Marvel: Ranking the Phase 4 TV Shows Pt 1

Screenshot of Tom Hiddleston as Loki in the Disney+ series ‘Loki’. Copyright goes to Walt Disney Studios and Marvel Studios.

Hey! Hallie here!

After a year of taking some time away from Marvel, I’ve officially caught up with the Phase 4 releases! And just in time for Phase 4 to come to a close as well! At some point in the future I’ll make a post about the Phase 4 films, but for today I’ll be focusing on all of the shows that were released on Disney+. I have to say, Phase 4 has been an extremely mixed bag for me. Where a few past MCU phases were completely consistent all the way through, this phase feels like Marvel threw a bunch of concepts at the wall to see what would stick. Which explains the vast differences in genre, and the massive amount of content and characters we received. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the fact that superhero projects are now expanding their horizons thanks mostly to Marvel. But Marvel’s recent projects vary in quality and many just don’t fit well together. To be honest, I don’t really see a cohesive story emerging out of all of this content. But that doesn’t mean I disliked Phase 4 either. I’m not sure where the MCU is going, but there are several projects that hint at a bright future for it. I’m just going to get into my ranking, so here’s your SPOILER WARNING. I’ll be talking about spoilers and details for each of these series, so if you aren’t caught up, come back later!

8. ‘She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’. Putting this show last in my ranking is a bit dangerous considering all the blatant misogyny we saw directed at it as a form of “criticism”. So while I didn’t really like ‘She-Hulk’, I want to make clear that I had no problems with the character of Jennifer Walters or the obvious feminism in this show. In fact, my favorite part of ‘She-Hulk’ was the fearless way the show discussed women being ignored or mistreated in the workplace, women receiving clearly unwanted advances from men, and even something as dark as revenge porn. I loved that Jennifer Walters’ problem with the She-Hulk persona wasn’t about a lack of control, which makes so much sense for a female character who experiences a lot of ridicule in their day-to-day just for being a woman, but about the way She-Hulk twisted her public and personal self-image. Also, unrelated, Matt Murdock was a joy to watch in this.

All that said, She-Hulk had some huge problems. The biggest one was She-Hulk’s attempts to go meta. Moments where Jennifer Walters breaks the fourth wall to speak to the audience are few and far between leading up to the finale. It’s jarring whenever it happens because she does it so little, and almost every time she does it she’s acknowledging a writing problem with the show. I see writers do this all the time, where they perceive a problem audiences could see with their writing and figure that being self-aware about it makes the issue funny rather than irritating. This tactic NEVER works. So whenever Jennifer addressed that the show was using too many cameos, or a plot point came out of nowhere and halted the progression of the story, or even that the finale wasn’t doing a good job of tying up all the major storylines, I was extremely irritated rather than charmed. Speaking of the finale, despite how little ‘She-Hulk’ utilized fourth wall breaking, they decided that the finale would be an entirely meta episode where they threw out all their plot points and had Jennifer Walters confront a writing AI named KEVIN (Kevin Feige) so she could get the ending she wanted. Which was jarring and came across as though the writers didn’t know how to end the storylines they’d introduced. Add in the fact that all of the female characters who weren’t main characters were portrayed as dumb valley girls (Titania, the woman who befriends Wong, the woman whose wedding breaks up the plot), and this show rubbed me the wrong way. All of that and I didn’t even mention the questionable CG in some scenes.

7. ‘Moon Knight’. This was presented as one of two “dark” projects Marvel was attempting for Phase 4. ‘Moon Knight’ didn’t wind up going as dark as some people expected, but it’s definitely darker in tone than most other MCU projects. There’s quite a bit of brutal killing, explored trauma, and depressing scenes compared to other MCU shows, though it does keep the classic Marvel humor. I personally found that Moon Knight walked between the usual tone of the MCU and the darker subjects it was handling very well. I also appreciated the amount of love and work that went into representing each Egyptian influence on the story. The highlights of ‘Moon Knight’ for me though, were the costume designs for both Marc Spector’s and Steven Grant’s Moon Knight, which are now some of my favorite superhero costumes we’ve ever gotten on screen, and Steven Grant himself. Steven’s the character you’re meant to relate to when the series starts and continually succeeds at endearing and anchoring the audience throughout the rest of the show. He’s adorable and so likable, to the point that whenever he’s gone you spend the whole time missing him.

But clearly, overall, I didn’t love this show. None of the characters, not even Marc Spector are developed well enough to endear them to the audience. I firmly believe that Steven Grant only avoids this because he’s such an obviously cute character who’s easy to root for, but even he isn’t developed well enough in the plot. The only episode where I felt Marc and Steven were given enough development was the second-to-last episode where Marc and Steven’s past trauma was front and center. But that still didn’t do an amazing job at explaining why Marc had been such a jerk to literally everyone for the whole series, or how Marc and Steven’s co-existence within their body had been rapidly changing throughout the series. Then there’s Layla who looked awesome in all the trailers, but barely gets any time to explore her character and never gets a wrap-up in the finale despite having just become a superhero. And of course there’s Arthur Harrow who, aside from his hilariously bad attempt at Mandarin, holds no interest and has no personality. ‘Moon Knight’ definitely had some interesting concepts, but it never got me to care about the characters. ‘Moon Knight’ also could have benefited from doing more research into dissociative-identity-disorder before attempting this kind of plot.

6. ‘What If…?’. ‘What If…?’ is a mix of both good and bad episodes. That’s because all episodes are stand-alone’s, with most of them tying together in the finale. Episodes like ‘What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?’ work really well by giving us in-character stories that still reimagine how a character might have turned out differently with a completely new backstory or set of circumstances. Episodes like ‘What If… The World Lost It’s Mightiest Heroes?’ go for darker concepts that might not appeal to children, but still come across as movie quality with enough intrigue to make the story worth every minute of its run time. Plus, this episode also has the best and most badass version of Natasha Romanoff we’ve seen in the MCU. But other episodes, like ‘What If… Killmonger rescued Tony Stark?’ fail at making anything interesting out of their plot despite a promising premise. There’s even an entire episode dedicated to what would happen if ‘Doctor Strange’ was just about fridging Christine, which is a terrible premise no one asked for. Ultimately this show is extremely worth it for those episodes that hit the mark, and not worth it at all for the episodes that miss it entirely.

5. ‘Loki’. Damn I wish I could put this series higher. Episodes 1 and 2 of ‘Loki’ are some of my favorite pieces of content we’ve seen come out of Phase 4. The amount of character development they do for Loki in just these two episodes is extraordinary, especially paired with Tom Hiddleston’s acting. And Loki’s relationship with Mobius is both hilarious and endearing. I could have seriously just watched these two banter back and forth for the entire series and been completely content. But then we got to Sylvie. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sylvie. She’s a badass with a promising future in the MCU, and I found her a very intriguing character to follow. But once Sylvie comes into the storyline Loki abandons Mobius to follow around Sylvie like a puppy dog. The playful banter, and the fun Loki schemes we got in the first few episodes, give way to Sylvie’s ambitions for revenge while Loki’s character development slows down to a crawl.

And then there’s Loki’s romantic relationship with Sylvie, which is a whole other problem. First, there’s the issue of the two being the same person. Considering they both have memories of the same family and presumably some genetic similarities, many people, including myself, immediately saw them as siblings. So you really can’t blame the audience for being caught off-guard when the two suddenly kissed. And the writers, due to the backlash, gave us two extremely stupid and contradictory reasons for putting Sylvie and Loki together. One of them implies that these two are completely different people, and the other implies that Loki is exhibiting self love through his relationship with Sylvie. Clearly Loki and Sylvie aren’t completely different, but they are different enough that I wouldn’t call a romantic relationship between these two a version of self love. Not to mention that just before the two kissed, Loki was confirmed as bisexual in a throw away line, which made it seem like Marvel was throwing scraps to the LGBTQ+ community while still refusing to put any major relationship on-screen that isn’t straight or straight-passing. Add on the cringy moment where the Loki variants scoff at the idea of a lady Loki existing and you have some really poor writing decisions.

4. ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’. Yet another series I wish I liked more than I actually do. This series does justice to both Sam and Bucky as characters. It was a joy to see Sam explore what the title of Captain America would mean to him as a Black man, especially with the amount of racism he frequently experiences in modern-day America. It was also really nice to see Bucky finally dealing with his Winter Soldier trauma, all while delivering sarcasm in the most endearing and amusing way possible. I loved seeing these two bond over the course of the series. I also loved seeing Sam Wilson step into the role of Captain America in another one of my favorite superhero suits we’ve seen in the MCU, while shining a light on the way society sweeps those in need under the rug at the first sign of violent resistance. And, somehow, this series endeared me to Zemo, a character I considered to be one of the worst villains in the MCU. I’m still genuinely bewildered by this.

This series had a lot of issues, though. First there’s John Walker, who they’re now clearly expecting us to embrace as a redeemable character, or at least an anti-hero, considering his act of heroism at the end of the series and his upcoming return in ‘Thunderbolts’. But John Walker is not only a very firm symbol of racism and intolerance in this series, but he also straight-up beheads a guy with the shield. Then there’s the treatment of Sharon Carter who is turned into a villain because they didn’t know what to do with her, I guess? But she barely gets any time anyways so she might as well have not been in here at all. Along with these we also have extremely underdeveloped villains, once again, and horrible pacing that leaves us with Sam and Bucky fixing a boat right when the show is nearing its tense finale. With a little more organization this show could have been a lot better.

I didn’t expect that I’d have so many things to say about the Phase 4 shows, so I’ll leave my top three for my next post! There’s so much I’ve really liked and really disliked about Phase 4 so far. But I do think it’s worth noting that while I feel my praises and critiques are valid, my ranking is also effected by what kinds of media I like to consume. I’m not as big a fan of darker themes or situational comedies, which explains why nothing really made up for the problems I saw in ‘Moon Knight’ or ‘She-Hulk’. But that’s what’s nice about this phase. There’s something different for everyone and everyone’s lists will look extremely different as a result.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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