, because Doctor Strange should be the Sorcerer Supreme in his own movie. At least Benedict Wong is still likable in all of his appearances. Wong fights back using a magical throwing dagger. When Strange wakes up, they discuss the custom of bowing to the Sorcerer Supreme. Gargantos is only defeated when Strange uses enlarged magic hands to pluck out its eye with a light post. It’s a gruesome image that I didn’t expect to see in a Marvel movie. Strange and Wong have a word with America who tells them about the comic accurate Book of Vishanti that her and Defender Strange were looking for. The spellbook is capable of giving a sorcerer whatever power they require to vanquish a threat. She also shows them the corpse of Defender Strange who made it to their universe.

Though the multiverse has been discussed several times, it turns out dreams are simply other universes that a person sees in their sleep. It’s a bizarre detail that makes it seem like Nightmare was supposed to be the villain of the movie. Doctor Strange doesn’t have too many familiar antagonists, but that feels like a missed opportunity. Instead the movie’s villain is a very familiar witch. Wanda Maximoff returns 1 year after forcing an entire town to live out her sitcom fantasy. WandaVision is the first Disney+ series to directly tie into an MCU film. Despite the chaos that Wanda brought to Westview, Doctor Strange didn’t show up for some ridiculous reason. Instead he finds Wanda in a orchard where he shrugs off the events of WandaVision. Strange mentions Hawkeye and several bug themes crimefighters as alternatives to seeking Wanda’s help with America. When Wanda was revealed to be part of Multiverse of Madness, I assumed Strange would be a mentor teaching her to control her magic. Instead the Scarlet Witch drops the act by revealing her orchard to be a decaying hellscape where she’s been corrupted by the Darkhold.

The Book of the Damned has made several unofficial appearances in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Runaways before officially belonging to Agatha Harkness in WandaVision. When Wanda finally became the Scarlet Witch, she received a more comic accurate red costume with a pointy tiara. The only minor change was giving her sleeves and blackened fingertips. Wanda uses the Darkhold to find her boys Billy and Tommy in another universe using America’s power. Julian Hilliard and Jett Klyne return as the future Wiccan and Speed respectively. WandaVision made Billy and Tommy feel like real children, but their movie portrayal is very one dimensional. They live with a variant of Wanda and do things like sing cringy songs about ice cream and watch Disney approved movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Vision is nowhere to be seen since Wanda is more concerned with being a mother. It’s kind of ironic that the abbreviation of Multiverse of Madness is MoM. Though it’s jarring to see Scarlet Witch in another much more villainous role, Elizabeth Olsen manages to find her humanity. Tom Hiddleston was rumored to return as Loki, but all of his multiverse breaking shenanigans will have to be answered in his own show.

Strange accidentally tells Wanda that America is being protected in Kamar-Taj. They’re joined by a battle ready Wong and sorcerers from the Hong Kong and London Sanctums. I love that a talking green minotaur sorcerer is given zero explanation. Rintrah is in the comics, but even the most hardcore Marvel fans probably didn’t know that. Ancient One decoy Master Hamir returns along with new sorcerers like Sheila Atim as Master Sara. Sorcerers have their Mandalas and heavy magic cannons to defend Kamar-Taj. Scarlet Witch arrives in a cloud of smoke to have words with Doctor Strange. She calls him a hypocrite for regularly breaking the rules. The attack on Kamar-Taj shows Wanda once again use her power of persuasion to lower a protective shield. Scarlet Witch kills many sorcerers, but Strange holds her off with the Mirror Dimension. Unlike previous appearances, Multiverse of Madness is a lot less reliant on the visually impressive kaleidoscopic realm. Wanda manages to escape using reflections that contort her body like some kind of monster. America is unable to control her powers, but Wanda manages to unlock them.

In order to protect her, Strange and America end up traveling through the multiverse. In the process, the Cloak of Levitation is damaged. In about 30 seconds we’re teased with a countless number of universes. We see Living Tribunal heads, crystals, giant bees, an underwater world, futuristic technology, skeletons, dinosaurs, an animated world, a cubic world, and even a paint world. That’s about the extent of multiversal madness, since Strange and America stick with one universe for most of the movie. Despite visiting well over 70 universes, America is somehow unable to get them back. Doctor Strange is stuck helping a young superhero for the second time in a row. They explore a universe that’s more like the distant future with red stop lights and a New York city teaming with plant life. America manages to find tasty looking pizza balls at a Pizza Poppa stand. The perfect opportunity for an over-the-top Bruce Campbell cameo. Just like Evil Dead II, Strange casts a particularly harsh spell that makes Pizza Poppa continually punch himself. The after-credits scene is just Campbell telling the audience the movie is over after his possessed hand wares off.

Though it’s ridiculously convenient, Strange and America watch their own important flashbacks on a futuristic device called Memory Lane. Strange sees his younger beardless self on a date with Christine where she gave him the now broken watch. America sees her own mostly comic accurate origin story. The only LGBT reference in the movie is the fact that America has two mommies. America Chavez is from the Utopian Parallel where she was raised by her moms. In the movie, being scared by a bee manages to send her moms somewhere in the multiverse never to be seen again. Strange and America manage to find this universe’s Sanctum Sanctorum with a monument to a fallen Doctor Strange credited with defeating Thanos. Without Strange, the Sanctum is guarded by Baron Karl Mordo. Although Doctor Strange turned Mordo into an ally, an after-credits scene made him more villainous like the comics. Chiwetel Ejiofor certainly has a better look with a more comic accurate green tunic, bread, and dreadlocks. He just isn’t the Mordo we knew from the first movie. That version doesn’t appear at all, so we’ll have to wait even longer to know what evil scheme he’s up to.

This Mordo considers Strange to be a brother and invites him into the Sanctum. They discuss Wanda’s plan over a cup of tea. Back in Kamar-Taj, Scarlet Witch uses the Darkhold to establish a “dreamwalk” that will allow her to possess the body of her alternate universe self. Now it really feels like a horror movie with Wanda being haunted by disturbing visions before ultimately being taken over. The dreamwalk is broken when Master Sara burns the book. Wong is forced to reveal the location of the original Darkhold text on Mount Wundagore. The forbidden ruins are located in the snowy mountains and guarded by demons that serve the Scarlet Witch. Mordo is not so good after all when he drugs Strange and America. They wake up in a containment cell with power dapping cuffs. Strange is greeted by a scientist who turns out to be a variant of Christine. Although Mysterio made up the name Earth-616, Christine also happens to give the MCU the comic accurate moniker. The universe they’re on now is called Earth-838. 838 Christine was a lover of the deceased Strange, but they too were unable to make their relationship work.

SPOILER ALERT! I gasped with joy the moment Christine mentioned the Baxter Foundation, but the surprises just keep coming. Mordo is joined by Ultron Sentries who take him to see the Illuminati. Marvel’s Illuminati are a secret society of superheroes who were first established in the 2005 New Avengers #7. The team is mostly composed of leaders from important teams in the Marvel Universe. Iron Man represents the Avengers, Black Panther represents Wakanda, Namor represents Atlantis, Professor X represents the X-Men, Mister Fantastic represents the Fantastic Four, Black Bolt represents the Inhumans, and Doctor Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme. In the movie, Baron Mordo is the Sorcerer Supreme who replaced Doctor Strange. I didn’t expect to see a live action Captain Carter so soon after her debut in What If…? Hayley Atwell reprises the role in person with an exact recreation of her costume and Union Jack shield. I was pleasantly surprised to see a faithful adaptation of Black Bolt on the big screen. More surprising is the fact that Anson Mount gets to redeem himself after the awful Inhumans ABC series. Though it’s somehow more disappointing to know what might have been.

Blackagar Boltagon has a far better comic accurate black costume with a cowl, tuning fork, and wingsuit. Like the comics, Black Bolt’s voice is so powerful that he only communicates through sign language. After her confirmed death in WandaVision, I thought I’d never see Maria Rambeau again, but Lashana Lynch plays a version of Captain Marvel with the same cosmic powers and a silver costume. I didn’t know how far Marvel Studios was willing to go, but I cheered the moment Reed Richards transported on screen played by fan favorite actor John Krasinski. Ioan Gruffudd (not Miles Teller!) would’ve been a good choice too, but the casting of Krasinski gave me hope for the long overdue MCU reboot of Fantastic Four. His performance is a little awkward, but I think I just need to see him in his own ensemble movie. Mister Fantastic has the grey temples and beard of later incarnations along with an MCU inspired black & blue costume complete with prominent “4” symbol. The final member is dramatically revealed with the iconic X-Men: The Animated Series theme.

Despite trailers ruining the surprise, I was overjoyed to see Patrick Stewart return as the most comic accurate Professor Charles Xavier he’s ever played. It only took 7 X-Men and/or Wolverine movies since the year 2000. Xavier has the comic accurate telepathic hand gestures and a mostly cartoon inspired green suit and bright yellow hover chair. Multiverse of Madness is the first Marvel movie to mention Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. I’m sure Stan Lee would be proud of finally being able to reach that point. Though I’m proud of Marvel Studios for staying true to the Illuminati, I am disappointed that they felt the need to include Captain Carter and Captain Marvel. Fans were disappointed to know a Superior Iron Man wasn’t on the team. Tom Cruise playing the part would’ve been a clever nod to him almost playing Tony Stark in the MCU. Namor was also considered (more on him later). Apparently the continually absent Balder the Brave was even on the team played by Daniel Craig, but he was replaced at the last minute. Black Bolt and Mister Fantastic were so last minute that their costumes had to be done with CGI and not everyone was on set at the same time.

The Illuminati judge 616 Doctor Strange based on the actions of his 838 counterpart. Reed talks about an “incursion” that causes the destruction of an entire universe. 838 Strange recklessly used the Darkhold in order to defeat Thanos. The image of an impaled Thanos on Titan is not something I expected to see after Endgame. 838 Strange has no beard and a classic blue Cloak of Levitation that Reed holds. The Illuminati sentence Strange to death using one whisper from Black Bolt. Wanda reestablishes her dreamwalk in order to find America and stop anyone who gets in her way. Although most of the Illuminati have their doubts about Strange, Professor X encourages him using the same exact words he told his younger self in X-Men: Days of Future Past. I’m starting to sense a pattern with these callback lines. Scarlet Witch destroys several Ultron Sentries before coming face to face with a flying Captain Marvel, Captain Carter using a jetpack, Black Bolt using his wingsuit, and Mister Fantastic stretching into action. Reed tries to reason with Wanda by bringing up his own children Franklin and Valeria Richards. Their mother Sue Storm is mentioned as someone left to raise them.

Despite being dubbed “the smartest man alive,” Reed makes the dumbest decision by telling Wanda Black Bolt can destroy her with one whisper from his mouth. The line “What mouth?” is not as shocking as seeing a mouthless Black Bolt blow his own brains out with his voice. I was even more stunned to see Wanda turn Mister Fantastic into spaghetti before making a proper MCU debut. Wanda not immediately killing Captain Carter or Captain Marvel is a nonsensical excuse for an all-girl fight scene. Captain Carter shouldn’t be a threat, but she does get to say “I could do this all day.” Her death is especially brutal with Wanda using her shield to cut her in half. Captain Marvel lasts the longest, but she’s ultimately killed when a column lands on her. Xavier temporarily subdues Wanda by entering her mind in a very comic accurate mindscape sequence. He finds 838 Wanda trapped under rubble, but the Scarlet Witch appears in a cloud of red smoke to break Xavier’s neck. This will be the third time Charles Xavier died after being disintegrated in X-Men: The Last Stand and stabbed in Logan.

After less than 20 minutes of screen time, the entire Illuminati is slaughtered by the Scarlet Witch. I’d be mortified if they weren’t variants of characters who will likely appear again in the future. Mordo isn’t killed, but Strange goads him into a one on one confrontation. The fight is a bit underwhelming since it gets to a point where neither sorcerer can use their magic. Christine gives the Cloak a blue patch and decides to trust Strange and America. Before he died, Xavier told them to find the Book of Vishanti. Strange floods a hallway in order to stall Wanda. Christine’s watch becomes important when Strange uses it as a key to enter the mind bending Gap Junction. They find the glowing Book of Vishanti, but Wanda catches up to them and destroys it. America is kidnapped and her power is used to banish Strange and Christine to a universe destroyed by an incursion. Wanda mostly wants America’s universe traveling power to ensure her children are always with her. Strange and Christine have time to talk about their failed relationship on the way to another Sanctum Sanctorum. This Sanctum is more like a haunted house guarded by a Doctor Strange who was corrupted by the Darkhold.

Though he acts like Strange Supreme from What If…?, this evil Strange isn’t the same. 616 Strange reasons with him using a story about his deceased sister Donna Strange that is faithful to the comics. The sinister Strange will only hand over the Darkhold in exchange for Christine. His actions reveal a third eye that I never thought I’d see in live action. The Strange vs. Strange fight is one of the most creative fights in the MCU. When 616 Strange enchants a musical note, it turns into a literal musical battle with both Stranges building to an explosive crucindo. Danny Elfman really outdid himself with his “Lethal Symphonies.” The sinister Strange being impaled on a gate doesn’t shock me at this point. With America and Wong in trouble in the other universe, Strange makes the controversial decision to dreamwalk using the Darkhold in a candlelit ceremony. The only body he can dreamwalk in happens to be the corpse of Defender Strange. Possessing a dead body is enough to bring out the Souls of the Damned who nearly envelop Strange. Christine saves him using the Brazier of Bom’Galiath that Strange didn’t know how to use in the first movie. Turns out a candle turns it into a flamethrower.

Strange regains control and uses the demons to his advantage. Zombie Strange using Souls of the Damned as a cloak is something only Sam Raimi could pull off. Wong is unfazed by the revelation as they both attempt to stop Wanda. America accepts losing her powers, but zombie Strange gives her a last minute lesson about believing in herself. America nearly knocks Wanda into several hellish universes before giving her what she wants. Billy and Tommy break her heart by seeing her as a monster. 838 Wanda comforts her, but the damage is done. I’m sure we’ll see Wanda again, but for now the Scarlet Witch is defeated when she allows Mount Wundagore to be destroyed. Before America comes to find them, Stephen proclaims his love to Christine and tells her fear is the reason they never worked out. Strange accepts Wong as Sorcerer Supreme back in Kamar-Taj where America is an apprentice. I’m not sure where they’re going with that since that’s the role she would’ve had in No Way Home. Strange lets go of Christine by finally repairing his broken watch. All seems well, but like the Evil Dead franchise, a shocking twist reveals Strange to have grown a third eye.

It only takes a quick rorschach inspired credits sequence to show Strange perfectly fine in a mid-credits scene. As a dedicated Marvel fan who knows just enough about Doctor Strange, I was happy to see his longtime love interest Clea finally make an MCU appearance. Charlize Theron is an unexpected, but welcomed addition to the MCU. She has the wonderfully ridiculous purple costume and white hair from the comics. In the comics, Clea is the niece of Dormammu who once ruled the Dark Dimension. She talks about an incursion caused by Strange that he has to fix. Doctor Strange accepting his third eye and embarking on an adventure with Clea feels like the sequel we were suppose to be getting, but I’m not sure when we’ll see them again. That’s what happens when a sequel is used to continue the arc of a prominent character like Scarlet Witch and the multiverse overshadows everything else. Multiverse of Madness was a success, but it only managed to make $900 million. Everything Everywhere All at Once became the bigger critical success since the movie arguably took more advantage of the multiverse concept. I know I expected more, but Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness casts a good enough spell for me.

60. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

The Scarlet Witch prepares to Dreamwalk

Preceded by: Doctor Strange

Hero or Menace?

Spider-Man: No Way Home is the culmination of everything amazing and spectacular about Spider-Man. As the twenty-seventh installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man: No Way Home dealt with the aftermath of Peter Parker losing his secret identity. Far From Home ended on such a big cliffhanger that any Marvel fan would be desperate to see the outcome. Disney came dangerously close to losing Spider-Man when the ever present Sony decided to cut ties with producer Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios. Barely a month went by after Far From Home was released that the terrible news was announced. I hated the thought of a third Spider-Man movie made by Sony and I wasn’t alone. Thankfully Tom Holland convinced both studios to come to their spidey-senses.

No Way Home is the best experience I had in a movie theater since Avengers: Endgame. It’s everything a Spider-Man fan could possibly ask for. I know there are people who will say Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best, but No Way Home balances nostalgia and fan services with a thoroughly entertaining story. Which is why No Way Home became the first movie since the Pandemic to gross well over a billion dollars at the box-office. Proof that fans and general moviegoers know what they want to see in theaters. Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings were great standalone movies, but they aren’t exactly required viewing just yet. Unlike No Way Home, Eternals failed because no one cared who or what an Eternal was. Spider-Man is my favorite superhero and No Way Home is the movie I’ve been waiting 19 years for…

57. Spider-Man No Way Home

Spider-Men stand together

Spider-Man: No Way Home is the fourth Phase Four movie released in 2021. It was delayed twice from July to November, and finally December. Making No Way Home the first live action Spider-Man movie released during Christmas season instead of the summer. Into the Spider-Verse was also a December movie, but it grossed little more than $300 million. The difference is No Way Home was live action, a sequel, an MCU movie, and had major fan expectations that all payed off. Jon Watts became the first MCU director to direct all three movies in his trilogy. The reason they didn’t wait until 2022 is because every installment in the MCU Spider-Man trilogy was released 2 years after the next. Since the cast wouldn’t stay young forever, they couldn’t wait like other MCU sequels. Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up immediately after the mid-credits scene in Far From Home. Mysterio’s revenge recording can be heard during the opening logos for Sony, Columbia Pictures, and Marvel Studios. Spider-Man movies are once again the only place to see the webhead in the Marvel logo.

When Peter Parker’s identity is revealed, his “What the f-” exclamation is suddenly cut off by a horn. As expected, The Daily Bugle paints Spider-Man as a menace and public enemy #1. Some New Yorkers continue to love Spidey, but others believe he was responsible for Mysterio’s drone attack. It’s a fast-paced and fun sequence where Peter frantically swings MJ all around New York city. Rogers: The Musical can be seen in the background. Ned can only react with “Dude!” and Flash’s world is turned upside down when he discovers the classmate he hates is also the hero he loves. When they return to Peter’s apartment, Aunt May and Happy are in the middle of a breakup. Only to be interrupted by Peter and MJ in a very awkward position. The MCU Spider-Man movies have always had surprisingly funny sex jokes. In only one take, Aunt May and Happy discover the apartment is being watched by people who know Peter Parker is Spider-Man. After their brief appearance in Homecoming, the Department of Damage Control return to investigate Spider-Man’s superhero activity and the Stark technology that he used.

Peter, MJ, Ned, and Aunt May are all interrogated by head DODC Agent Cleary played by Arian Moayed. You can see more from him in Ms. Marvel. Peter discovers Nick Fury was off world the entire time, but you’ll have to get your answers in Secret Invasion. Tom Holland’s popularity only increased since playing the friendly neighborhood wallcrawler. Despite taking on more mature roles, Holland is still the most lovable lighthearted Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Though he’s dealt with loss before, No Way Home pushes Peter to his absolute limit. I was never crazy about Michelle Jones essentially replacing Mary Jane, but MJ is given the comic accurate last name Watson. She just doesn’t go by the name for some reason. MJ working in a coffee shop is also a clever nod to previous Mary Jane portrayals. Zendaya has grown more confident in the role without losing her cynical sense of humor. Euphoria is of course her biggest role since joining the MCU.

Jacob Batalon lost a lot of weight to reprise his role as Ned Leeds. Fans assumed it was done so he could become the Hobgoblin like the comics, but there’s no specific reason for it. Marisa Tomei has her biggest role yet as Peter’s supportive Aunt May. Though Cleary calls her out for child endangerment, May makes the biggest impact on Peter’s life. Since Peter is facing serious legal trouble, there was only one Man without Fear who could clear him of all charges only 8 minutes into the movie. I got my entire theater to cheer the moment Matt Murdock put down his walking stick. Every Marvel fan knew the blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen was the only lawyer who could represent a fellow superhero. Charlie Cox reprising his role from the critically acclaimed Netflix Daredevil was the best decision Marvel Studios could possibly make. The timing was perfect since Vincent D’Onofrio reprised his role as Kingpin the same week on Hawkeye. Though it would’ve been awesome to see Daredevil fighting side-by-side with Spider-Man, I’ll settle for Matt using his radar sense to catch a brick before Peter has a chance to.

The scene is equally ironic considering Jon Favreau actually started his Marvel journey playing fellow attorney Foggy Nelson in Daredevil (2003). Happy is the only borrowed Iron Man character who consistently appears in all three Spider-Man movies. Peter’s teenage antics annoyed him at first, but he grew to really care for him and his aunt. Happy lets them stay at his condo complete with Stark robots and a mysterious crate. Before school starts, Peter and MJ have a loving conversation over the phone about people knowing he’s Spider-Man. Since Tom Holland and Zendaya are dating in real life, their chemistry is off the charts. I’ll admit I enjoy watching them flirt in interviews, but Jacob Batalon always feels like a third wheel. Peter, MJ, and Ned finally feel like a trio after they all discovered his identity at different times. The rest of Spider-Man’s supporting cast is severely scaled back compared to their prominent role in Far From Home. Angourie Rice only has one scene in the theatrical cut where Betty Brant calls Peter “Tiger” in a reference to Mary Jane’s nickname for him in the comics.

Betty has a much bigger role in The More Fun Stuff Version where she does reporting throughout the movie. There were also TikTok videos with Betty as a Daily Bugle intern. Speaking of thedailybugle.net, J. K. Simmons reprises his iconic role as J. Jonah Jameson from the Sam Raimi trilogy. His unexpected cameo was a welcomed surprise in Far From Home, but sadly this version of Jameson isn’t as fun as the original. Aside from keeping his bald head, this J. Jonah Jameson is a fake news host working out of his home before being promoted to a TV studio. He’s also more ruthless in his attempt to expose Spider-Man as a menace. Flash Thompson is the only classmate with more than one scene in the theatrical cut. Though he was never right for the part, Tony Revolori at least goes a step further by dying his hair blonde like the Flash in the comics. Flash somehow managed to write and publish his own book declaring himself Spider-Man’s best friend. Flashpoint is an ironic title considering DC’s Flash uses the same title.

Midtown School of Science and Technology teachers are given exactly one scene to shine. Scene stealing duo Martin Starr and J. B. Smoove as Mr. Harrington and Mr. Dell respectively consider Parker to be a hero. Hannibal Buress returns as Coach Wilson from Homecoming and believes Mysterio was right. It’s a funny scene, but the rest of the school gives Peter even more unwanted attention. So Peter and MJ hideout on the roof of Midtown where their romantic moment is interrupted by Ned. Since it’s now Senior Year, Peter, MJ, and Ned consider college applications. Although Peter attends Empire State University in the comics, they all have their sights set on MIT. Unfortunately, Ned and MJ’s association with Spider-Man causes them all to get rejected. A Halloween decoration gives Peter the idea to seek help from the Master of the Mystic Arts. My only minor criticism of the Home trilogy is Sony’s reliance on pre-existing MCU characters that they prominently feature in their marketing. Homecoming had Iron Man & Captain America, Far From Home had Nick Fury & Maria Hill, and No Way Home has Doctor Strange & Wong.

In order to avoid spoilers, the teaser trailer leaned heavily into Peter’s exposed identity and Doctor Strange being a driving force of the movie. I won’t complain since I’m always happy to see Strange giving magical assistance to his fellow Marvel superheroes. The combination of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange is enough to make Stan Lee & Steve Ditko proud. Peter enters a Sanctum Sanctorum covered in snow due to a blizzard that blew in through a portal. Wong and Doctor Strange show up wearing winter coats and revealing that the latter is no longer Sorcerer Supreme. Wong becoming Sorcerer Supreme after Strange blipped feels wrong to me, but I’ll have to accept it for now. Benedict Wong makes the most of his brief appearance after his extended role in Shang-Chi. Benedict Cumberbatch has a much more hands on role after finishing his obligation to Sherlock. Strange insists Peter call him Stephen after everything they’ve been through in Infinity War and Endgame.

No Way Home is a surprise adaptation of one of the most hated storylines in Spider-Man history. “One more Day” is a 4 part 2007 storyline where Peter makes a deal with the devil (Mephisto) in order to save Aunt May’s life. The only cost is his marriage to Mary Jane. Peter is totally out of character in the comic, but the movie doesn’t go that far. Mephisto is replaced by Doctor Strange when Peter requests using time travel to prevent Mysterio from revealing his identity. Without the Time Stone, Strange recommends a mind altering spell instead. It feels out of character for the strait-laced Doctor Strange, but the movie makes him appear less reckless than the trailer. Wong simply stays out of the spell while Strange helps Peter in the Runes of Kaf-Kol. An underground magical lair that an episode of The Equalizer was apparently filmed in. Strange intends to cast a spell where the entire world will forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Though it’s an odd way to set up the conflict of the movie, Peter tampering with the spell by letting some people keep their memory is what causes a rift in the multiverse.

The multiverse is the new hot topic in the MCU. Doctor Strange used the term for the first time and explored a few alternate dimensions. Endgame went a step further by having the Avengers travel through time using the Quantum Realm that opened up new realities. Mysterio claimed to be from Earth-833, but any self respecting Marvel fan knew he was lying. Loki did a deep dive of the multiverse that opened up a variety of vague alternate realities. What If…? was exclusively about scenarios where reality could’ve been different based on choice. Although Multiverse of Madness was nearly released first, No Way Home became the first MCU movie to explore the multiverse in a substantial way. Strange contains his multiverse crossing spell and scolds Peter for his immaturity. I’ll admit I never knew you could reason with a university when they don’t accept you. Peter does exactly that after asking help from Flash who wants to be swung to school. Paula Newsome plays the Assistant Vice Chancellor of MIT that Peter finds on a bridge.

Peter wears his Iron Spider suit since his red & black costume was ruined when some jerk threw green paint on it. The full deleted scene contains a cameo from Holland’s real life brother Harry. When Peter’s spider-sense goes off, he’s greeted by the first of five sinister supervillains from the Sam Raimi trilogy and Marc Webb films. Although I would’ve been fine with a third installment where Kraven the Hunter hunts a fugitive Spider-Man, I can’t pass up the chance to see several actors play characters I thought I’d never see again. No Way Home continues the “Home” tradition that fans were trying to figure out for months. The title refers to all the villains who have no way of returning home to their own universe. Promoting the movie was a hassle since not knowing about the returning villains would’ve been an awesome reveal. The poster and trailers confirmed several surprise appearances. The audience cheered the moment four mechanical tentacles belonging to Doctor Octopus made their presence known. Doc Ock saying “Hello, Peter” was the perfect way to end the teaser trailer.

Alfred Molina returns 17 years after his role in Spider-Man 2. Doc Ock was easily one of the best villains in one of the best superhero movies. The 67 year old Molina is just as angry and dramatic in the part. Doc Ock’s green trench coat and shades remain intact, but his tentacles are now entirely CGI. Molina was digitally de-aged since Dr. Otto Octavius is ripped straight from the end of Spider-Man 2. Doc Ock’s motivations are the same since he mentions his machine that harnesses “The power of the sun.” Peter is understandably confused, but he fights back when his girlfriend is threatened. The Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock bridge fight is instantly one of the better fights in the MCU trilogy. It’s on par with all of Doc Ock’s fights in Spider-Man 2. Of course they couldn’t pass up the chance to have the four Iron Spider legs go against Doc Ock’s four tentacles. Spider-Man saves civilians and manages to rescue the Vice Chancellor. When Doc Ock gains the upper hand, he integrates the nanotechnology from the Iron Spider suit onto his tentacles.

Octavius is equally confused when Peter reveals himself to be Tom Holland. Doc Ock is only defeated when Peter manages to control the tentacles with his suit. It’s a humorous, but effective moment that ends with Peter and his friends being accepted into MIT. Celebration will have to wait when Peter quickly encounters his next visiting villain. Everyone cheered the moment a pumpkin bomb entered the screen. When the Green Goblin arrived on his glider, I couldn’t resist imitating his iconic evil laugh. The only downside to bringing back old villains is having to deal with their original designs or costumes. The armored Green Goblin suit and facial restricting mask were never a good decision, but I couldn’t deny the nostalgia I felt. They even do another talking mask sequence before Norman Osborn smashes it to pieces. Willem Dafoe returns 19 years after his role in Spider-Man. Dafoe was so perfect for Green Goblin that I’m glad he was given a second chance to show what he was capable of. His digital de-aging is a lot better than it was in Aquaman.

Unfortunately, Peter is transported back to the Sanctum before he has a chance to fight the flying green elf. Doctor Strange locks Doctor Octopus in his wizard’s dungeon along with the Lizard that he managed to track down in the sewers off-screen. Rhys Ifans sort of returns 9 years after his role in The Amazing Spider-Man. Dr. Curt Connors is only seen in Lizard form since Ifans was apparently unavailable. We’re kind of stuck with a snoutless Lizard that’s only a passable CGI recreation of his first appearance. Strange instrucks Peter to track down the rest of the villains while he figures out a way to reverse the spell. Although it’s a cringy line (censored for the trailer), Peter, MJ, and Ned use their Scooby Doo skills inside the Undercroft of the Sanctum Sanctorum. They track the next two villains on a power grid in the forest. Spider-Man’s stealth black & gold suit is just his original costume turned inside out to hide the paint. The spider suit is equipped with an enchanted gauntlet that Peter uses to teleport the villains into captivity.

Despite appearing in the worst reviewed Spider-Man movie, I got chills the moment Electro apparated on screen. Jamie Foxx returns 7 years after his role in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Max Dillon’s past as an awkward nerd who wanted to be seen isn’t ignored, but his blue Ultimate appearance was the most in need of a makeover. Foxx was too big a name not to show his face. Spider-Man has trouble getting hold of Electro until he’s helped by Sandman. Thomas Haden Church sort of returns 14 years after his role in Spider-Man 3. Like Ifans, Church was similarly unavailable in person. It makes sense to have Connors in Lizard form the entire time, but I’m not sure why Flint Marko is sand the entire time. Despite the divisive nature of Spider-Man 3, the sudden appearance of Sandman was also a welcomed sight. His willingness to help Peter lines up with his sympathetic portrayal, but even Marko breaks bad when Dillon is transported to the dungeon wearing a yellow fireman uniform. Peter only finds Norman at the F.E.A.S.T. outreach shelter wearing a purple hoodie and green jacket. Norman makes mention of Oscorp Industries, his son Harry, and the darker half that he managed to keep in check…

58. Spider-Man No Way Home

Doctor Strange removes Peter’s astral form

Bringing the five best villains from five different Spider-Man movies together is the closest we may ever come to a live action Sinister Six. Since Spider-Man villains are often better than villains in the MCU, it’s a real treat seeing them act off eachother. Of course there’s no room for Topher Grace’s’ Venom, James Franco’s New Goblin, Dane Dehaan’s Green Goblin, or Paul Giamatti’s Rhino. Vulture, Shocker, or Mysterio couldn’t complete the Sinister Six since they’re all part of the current universe. Since they have shared history at Oscorp, we get to see Osborn and Octavius interact for the first time. Dillon has a similar shared history with Connors at their version of Oscorp. Since the villains are all science based, they each have varying reactions to magic being real. Octavius points out the fact that Osborn died and Marko fills in the blanks of Octavius dying as well. Dillon figures out he was about to die and Connors questions whether or not he dies.

No Way Home is a perfect viewing experience, but it does have a few plot holes for the sake of bringing everyone together. The villains only came to the MCU since they know Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Although Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Sandman, and the Lizard all found out Spider-Man’s secret identity, Electro never found out who Peter was. Osborn, Octavius, and Dillon all died fighting Spider-Man, but Marko and Connors both survived their movies. It doesn’t always line up, but you learn to accept those inconsistencies. Strange returns with an ancient relic called the Macchina di Kadavus that will allow him to reverse the spell. When Peter begins to rethink May’s advice to rehabilitate the villains rather than send them home to die, he chooses to web up the magic box and imprison Strange. It begins a hero vs. hero fight where Doctor Strange removes Peter’s astral form. Somehow his spider-sense keeps Strange from grabbing the box. Strange uses his sling ring, Cloak of Levitation, and the Mirror Dimension in an attempt to subdue the wallcrawler. Liz Allan can be seen on a magazine calling Peter a liar.

The Mirror Dimension sequence is on par with its impressive use in Doctor Strange. It was enough to earn No Way Home an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects. Even though it deserved so much more. New York is folded in even more mind-bending shapes that include a train and the Grand Canyon. Being a Spider-Man movie, I never expected Doctor Strange to win, but he hasn’t felt truly powerful since Infinity War. Peter actually uses math to trap Strange in a web that keeps him locked in the Mirror Dimension for the remainder of the movie. He uses the time to figure out cures for the villains who willingly volunteer for the experiment. Norman calls back to the line “I’m something of a scientist myself” since it became a funny meme. MJ and Ned agree to take the box while Peter and May treat the villains at Happy’s condo. Since technology is so much more advanced in the MCU, Peter uses a Stark fabricator to construct cures with Norman’s help. May gets her funny moment when she refers to Octavius as an octopus by offering him salt water. Connors stays behind for unknown reasons, but it would be kind of difficult to sneak a giant lizard into an apartment building.

Dillon starts to like the person he’s become, but Marko wants to go home to his daughter. They both bond over their similar origins of falling into things. Jameson only becomes relevant again when he tries to get more dirt on Spider-Man. Octavius is cured when they fix his inhibitor chip and Molina’s performance sells his gratitude. Returning the Iron Spider’s nanotechnology is what creates the integrated spider suit that blends the giant gold spider symbol with his red & black costume. Peter focuses his attention on Dillon by giving him a device that will drain his electricity. Peter’s spider-sense going off in a room full of villains is a tense moment that could have a number of outcomes. Dafoe seamlessly goes from sympathetic Norman to psychotic Green Goblin in a matter of minutes. He gives an all time best villain performance since we actually get to see his face. Dafoe continuing to smile and laugh maniacally after being punched repeatedly is truly terrifying. Green Goblin’s motivation is similar to the one he had in Spider-Man. He tells the villains to embrace their power and exploits Peter’s virtue for weakness.

Electro removes his power draining device and zaps the newly cured Octavius out the window. Sandman disappears and Lizard attacks Peter after escaping their truck. The fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin is brutal and it only ends when they crash through every floor of the building. Green Goblin finally starts to look a little closer to his comic book counterpart with a tattered purple hood and his battle damaged green armor. May using the failed serum on Osborn would’ve been a good way to give him green skin. SPOILER ALERT! Green Goblin proves exactly why he’s Spider-Man’s archenemy when he blames May for Peter’s crusade. He clips her with his glider and throws a pumpkin bomb that Peter barely deflects. May somehow survives the attack long enough to finally tell Peter “With great power there must also come great responsibility.” I gasped with excitement since cheering felt inappropriate. I’m just glad the iconic line was saved for a more impactful moment. In a sad twist of fate, Aunt May is the one who dies instead of Uncle Ben. Peter and Happy are devastated, but they aren’t given time to grieve when Damage Control ambushes them.

Jameson spins the story in a way that makes Spider-Man look like the one who caused the attack. It’s an extremely dramatic scene in the rain that shows how far Holland is willing to go. Back at Ned’s house, MJ considers activating the box. My heart started racing the moment Ned somehow manages to open a portal with the sling ring that he kept. The portal opening role was meant for America Chavez, but there’s more than enough characters already. So Ned was given vague magical history instead. My entire theater erupted with applause the moment a different Spider-Man jumped through a portal revealing himself to be Andrew Garfield. Then we cheered even louder the moment Tobey Maguire walked through the next portal. Every single Marvel fan was convinced all three Spider-Men were in the movie. Speculation got so out of hand that Holland, Garfield, Maguire and the rest of the cast had to outright deny the fact. I’m so glad they managed to pull it off, because every Spider-Man actor has something good to offer the webslinger.

Andrew Garfield returns 7 years after his tenure ended in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Garfield was always given the short end of the stick, even though his portrayal captured the angst and sense of humor that Spider-Man is known for. Garfield always seemed a little bitter about moving on from the role, but he made a name for himself in Oscar caliber film roles. His return performance almost completely steals the show. Ned and MJ are confused to see another Peter Parker, so they make him stick to the ceiling and crawl around. It’s a hilarious scene with MJ throwing bread and an unexpected role for Ned’s Tagalog speaking Lola. Garfield is already wearing the improved costume he wore in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but Maguire shows up in civilian clothing. Tobey Maguire returns 14 years after his tenure ended in Spider-Man 3. The original will always be the version I love most from my childhood. Maguire captured the intelligence, humanity, and heroism that made me love Spider-Man so much. Maguire’s return was the biggest question mark since he hasn’t had a physical acting role since 2014. Most of his time was spent producing, narrating The Boss Baby, and staying out of the limelight. Spider-Man memes were the only thing that kept him relevant until his inevitable return. It’s great to see Maguire again, but he is a lot older and his acting can be a little rusty.

Spider-Man coming face to face with another Spider-Man is an awesome moment where they flip around and shoot webs at each other. Both Peter’s agree that MCU Peter needs their help and they discuss similar places that they go to get away. Maguire has the Chrysler Building, Garfield has the Empire State Building, and Holland has Midtown High. Ned and MJ hug the grieving Peter and he comes face to face with the silhouette of fellow Spider-Men. Some people assumed Maguire and Garfield would be last minute cameos, but they are very much major characters given top-billing. Both Peter’s have experienced loss that motivated them as superheroes. Maguire talks about Uncle Ben’s death and the carjacker that he let fall to his death. Garfield talks about Gwen Stacy’s death and the rage he felt fighting crime as Spider-Man. No Way Home is the closest thing to a Spider-Man 4 and The Amazing Spider-Man 3 for the characters, but this is still Tom Holland’s movie. The more world weary Spider-Men encourage the broken down Peter when he says “With great power comes great responsibility.” Although Garfield never heard those specific words, they both agree Aunt May didn’t die for nothing.

Together all three Peter’s use their scientific expertise to finish the cures he was working on. It’s a cool scene where we get to catch up with the Peter’s we haven’t seen in years. Maguire tells Ned about his best friend Harry who became a villain before he died. It’s a fun reference to Ned possibly becoming Hobgoblin. In terms of their love life, Peter never found love after Gwen, but there’s always hope. Despite all their drama, Peter and Mary Jane eventually managed to make their relationship work. Neither Kirsten Dunst nor Emma Stone appear since there’s no room for them. I was just happy to see the iconic Spider-Man pointing meme recreated when Ned calls out to Peter. As they prepare to “cure some ass,” Garfield and Holland load up their web cartridges. Aside from being the only American Spider-Man actor, Maguire is also the only webslinger with organic webbing. Revealing his iconic original costume underneath is something I never thought I’d see on the big screen again. Much like X-Men (2000), the climax takes place at night on the newly reconstructed Statue of Liberty holding Captain America’s shield. MCU Peter reaches out to the remaining villains using a Daily Bugle livestream.

While they wait, the movie takes full advantage of having all three Spider-Men in one scene. Maguire calls back to his chronic back problems and Garfield humorously cracks it for him. They have a brother-like dynamic where Tobey is the wise older brother, Andrew is the caring middle brother, and Tom is the impressionable younger brother. Together they discuss webbing, existential crisis, the bad guys they fought, and Maguire encourages Garfield by calling him amazing. The official Marvel website refers to the previous wallcrawlers as The Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man to avoid confusion. They’re all confronted by Electro, Sandman, and the Lizard. Electro’s motivation is staying in the MCU where he’s far more powerful and better looking. They manage to fix his appearance with an arc reactor, yellow electricity, and an energy mask that pays homage to his classic Steve Ditko look. Though he mentions his original plan to turn New York into lizard people, Lizard’s motivation is vague aversion to being fixed. Sandman’s motivation is the most confusing, because he’s probably the least villainous of the five. I can only assume he’s just trying to survive at this point.

Their fight is unorganized since they usually don’t work in a team. Holland mentions his experience in the Avengers which the previous Spider-Men have never heard of. They finally give each other nicknames in order to help tell them apart. Since he’s the star, Holland is “Peter-One,” Maguire is “Peter-Two,” and Garfield humorously accepts “Peter-Three.” The moment is made better when Peter-Three tells his teammates how much he loves them. Knowing Garfield improvised the line makes him an even more underrated Spider-Man. Hands down my favorite moment in the movie is all three Spider-Men enthusiastically swinging together and landing in an iconic pose. The edited scene in the trailer was the biggest indication of the missing actors. Spider-Man movies usually have a problem when there are too many villains, but it helps to have everyone already established. Sandman becomes an enormous sand monster who buries Peter-Two before being cured by a reverse collider. Since Thomas Haden Church only shows his face through archive footage, Maguire is unable to have a genuine heart to heart.

Peter-Three has a brief chat with the transformed Dr. Connors before the LIzard focuses his attention on the exposed Ned and MJ. Attacking them in a classroom is a nice call back to the fight in The Amazing Spider-Man. Peter-One uses the same green mist cure that Peter-Three already made before. Rhys Ifans also shows his face through archive footage, but Holland doesn’t have much to say to him. Doctor Strange witnesses the transition when he returns from dangling over the Grand Canyon for 12 hours. Electro is pleased to see Peter-Three again, but it takes all three Spider-Men and a returning Doc Ock to take him down. Octavius heroically cures Dillon with a faster electricity draining device. Peter-Three has a genuine heart to heart with Max who continues to call himself a nobody. Apparently he always assumed Spider-Man was black since this is the first time he sees Peter’s face. Since Jamie Foxx was a race changed Electro, it was a good opportunity to reference Miles Morales. I’m just glad they didn’t try to fit him in the already crowded movie. The grown up Peter-Two has a heart to heart with the rehabilitated Otto by referencing the Spider-Man 2 line that he’s “trying to do better.”

The rest of the Spider-Men meet Strange who’s prepared to activate the box. Peter-Two’s spider-sense goes off when the Green Goblin returns on his glider once again asking if Spider-Man can come out to play. I gasped the moment a pumpkin bomb managed to blow up the spell and MJ was thrown from the scaffolding. Peter-One tries to save his true love, but he’s stopped by a passing Green Goblin. The scene was another perfect opportunity to have Peter-Three successfully rescue a falling damsel after failing to save Gwen. Garfield’s tearful reaction is another indication of his acting talent. Since the Green Goblin made things personal, Peter-One doesn’t hold back in trying to kill him. Their final battle is even more brutal than the last. As Peter-One prepares to use his glider against him, Peter-Two heroically keeps him from taking a dark path. Green Goblin stabbing the original Spider-Man is a shocking moment, but they’re just messing with the audience. Though he continues to taunt Peter-One, Peter-Three gives him the reverse serum cure he needs to save Norman. Peter-Two never speaks to Norman, but the latter does feel remorseful about his actions.

With all the villains cured, Strange attempts to repair the crumbling multiverse. A silhouette of villains can be seen in the sky including Kraven, Scorpion, Black Cat, and a more comic accurate Rhino. Sadly, the only way to stop it is to have Strange erase Peter Parker from everyone’s memory as if he never existed. Continuing the trend of third installment MCU heroes losing a part of themselves. The Spider-hug shared between all three Spider-Men is something I never knew I needed. Peter shakes his best friends hand one last time and exchanges heartfelt “I love yous” with MJ. The spell works and J. Jonah Jameson has no clue who Spider-Man really is. Like the Blip, the spell opens up many questions that don’t need to be answered at this time. Closer to Christmas, Peter intends to reintroduce himself to Ned and MJ. However, he makes the ultimate sacrifice to let his loved ones go in order to keep them safe. No Way Home is the 5th Spider-Man movie to end at a cemetery. Peter visits Aunt May’s grave and encounters Happy who doesn’t remember him. Which may be the last we ever see of Stark’s beloved bodyguard. Peter gets a crappy apartment where he has to pay rent. He fills it with Ned’s LEGO Emperor from Homecoming and the cup of coffee MJ gave him.

Spider-Man finally feels like his comic book counterpart when he listens to a police scanner and has one final swing in the snow wearing a bright red & blue costume. Doctor Strange’s involvement and the three Spider-Men made “The Magic Number” by De La Soul the perfect song for the scientific end credits. For the first time since Captain America: The First Avenger, the after-credits scene is a literal teaser for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (more on that later). Like everyone else,  I wondered what happened to Venom after his arrival in the MCU was teased at the end of Let There Be Carnage. Although he has no clue who Peter Parker is, Venom could’ve easily completed the Sinister Six. Instead Tom Hardy’s cameo as Eddie Brock is treated like a joke. The mid-credits scene shows Eddie drunk in a bar trying to figure out the MCU. He learns about Iron Man and Hulk with humorous commentary from Venom. Despite intending to go after Spider-Man, Eddie & Venom are whisked away before they have a chance to do anything. Leaving behind a piece of the symbiote that gives me hope for the future. Sony may continue to make stupid decisions like Morbius, Kraven the Hunter, and Madame Webb, but the ending doesn’t totally erase Spidey from the MCU. Into the Spider-Verse was good, but Spider-Man: No Way Home is fan service done right.

59. Spider-Man No Way Home

Spider-Man finds Electro in the forest

Preceded by: Spider-Man: Far From Home

The Uni-Mind

Eternals may be the worst film in the MCU. As the twenty-sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Eternals introduced an entire race of beings that were supposedly there since the very beginning. The MCU is practically built on lesser known superheroes given the blockbuster treatment. Guardians of the Galaxy and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings were a lot better than they had any right to be. Even a hardcore Marvel fan like myself questioned the need for an Eternals movie. I heard the name in passing, but I knew nothing about the characters. The Eternals are the sole creation of famed comic book artist Jack Kirby. In the early 70’s, Kirby left Marvel in order to further explore his love of colorful high concept space mythology. He created the much more well known New Gods for DC comics in 1971.

When that series ended, Kirby was persuaded to return to Marvel in exchange for a comic adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some time later the very similar Eternals were created for Marvel comics in 1976. Since superheroes like Thor were already prominent, it never made sense to have another race of immortal space gods. The New Gods from New Genesis and Apokolips were far better integrated than the Eternals or Deviants. So I was flabbergasted when producer Kevin Feige decided to greenlight a team of superheroes who never had a single appearance outside of comics. I grew increasingly nervous with every casting announcement, costume reveal, and trailer. My worries were proven right when Eternals became the only MCU movie with a rotten 47% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Proof that even an Academy Award winning director like Chloé Zhao can’t save a movie that nobody asked for…

55. Eternals

The Eternals

Eternals is the movie Marvel makes when they’ve run out of options. Mutants are on the way, but there’s still no confirmed date for a proper X-Men reboot. Before Marvel foolishly turned it into a terrible TV series, an Inhumans movie was meant to come out after Captain Marvel. Inhumans had far more potential as a movie than the Eternals ever did. Yet both ended up being major failures for Marvel Studios. They had to suspect it was a bad idea, since footage from The Eternals wasn’t revealed until the May 2021 Phase Four video Marvel Celebrates the Movies. I still think Captain Marvel is my least favorite MCU movie personally, because I had more to be frustrated with as a longtime Marvel fan. Since I barely knew the Eternals, I had to judge its quality more than comic accuracy. Eternals is both accurate and inaccurate to the original Jack Kirby comics. Like the comics, Eternals are an offshoot of humans created by the Celestials a million years ago to be immortal superpowered beings. Their main purpose is to fight the more monstrous Deviants and resist interference with humanity while shaping human history.

How they managed to make that boring I’ll never know. I knew I was in trouble the moment they opened with a long text explaining what Eternals and Deviants are. I was definitely offended by the implication that Celestials created the universe. Unlike Star Wars, there’s almost too much and too little information given to the audience. The only thing eternal about the movie is the bloated 2 hour & 37 minute runtime. At the time, Eternals was the second longest MCU film after Avengers: Endgame. Phase Four has been about two things so far: experimentation and diversity. Black Widow had a female director and Shang-Chi had an Asian director. Eternals has both with Chinese director Chloé Zhao at the helm. Though Disney+ has taken the most chances, Eternals is the most thematically different movie in the MCU. Since Zhao is known for independent western think pieces with vast landscapes, Eternals feels like Nomadland with superheroes. You better believe Marvel exploited her Best Director win after the movie was delayed several times due to the Pandemic.

Not since Ang Lee directed Hulk was there a bigger disconnect between an Oscar winner and the superhero genre. Even the teaser trailer set to “The End of the World” by Skeeter Davis prioritizes human connection over superhero action. Unlike previous MCU projects, Zhao shot on location throughout the world. It’s ambitious, but wide open landscapes are not what you should be focusing on in a superhero movie. Unfortunately, the Eternals themselves are equally bland. Like the New Gods, Kirby designed the Eternals costumes to be colorful and technical. It’s not an easy thing to translate to screen, but what they ended up with is both dull and lifeless. Every costume is some variation of a full body suit with a tunic, at least 2 muted colors, and intricate space symbols. Despite having a wide variety of superpowers, even that has no personality with the exact same golden energy for every Eternal. Eternals has a grand total of 10 brand new heroes that we’re supposed to know and care about.

At least Guardians of the Galaxy had only 5 heroes to introduce. Which is why it would’ve made far more sense to make a Disney+ series. The Eternals consist of: Ikaris, Sersi, Ajack, Thena, Sprite, Kingo, Gilgamesh, Phastos, Makkari, and Druig. There are way more Eternals in the comics, but this is already too much. Their flying triangle spaceship the Domo is named after one of them. Eternals is the perfect example of forced diversity. Several characters are either race swapped, gender reversed, given a different ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, or disability. You can practically envision the checklist Marvel was keeping for the movie. Though the usual Hollywood critics went out of their way to praise the decision, even they couldn’t defend the movie as a whole. It’s hard to care about the character changes when I barely knew the team to begin with. Except the cast is so manufactured that they barely have any chemistry with one another.

Sersi is probably the only Eternal I heard of before the movie was announced. Mostly because she joined the Avengers for a brief time in Avengers #314. After her pointless role as Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel, the English Gemma Chan got a second chance to play Sersi in Eternals. Much like Michelle Yeoh had in Shang-Chi. Though she retains her British accent, Sersi is presumably Asian in the comics. Sersi retains her love of humanity from the comics, but she’s not at all fun-loving or seductive like her ancient Greek namesake Circe. Her sexy green one piece is replaced by a lame full body suit. The only similarity is the green color scheme. Chan is so reserved that she ends up feeling boring. The movie practically admits it when she poorly describes her powers. Like the comics, Sersi has the power to transform matter through touch. It’s one of the few visually interesting powers in the movie. Sersi is the closest thing to a main character. I’m sure Zhao being the director had nothing to do with the decision.

Ikaris feels like he should be the main character for his appearance and set of powers. Though he’s named after the Greek legend of Icarus, the Marvel comics Ikaris is an overt rip-off of Superman. Something the movie points out to an annoying degree. Along with an equally forced reference to Batman. Ikaris has the power to fly and shoot gold laser beams from his eyes just like Superman. Unfortunately, Zhao took her inspiration from Zack Snyder’s Superman. So the Scottish Richard Madden is just as serious and monotone with an indifference towards humanity. Ikaris is still white, but his long blonde hair is just Madden’s natural brown hair with a grey streak. I understand wanting to avoid comparison to Thor, but his costume was the biggest mistake. Though the red, blue, and gold color scheme was the biggest similarity to Superman, taking out the red gives it no distinction. Ikaris is the leader on the battlefield, but Ajak is meant to be the spiritual leader. Which is why her healing powers are practically useless in battle.

Though he once posed as an Incan god, Ajak is both male and caucasian in the comics. The Spanish Salma Hayek is neither. I love Hayek, but she feels so out of her element. The only similarity between the ridiculous comic book costume is a gold helmet. The rest of Ajak’s costume is blue and gold just like Ikaris. Thena is a warrior woman not to be mistaken with Athena. If Ikaris is an MCU Superman, then Thena is an MCU Wonder Woman. Though I never expected her to play a superhero, Angelina Jolie was born to play Thena. Based on her comic book appearance, I’d almost say they used her likeness. Thena was always blonde, but her hair and full body armor went from yellow to off white. Her swords and spears are replaced by energy weapons. An Oscar winner like Jolie had the capacity to make Thena a breakout character, but she’s criminally underutilized. Sprite is probably the only Eternal I was fully invested in.

Unlike most Marvel superheroes, Sprite has always been an adult trapped in a child’s body. Except that the comic Sprite is a male trickster who inspired characters like Puck or Peter Pan. The movie points out a similarity to Tinker Bell by making Sprite a girl with the same red pixie cut, but a mostly grey bluish green costume. Sprite retains the visually interesting power of illusion, but she’s not always mischievous with it. The 14 year old Lia McHugh is surprisingly mature for her age. Sprite’s struggle fitting in with humanity is nuanced, but they still treat it like a joke. Eternals has the bleak tone of a DCEU movie, but MCU movies are still expected to be funny. Which is why the Pakistani Kumail Nanjiani is the next comedian to get ripped for a Marvel role. Yet they never give Kingo a shirtless scene. Nanjiani can be funny, but all of his jokes are hit or miss. Kingo is one of the lesser known Eternals, but he was originally Japanese. His comic accurate purple samurai costume is replaced by a nondescript purple outfit. His powers are also changed to gold energy that he fires from his hands like finger guns.

Gilgamesh is another obscure Eternal known as the Forgotten One in the comics. He’s a warrior like Hercules, but named after the ancient Mesopotamian Gilgamesh. Though he often wore a mask, Gilgamesh is also presumably Asian. So the South Korean Don Lee plays the part. Lee has a likable personality, but he’s also underutilized. Despite looking a lot like Benedict Wong, Lee is more physically imposing with boxing experience. Gilgamesh has super strength represented by gold energy around his arms. His costume ditches the mask and makes his outfit a lot more orange than green. Though it feels like every character was changed for the sake of diversity, Phastos was introduced in the 80’s and always black in the comics. So they had to make him gay as well. Making Eternals the first Marvel movie to depict an openly gay superhero. Disney once again made a big deal of the fact and had to announce it long before the movie was released. Leading to a ban in several countries.

Brian Tyree Henry isn’t gay, but he is out of shape for the part. Even though Phastos is a less physical fighter who uses his power to manipulate and invent advanced technology. He has a purple costume like the comics, but his hammer is dropped for obvious reasons. Makkari should’ve been called Phastos, since the Mercury inspired former is the one with superspeed. The biggest alteration was making a white hearing man a black deaf woman. Makkari’s partially red costume may be the only similarity to the comics. Lauren Ridloff is a deaf actress who deserved better, but makes the most of her role. She only communicates through ESL (Eternals sign language). Her speedster power is depicted differently than Quicksilver or the Flash with fast motion instead of slow motion. The last Eternal is also the least advertised. Druig is a more villainous Eternal who betrayed the team in the comics. Druig has the easily corruptible power to control people’s minds. The Irish Barry Keoghan has a sinister presence, but enough charm to make you question his motivation. His mostly black robe with red accents are just like all the other lackluster costumes.

I felt absolutely nothing when all 10 Eternals stood together in a group shot. Nor did I feel anything when they fought together for the first time. The Avengers earned their ensemble moments, but the Eternals feel like such a last minute addition. Yet we’re expected to believe they’ve existed for centuries and not once did they interfere in any major conflict in the MCU. Let alone Thanos snapping half of life from existence. Their weak explanation is that the Celestials instructed them not to interfere in human conflict unless Deviants were involved. Eternals kept their lifespan a secret by laying low and only referring to each other as friends from college. Any reference to the greater MCU is either forced or doesn’t make sense. Like the Eternals discussing who should lead the Avengers without Tony Stark or Steve Rogers around. Kingo claiming to know Thor barely lines up with his history on Earth. Celestials are the only characters from Eternals comics to have appeared prior to the movie. First appearing as an easter egg cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy and as Ego the Living Planet in Vol. 2.

Despite their massive size, untold power, and unknown origin, Arishem the Judge became a prominent character in Eternals. The screen barely contains his enormous red body and voice actor David Kaye gives him a booming voice. Arishem gives the Eternals a mission to protect the Earth from the Deviants he created. Only then can they return to their home planet Olympia, but only Ajak knows the truth. She’s the sole Eternal with direct communication to Arishem. The reason Eternals is so long is the way the plot is structured. Eternals continually jumps back and forth between the past and present. We go from 5000 BC Mesopotamia to 575 BC Babylon to 1521 AD Tenochtitlan in the span of about 30 minutes. Nothing about the past feels exciting, because their actions barely make a difference. Except that Phastos is apparently responsible for evolving technology throughout history. Everything goes wrong in 1521 AD after Druig stops a conflict by controlling an entire army with his mind. Thena also contracts Mahd Wy’ry and attacks the team. Of course one of the team members had to have a mental illness, but the ridiculous psychological disease does exist in the comics.

The Eternals break up for 500 years after Gilgamesh agrees to look after his lady love Thena. Although the team is evenly distributed with 5 males and 5 females, only 6 Eternals are paired up. Makkari and Druig are a last minute side couple with surprisingly strong chemistry. Way more chemistry than the film’s central romance. Ikaris fell in love with Sersi after an awkward introduction on the Domo. Though Sersi was romantically linked to the male Makkari in the comics, she ends up returning his feelings. They’re married in Babylon, but not before consummating their union for the first time in an MCU movie. The otherwise family friendly Disney owned Marvel films have downplayed sexual activity over the years, but this was the first time it was shown on screen. There’s no reason for the poorly lit missionary sex scene except to be edgy. Sersi is the first Eternal we catch up with in present day after a Marvel Studios logo set to ancient drums. She’s now living in London as a museum curator and teacher of evolution. As if I needed more reason to dislike the movie.

Sprite is also living with Sersi since she needs to keep up the appearance of a child. Since Sersi broke up with Ikaris centuries ago, she’s now dating history professor Dane Whitman. The relationship is accurate to the comics, but it adds a layer of complicated backstory that the movie is not prepared to deal with. In the comics, Dane Whitman is the fabled Black Knight. A medieval superhero who joined the Avengers in Avengers #54. I was intrigued by the possibilities despite the movie he was in. Kit Harrington is typecast as another sword wielding character after finishing a decade playing Jon Snow. I still haven’t seen Game of Thrones, but even I know the irony of Robb Stark and Jon Snow in a love triangle with Sersi (Cersei). Dane is dropped for most of the movie after Ikaris returns to save Sersi and Sprite from a returning Deviant. Though Zhao was inspired by anime, the Deviants are the most generic looking CGI monsters imaginable. Deviants are way more fleshed out in the comics, but only one has an identity since we already have 10 Eternals to keep track of.

Kro is the head Deviant who grows increasingly powerful after absorbing the abilities of fallen Eternals. The demonic looking villain from the comics looks nothing like the greenish humanoid monster they ended up with. Not even Pennywise himself Bill Skarsgård is able to give Kro a personality. When Sersi, Ikaris, and Sprite seek help from Ajak in South Dakota, they discover her killed by the Deviants. Salma Hayek wearing a cowboy hat is the most western inspired part of a movie where she has barely any screen time. Sersi is given major importance when Ajak passes her leadership onto her. Giving Sersi the ability to communicate with Arshem. Only at the 1 hour mark do we learn the entire insulting truth. SPOILER ALERT! The Eternals are basically fancy robots created by Arshem in the World Forge where he has hundreds of back up copies. Their true mission is to increase the population of planets in order to start an Emergence that gives birth to a new Celestial deep within the planet. Earth has apparently always been the host planet for the golden Tiamut the Communicator who will emerge in exactly 7 days. It’s a ton of information to drop on the audience, but it only succeeds in making me care less about the characters.

The world ending event is only possible thanks to the Blip bringing the Earth’s population back to the necessary amount. The rest of the Eternals are found in Mumbai, Australia, the Amazon rainforest, Chicago, and Iraq. At this point the movie feels more like a parade of cultures than a superhero movie. Kingo was a movie star in the comics, but making him Pakistani turned Kingo into a famous Bollywood star. Starting with a dance number that Kumail Nanjiani didn’t prepare for. The only human that joins the reunion is Kingo’s valet Karun who’s been with him for several decades. Harish Patel is a scene stealer who tries his best in a thankless role. Karun films the Eternals as they travel by plane to see their next team members. Sprite resents Kingo for abandoning her, but he’s able to figure out her unrequited love for Ikaris. Kingo has a bizarre obsession with Ikaris that includes playing him in a movie and following his lead no matter what.

Gilgamesh and Thena have been living in isolation for years. Gilgamesh takes on a nurturing role while Thena continues to grow even madder. Sprite is able to snap her out of it and they all sit down for dinner. Scenes like this prove they have barely any chemistry as a cast. When they all learn the truth about their mission, they formulate a plan to stop the Emergence with Druig’s help. Druig mentally kidnapped an entire town much like Wanda did in WandaVision. Though he’s still hated by most of the Eternals, Druig is persuaded to free his people and help the team. After an hour and 12 minutes of mostly talking, we finally get another bland action scene. With Ikaris busy in the sky, Kingo takes out Deviants with Sprite’s help. Sersi’s power increases when she turns a Deviant into a tree. Gilgamesh is killed by Kro and he finally evolves into his humanoid form with a voice. His only motivation is equal disappointment with his Celestial creators.

Though he was just starting to get interesting, Gilgamesh dies before he gets a chance to fully form the team. Phastos is needed to build a device that amplifies an Eternals’ power. Though he gave up on humanity after inventing the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. Phastos’ husband and son aren’t seen until the hour and 25 minute mark. So my nervous anticipation came very late in the movie. Phastos is persuaded to return in order to protect his family. The openly gay Haaz Sleiman plays Ben who encourages Phastos by speaking Lebanese for no apparent reason. The long talked about gay kiss scene is forced and easily edited out like all the other moments in recent Disney movies. Makkari doesn’t have any life changing experiences as she was just stuck on their ship the entire time reading and/or collecting relics. With all the living Eternals finally together, Phastos develops the comic accurate Uni-Mind that draws its power from every connected Eternal.

A second twist comes an hour and a half into the movie when Ikaris is revealed to be behind Ajak’s death. Turns out she told Ikaris the truth about their mission and he chooses to side with the Celestials. Ajak goes out like a wimp using a rifle against a horde of Deviants. I saw the twist coming from a mile away, but it’s still annoying to see yet another evil Superman. At this point I realized Eternals was an almost word for word copy of Watchmen. A team of self-serious superheroes throughout history facing an end of the world event and one of them killed a member of their team for the greater good. Watchmen is far better executed since I really don’t care about these space gods fighting amongst themselves. The Eternals take sides when Sprite randomly becomes villainous for her love of Ikaris. Phastos, Druig, Thena, Maakari, and Sersi are firmly against the Emergence, but Kingo makes the unexpected and ridiculous decision to passively retreat. So Kingo is left out of the entire climax for both believing in Ikaris and refusing to fight his friends.

The climax takes place on the Domo and a volcanic island in the Indian Ocean where Tiamut will emerge. Thena and Phastos are the only ones who take their fight with Ikaris personally. Makkari only fights harder when Druig is incapacitated. Druig is expected to put Tiamut to sleep, but he’s no Mantis. So Sersi is chosen to turn the entire planet sized Celestial into marble. Sprite literally stabs Sersi in the back despite their long friendship. Druig knocks her out, but Kro is another obstacle they have to face. Honestly, I couldn’t care less when a no longer ill Thena sliced the Deviant apart. Nor did I feel anything when Sersi finally manages to turn Tiamut into marble. After 2 hours I just wanted the movie to be over, but they keep dragging it out with a redeemed Ikaris remembering the love he once shared with Sersi. Since you can’t have a character named Ikaris without him flying too close to the sun, he does exactly that. Despite her villainous actions, Sersi also uses her Uni-Mind powers to turn Sprite into a human. Since Lia McHugh won’t be a kid forever.

Leaving Sersi, Phastos, Thena, Makkari, Druig, and the useless Kingo as the last Eternals left on Earth. At the last minute, Phastos, Thena, Makkari, and Druig calm down at Ajak’s ranch with the former’s husband and son. Thena, Makkari, and Druig take the Domo to find other Eternals. Meanwhile, Kingo looks after the human Sprite back home where Sersi finally reunites with Dane. As he starts to explain his family lineage, Arishem pulls Sersi, Phastos, and Kingo from Earth, promising to judge whether the planet was worthy of survival. The movie ends on an unsatisfying cliffhanger. The credits are all the interesting parts of history we didn’t get to see. The mid-credits scene is better in theory than execution. Thena, Makkari, and Druig are visited by Pip the Troll on the Domo. The alcoholic alien troll is accurate to the comics, but he looks absolutely awful in uncanny CGI. I barely noticed Patton Oswalt voiced Pip after his role in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ended. As if that wasn’t out of nowhere enough, Pip introduces Starfox to the Eternals. I can honestly say I never expected the very human looking brother of Thanos to make an appearance.

Long story short, Eros is a very weird superhero given a surprisingly accurate red and white costume with gold accents. Can’t say I was expecting One Direction superstar Harry Styles to play the part, but we’ll see where that goes. After an eternity of credits, the after-credits scene shows Dane struggling to accept the Ebony Blade that Black Knight wields in the comics. An unseen voice questions his worthiness and only after the movie did I learn it was supposed to be Mahershala Ali as Blade (more on him later). Eternals should be a Marvel fans dream, but I was left utterly disappointed. Despite negative reviews, my family still saw Eternals in the theaters. Our audience was just as bored and confused as we were. Eternals was meant to come out immediately after Black Widow, but Shang-Chi was fast-tracked instead. The decision only succeeded in delaying the inevitable. A final text claims “Eternals will return,” but for the first time I sincerely hope they don’t. As an adaptation of an already unpopular comic book series, Eternals was an experiment that didn’t payoff.

56. Eternals

Arishem the Judge

Master of Kung Fu

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a great mix of Marvel and martial arts. As the twenty-fifth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings finally addressed the origin of the villainous Ten Rings terrorist organization. After the unexpected success of Black Panther, Marvel Studios wanted to explore another culture. After their second female led superhero movie, producer Kevin Feige claimed Phase Four would focus more on diversity. Shang-Chi was created in the 70’s during the martial arts craze. He was obviously inspired by Bruce Lee and the TV show Kung Fu. Though Shang-Chi was an original character created by Steve Englehart & Jim Starlin, Special Marvel Edition #15 introduced him as the son of Dr. Fu Manchu.

Despite his controversial roots, Shang-Chi is the only Asian superhero in Marvel comics worthy of his own movie. Although I recognized the Master of Kung Fu, he was never as popular as other martial arts heroes like Iron Fist. Though Marvel poorly adapted Iron Fist for Netflix, a Shang-Chi movie was surprisingly in the works since the 80’s. It was actually Stan Lee who wanted Brandon Lee to play the martial arts master inspired by his dad. After Marvel foolishly sold their rights to DreamWorks, The Hands of Shang-Chi remained shelved throughout the 2000’s. Not until the 2010’s did Marvel decide to fast-track a big budget movie based on the lesser known character. For a superhero I knew little about and a movie I never asked for, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continued the MCU winning streak…

53. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is another Disney movie with a predominantly Asian cast released this decade. After the equally unexpected success of Crazy Rich Asians, Disney did a live action remake of Mulan and developed the original Raya and the Last Dragon. Neither film made a strong impact, so I didn’t know how to feel about Shang-Chi. The trailers felt like a generic kung fu flick, but I was proven wrong when the movie finally hit theaters. Shang-Chi was pushed back several times just like Black Widow, but the former didn’t make the mistake of simultaneously streaming on Disney+. So fans were left with the animated What If…? in the meantime. Though it’s very similar to Black Panther, Shang-Chi only grossed $400 million at the box office during the Pandemic. Though they deserved more, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is actually one of the least faithful comic book movies in recent memory. Many changes were made in order to avoid racist Asian stereotypes.

Criminal mastermind Dr. Fu Manchu was created by English author Sax Rohmer as far back as 1912. He’s a prolific character who made several book, movie, and TV appearances. When Marvel acquired the rights to Fu Manchu, he became the father and archenemy of Shang-Chi. Since Fu Manchu is an obvious stereotype often portrayed by actors in “Yellowface,” Marvel renamed the villain Zheng Zu after losing the rights to the character. The movie goes one step further by making Shang-Chi’s father a different equally controversial Asian supervillain. After the unflattering portrayal of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, the often forgotten Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King promised the real Mandarin existed. I never thought they’d keep their promise, but I guess an Asian centered superhero movie was the right place for it. Much like Black Panther, Marvel went out of their way to find an Asian lead and Asian director. Shang-Chi has never had a single animated appearance or role in a Marvel video game. At least the Guardians of the Galaxy had some minor media attention before their movie came out.

Since young Asian American actors are hard to come by, Marvel chose lesser known Chinese Canadian TV actor Simu Liu. I had no major opinion of his casting, but apparently Chinese audiences thought he was too Americanized. Though he’s not known for Asian led films, let alone major Hollywood blockbusters, Asian director Destin Daniel Cretton was more than up for the task. Aside from the titular Legend of the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi feels refreshingly standalone in the greater Marvel universe. The Marvel Studios logo is the only reminder before the movie starts. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings almost feels like a foreign film with characters speaking Mandarin Chinese throughout the entire opening. The so called Mandarin is Grandmaster Ip Man himself Tony Leung. Though he has long hair and robes in the beginning, Leung is a far more three dimensional antagonist who doesn’t use the name Mandarin. His real name is Xu Wenwu and he even mocks the name by recalling its offensive use in Iron Man 3.

I should be mad at the blatant disregard for the comics, but Wenwu really is one of the better MCU villains. Turns out Wenwu acquired the mysterious Ten Rings and started the Ten Rings organization over a thousand years ago. Unlike the literal rings from the comics, these Ten Rings are basically iron bracelets with very undefined powers. Wenwu uses them to fly, create energy blasts, shield himself, and remain immortal. Though the Ten Rings have been conquering civilizations all throughout history, it’s a wonder we’re just now hearing about it. At least the seeds were planted as far back as the first Iron Man. In 1996, Wenwu seeks greater power in the heavenly realm Ta Lo. His passage is stopped by the lovely guardian of the forest Ying Li. The Chinese environments are so beautiful you’ll forget you’re watching a Marvel movie. The hip hop soundtrack is a bit forgettable, but Shang-Chi really goes the extra mile with martial arts choreography.

The fight between Wenwu and Ying Li is a graceful mix of high flying wuxia cinema and energy based ring attacks. It’s enough to make Shang-Chi’s parents fall in love. Chinese actress Fala Chen is another deviation from the comics since Shang-Chi was originally half-white. Ying Li is a very loving mother to Shang-Chi and his younger sister Xialing. I assumed Xialing was an original creation, but she’s actually inspired by Fu Manchu’s equally ruthless daughter Fah Lo Suee. She was similarly renamed Zheng Bao Yu, but the movie version also borrows elements from the throwing blade proficient Sister Dagger and the Mandarin’s daughter Sasha Hammer. It’s kind of messy, but first time actress Meng’er Zhang stands on her own. Wenwu softens up with the birth of his children and marriage to Li, but his past sins catch up to him. When the Iron Gang kills Li, Wenwu ruthlessly eliminates them in front of his son. The general Shang-Chi origin is kept in tact with Wenwu training his son to become a weapon.

Shang-Chi is seen as a child and teenager enduring beatings, repeatedly punching a wooden post, and learning every form of martial art. Though he isn’t superhuman, Shang-Chi is one of the best fighters in Marvel comics. Xialing is denied training, so she somehow manages to become a great fighter by proxy. The teenage Shang-Chi accepts a hit from his father, but he runs away to America afterwards. Making this the second Marvel franchise after Ant-Man to be set in San Francisco (third if you count Venom). Shang-Chi is the first Phase Four movie that takes place after the Blip. There’s only a subtle reference with a character mentioning half of life being snapped out of existence. In present day, Shang-Chi lays low with the obvious American name Shaun. As an actor, Simu Liu is charismatic enough with a lot of martial arts training under his belt. Though he has a sense of humor, it’s hard to determine Shang-Chi’s personality when his best friend Katy is constantly by his side.

Like Black Panther or even Black Widow, the more reserved hero is continually overshadowed by the supporting cast. In the comics, Shang-Chi’s only supporting characters were part of Fu Manchu’s mythos. Along with a few allies from MI-6. Katy is a fully original character who isn’t a love interest. I rolled my eyes the moment Awkwafina was cast in yet another major film. Let alone another Disney movie with a water dragon in it. I just don’t find her funny, but she’s not the obnoxious character she usually is. Some of her jokes are good, like one about singing “Hotel California” in front of an enemy. “Shaun” and Katy have been friends since he moved to America. They’re both valet drivers who goof off by taking joy rides and singing Disney approved karaoke. Like Black Panther, Shang-Chi tries very hard to speak to all kinds of Asians. Though it feels very unnecessary to visit Katy’s Asian American family for an extended period of time. “Shaun” and Katy’s Asian American friend Soo tells them they’re not living up to their potential.

Shang-Chi officially won me over with a truly kick ass fight on a bus. Katy discovers who Shang-Chi really is when he throws punches, kicks, and flips like a martial arts expert. Using his jacket as a weapon is pure Jackie Chan. Though the funniest part of the scene is comedian Zach Cherry’s character from Spider-Man: Homecoming live streaming the fight. Wenwu’s men are formidable foes, but his top assassins are the surprisingly comic accurate Death Dealer and the aptly named Razor Fist. In the comics, Razor Fist has two razors for fists, but in the movie it makes more sense to only have one. Since he’s Romanian, Florian Munteanu is the only non-Asian actor in the cast. Wenwu is after his son and daughter’s jade pendant for reasons unknown. Though there’s no reason for her to come along, Katy joins Shang-Chi when he goes to see his sister in Macau. Turns out Xialing established her own secret underground fight club called the Golden Daggers Club. Jon Jon is the eccentric announcer who recognizes Shang-Chi as “Bus Boy” and forces him to fight. The fight features cameos from a former Black Widow, but the most surprising appearances are Wong and Abomination.

A fan favorite sorcerer like Wong doesn’t feel out of place since Benedict Wong is the most prominent Asian in the MCU. More unexpected is seeing Abomination for the first time since The Incredible Hulk. His CGI design is familiar, but greatly improved with comic accurate fins for ears. Tim Roth does reprise the role, but you’ll have to get your answers in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. Shang-Chi has his obligatory shirtless scene when he faces his sister. Their fight ends in her favor, but they both end up attacked by their father’s forces. The side of the building scaffolding fight is pulse pounding, but there’s no way Katy would survive it. Although it seems like they’re actively trying to kill the siblings, Wenwu was confident they were never in any danger. The over 2 hour movie feels like 2 separate movies the moment they return to the Ten Rings compound. What began as a relatively grounded martial arts adventure with only the occasional fantasy element takes a hard left into magical CGI water maps that show Wenwu the way to his deceased wife in her mythical home Ta Lo. Though he locks up his children for getting in his way, you’ll never guess who shows Shang-Chi, Xialing, and Katy the way to Ta Lo.

SPOILER ALERT! With all the talk of the Mandarin, I just knew Trevor Slattery had to return. It’s a particularly meta moment where Sir Ben Kingsley apologizes for his role in the divisive Iron Man 3. All Hail the King showed Trevor in prison where he was broken out by Wenwu’s henchman who wanted him killed. His acting skills spared his life and he’s apparently been a court jester ever since. Can’t say I was expecting Kingsley to join the cast, but he does make good last minute comic relief. Trevor befriends a faceless winged Chinese hundun named Morris that directs them to the secret passage of Ta Lo through an ever changing bamboo maze. They steal Razor Fist’s car and enter the legendary realm. I once again assumed Ta Lo was made up for the movie, but the ancient Chinese realm is one of several godly dimensions created for Thor #310. Ta Lo is home to creatures from Chinese mythology like firebirds, dragon horses, or a nine tailed fox. They’re like live action Pokémon brought to life with Academy Award nominated Visual Effects.

The rest of Ta Lo is home to its magically empowered citizens who draw their power from the Great Protector dragon. Including Ying Li’s sister and Shang-Chi’s Aunt Nan. Of course Michelle Yeoh had to be part of the all-Asian cast. Despite the fact that she already played Aleta Ogord in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. She helps her niece and nephew discover who they are and finally gives them a costume to wear. Only at the hour 30 minute mark does Shang-Chi wear a somewhat comic accurate red costume protected by dragon scales. A far cry from the stereotypical red robes and headband he wore in Master of Kung Fu comics. Xialing gets a grey dragon scale outfit and is allowed to train as an equal. Katy is finally given something to do when she learns how to shoot an arrow at the last minute. Wenwu declares war on Ta Lo with a colorful battle between the red and blue. Although I was hoping to see Fin Fang Foom, I’ll settle for the Dweller-in-Darkness as the final big bad.

The nightmarish beast is the one calling to Wenwu using his wife’s voice. If he gets through a protected dragon scale barrier, a horde of soul eaters will take over the world. Now Shang-Chi truly feels like an anime brought to life. When the soul eaters are released, the Ten Rings form a temporary alliance with Ta Lo. The fight between father and son is emotionally resonant with five of the Ten Rings being controlled by Shang-Chi. When Shang-Chi gains full control, he chooses not to kill his father. As the Dweller-in-Darkness escapes and consumes Wenwu’s soul, he gifts his son the rest of the Ten Rings. Not since Hulk (2003) has there been more father-son drama in a superhero climax. I didn’t think I’d see two giant CGI dragons fighting at the end of the movie, but welcome to the MCU. Katy somehow manages to shoot the Dweller-in Darkness head on and Shang-Chi goes full Super Saiyan with a Kamehameha attack that kills the beast for good. At this point I started to question the movie’s runtime, but Shang-Chi ends with him and Katy (for some reason) being recruited by Wong himself. A water based credits sequence leads to full on Marvel foreshadowing.

The mid-credits scene shows Shang-Chi and Katy in Kamar-Taj discussing the origin of the Ten Rings. Wong is there for mystical knowledge, Bruce Banner is there for scientific knowledge, and Carol Danvers is there for intergalactic knowledge. I expect to see Mark Ruffalo at this point, but it is surprising to see him not in Hulk form while continuing to wear his cast. She-Hulk is once again the only place to get your answers. Although I’m still not a fan of Captain Marvel, Carol feels a bit more likable in her split second appearance. Her cameo is actually ironic since Destin Daniel Cretton has worked with Brie Larson in almost every movie he’s directed. Bruce welcomes Shang-Chi and Katy to the “circus” and they continue to goof off with Wong by singing “Hotel California.” The after-credits scene is more sequel centric with Xialing assuming control of the Ten Rings with a modern update. Though I’m positive Shang-Chi will return, “The Ten Rings will return” is the only text that appears. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings may not have reached the height of Black Panther, but it gave fans and Asian audiences a hero for the modern age.

54. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi vs. Wenwu

The Red Room

Black Widow is a solo movie 11 years in the making. As the twenty-fourth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow finally explored Natasha Romanoff’s mysterious past. Black Widow made her debut in the 1964 Tales of Suspense #52 created by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and Don Heck. Though she was always a Russian spy, her earliest appearances saw her with black hair and casual clothing. It wasn’t until the 1970 The Amazing Spider-Man #86 that John Romita gave Black Widow the red hair, sexy black catsuit, and Widow’s Bite wristbands that we all know and love. I recognized Black Widow for years before she officially gained worldwide popularity in the MCU.

As much as I loved Scarlett Johansson, I never thought a solo film was necessary especially after a major event like Avengers: Endgame. Black Widow is more known for joining teams like the Avengers than she is headlining her own comic book series. So it’s surprising to know a Black Widow movie was in the works since 2004. Marvel foolishly sold the rights to Lionsgate who thankfully didn’t see the potential in a female led action movie at the time. Black Widow is significantly better than Captain Marvel since Natasha grew into such a multilayered superhero over the years. Producer Kevin Feige promised to prioritize a solo movie for years. Making Black Widow the beginning of Phase Four seemed like the right decision for the next saga in the MCU…

51. Black Widow

Black Widow stands with Yelena Belova

Black Widow is specifically the first movie in Phase Four. Although Spider-Man: Far From Home was released in July 2019, Black Widow wasn’t meant to come out until May 2020. Leaving a 10 month window with little to no Marvel content. Then the Pandemic made 2020 the first year since 2009 with zero MCU movies. Black Widow was pushed back to November 2020, May 2021, and finally July 2021. A new line of Disney+ shows had to be fast-tracked in the meantime. Starting with WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki. I grew increasingly nervous that Marvel would give up and dump Black Widow on Disney+. They eventually compromised with a simultaneous release in theaters and on streaming, but it wasn’t free like Wonder Woman 1984. Although my excitement began to waver, my family and I were just happy to see an MCU movie on the big screen again.

Big budget superhero movies need to be seen in theaters. Scarlett Johansson seemed to agree since she sued Disney for the misguided release plan. I’m not saying Black Widow would’ve grossed a billion dollars, but $300 million is unfortunate. Black Widow is yet another female led superhero prequel, but it isn’t a traditional origin story. Setting it before Endgame was the only option after Natasha gave her life to save the universe. So Black Widow takes place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Lesser known female director Cate Shortland wanted a grounded tone similar to The Winter Soldier. Black Window is a genuine spy thriller with well choreographed action and very little CGI. Despite rumors, don’t expect Iron Man, Captain America, or even Hawkeye to make a physical appearance. MCU references are strictly off handed remarks about everyone from Ant-Man to Thor.

So Johansson finally gets a chance to shine on her own. Even though Hawkeye’s on screen absence makes little sense. The MCU made several changes to Black Widow over the years. Though The Winter Soldier mentioned her comic accurate name Natalia Alianovna Romanova, Iron Man 2 kept the name Natasha Romanoff. Johansson also used her natural speaking voice instead of a more authentic Russian accent. Which feels especially distracting in a heavily Russian solo movie. The Marvel Studios logo is updated to include the best scenes from Endgame. Black Widow begins in 1995 just like Captain Marvel. Ever Anderson looks just like a young Johansson from Just Cause with decade appropriate blue hair. Although Nat claimed the Avengers were her only family, turns out she had an entire Russian family she never talked about. Natasha spent part of her childhood in Ohio with her sister Yelena, father Alexi, and mother Melina. The latter two are revealed to be undercover KGB agents.

The overlong opening shows the family in hot pursuit on a plane with important S.H.I.E.L.D. intel, but not before listening to “American Pie.” When they arrive in Cuba, Natasha and Yelena are drugged and taken to the mysterious Red Room where they’re forcibly trained to become Black Widow spies. The implication of human trafficking is surprisingly dark, but the opening credits are set to a moody version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Some of Natasha’s past was seen in Age of Ultron, but Black Widow continues to be vague about how she met Clint Barton or their eventful trip to Budapest. Jeremy Renner is only a voice cameo when Dreykov’s daughter is killed by Romanoff. What started as a threatening comment from Loki, became the primary catalyst of the movie.

In present day 2016, Natasha is on the run for neutralizing Black Panther and going against the Sokovia Accords in order to help Captain America. General Ross is the only character who returns hunting down a fugitive one last time. This was sadly William Hurt’s final MCU appearance before passing away. Nat goes off the grid in a Norway safehouse where she watches Russian movies like Moonraker. Rick Mason is her only contact who manages to find her important equipment throughout the movie. Although O-T Fagbenle claimed the agent would be a love interest, his character is ultimately forgettable. Black Widow has always been a sexy confidant spy, but Hollywood is too afraid to capture that now. The most we get are lingering shots of Johansson’s butt. The first family member from Natasha’s past is her symbolic sister Yelena Belova.

In the comics, Yelena is the second incarnation of Black Widow. The blonde Russian spy was a sort of protégé to Natalia, but they were never sisters. Breakout star Florence Pugh was perfectly cast as a sarcastic little sister version of Yelena. Pugh actually uses a Russian accent and has a scene stealing sense of humor. Black Widow isn’t humorless, but it is more serious in tone. Yelena continued to kill targets as a Black Widow assassin while Natasha became a public hero after joining the Avengers. She’s only cured of her chemical mind controlling agent by a rogue Black Widow using a red synthetic gas. Yelena sends the antidote to Natasha who is immediately attacked by the movie’s most recognizable villain. Taskmaster is a villain I’ve wanted to see for years. In the comics, Tony Masters is a charismatic talkative mercenary with a photographic memory who copies a superheroes exact fighting style. The movie version of Taskmaster is a disappointment in more ways than one.

This Taskmaster is more like a silent Terminator with no personality and a tech based photographic memory. The white hood, blue suit, and orange accents are accurate, but they couldn’t even give him a proper skull mask. Taskmaster uses a sword, shield, bow, and copies the techniques of Spider-Man, Black Panther, and other heroes. Their first fight is literally evenly matched with plenty of scissor kicks. Romanoff survives long enough to return to Budapest. Natasha and Yelena have a rough Bourne style fight as they reunite for the first time in years. Yelena informs Natasha that the Red Room is still very much active and the chemical antidote inspires them to shut the program down once and for all. Their sisterly relationship is fun with Yelena mocking the way Nat always poses in a superhero landing. They bond over the lives they wished they had and Nat talks about the mother she never knew.

Taskmaster and brainwashed Black Widows track the two former assassins to Budapest where a rooftop pursuit leads to a massive car chase. Black Widow is very much human even though she should’ve died several times in her movie alone. Like when she miraculously survives falling from a building or crashing a car. Since the Black Widows are merely victims of circumstance desperate to be freed, Natasha and Yelena head to a Russian prison on a helicopter in order to break out the next important family member. After the immense failure of Hellboy, David Harbor defected to the MCU. Now Harbor has had a role in a DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse movie. Playing a Russian prisoner named Alexei was perfect irony between Stranger Things. Alexei Shostakov is the seldom talked about super strong Soviet super-soldier Red Guardian. He has a friendly rivalry with Captain America that doesn’t exactly line up. In the comics, Alexei was Romanova’s husband, but in the movie he’s a symbolic father.

Harbor is perfectly good comic relief who manages to squeeze into his old comic accurate Red Guardian costume. The only change is his wild beard and Russian tattoos. Yelena and Natasha are mostly seen in civilian attire before they don white Black Widow suits to match the snowy mountains. I’m not sure why marketing decided to push the white costume so much. Natasha poses again when she fights off Russian guards in order to free Alexei. Yelena causes an avalanche that buries most of the prison. Alexei’s reunion with his girls has a little too much information when they describe the sterilization that they endured. When the helicopter humorously runs out of gas, Alexei directs them to the final member of their family. Rachel Weisz is a decent older Black Widow named Melina Vostokoff. She was originally the villain Iron Maiden in the comics, but now she’s a symbolic mother.

Unlike the others, Melina almost willingly works for the Red Room on a remote Saint Petersburg farm. She’s one of their top scientists who tests her mind controlling methods on pigs. An unusually disturbing scene sees Melina force a pig to stop breathing. Though the dinner scene was nearly cut, it was a perfect opportunity for an emotionally charged vodka fueled reunion. It just goes on too long. Like when Alexei flirts with Melina, the only Black Widow he is romantically linked to. Eventually Natasha has a private discussion with Melina and Alexei fails to comfort an emotionally compromised Yelena. Melina seemingly betrays them by having Dreykov’s forces capture them. A not quite dead Dreykov is the true big bad meant to resemble Harvey Weinstein. Ray Winstone is an accomplished actor, but his attempt at a Russian accent is a little too British. Dreykov remained undetected in a new Red Room hidden inside a flying fortress in the clouds. His evil plan is to deploy several more mind controlled Black Widows all over the world.

SPOILER ALERT! Taskmaster is revealed to be Dreykov’s daughter who was brainwashed by her own father. Turning your daughter into a weapon is definitely evil, but I absolutely hate the way they wasted such a cool villain for the sake of plot convenience. Olga Kurylenko plays the gender swapped Antonia Dreykov who leaves no impression. Natasha managed to get close to Dreykov by using the same facial disguising technology she used in The Winter Soldier. Black Widow’s final appearance is the closest she’ll ever come to full comic accuracy. Her long red hair is tied in a braid, her catsuit is both black & grey, her Widow’s Bite wristbands are finally yellow, and she has a backpack with batons. She switches places with Melina in order to kill Dreykov, but a convoluted pheromone prevents him from being harmed. Although Black Widow was never gonna get an R rating, Natasha being punched in the face by Dreykov and breaking her own nose is surprisingly brutal.

She even says “Thank for your cooperation” just like she did with Loki in The Avengers. Black Widows keep her from finishing the job, but they all get cured by a cloud of red chemicals. Red Guardian fights off Taskmaster by throwing his mighty shield, Melina takes out the Red Room, and Yelena does the Black Widow pose. She delivers the final blow to Dreykov by blowing up his aircraft. As the Red Room falls from the sky, Natasha heroically skydives in order to save her sister. It’s an impressive mid-air climax where Taskmaster attacks Black Widow one last time before being cured. The grateful Antonia is comforted by former Black Widows. Yelena promises to free the rest and gives Nat the green vest with pockets that she loves so much. Turns out that vest is the same one that she wears in Infinity War. As Alexei and Melina say goodbye to their symbolic daughter, Ross manages to catch up with Romanoff.

We just have to imagine what happens next, since the movie abruptly cuts to Natasha with the short blonde hair and vest that she had in Infinity War. She boards a Quinjet on her way to help Captain America. Sadly, that was the last we ever saw of Black Widow. The after-credits scene shows a present day Yelena visit the more intimate gravesite of “Daughter, Sister, Avenger” Natasha Romanoff. It’s an emotional moment interrupted by Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was meant to debut in Black Widow, but constant pushbacks led to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier being her first appearance. All we know about the mysterious Val is that she wants to recruit morally ambiguous characters like U.S. Agent and Yelena. She somehow gives Yelena the identity of the man responsible for her sister’s death. Ending with a photo of Clint Barton was ominous, but you’ll have to get your answers in Hawkeye. Black Widow wasn’t entirely worth the wait, but it is the second best superhero movie with a female lead.

52. Black Widow

Black Widow and her family