A Big Collage of MCU Phase 4 Characters

But then the second half rolls around and Ms. Marvel gets stuck in an unfortunate rut before rebounding for its enjoyable finale. The show takes all of Kamala’s youthful energy as a Pakistani-American teenager finding her voice in Jersey City and hides it behind an old story about odd archaeological discoveries, familial histories, and a crew of comic beings somehow even more obscure and lifeless than the Eternals. When Ms. Marvel was letting its kids be kids, it ruled. When the adults and their silly problems showed up, things ground to a halt. Hopefully, that’s a lesson Marvel’s Phase 5 has learned in time for Kamala’s return in this year’s The Marvels. – Alec Bojalad

Benedict Cumberbatch as Zombie Strange in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

8. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Directed by Sam Raimi – making his first Marvel-based movie since 2007’s (pre-MCU) Spider-Man 3Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness lives up to its title in all sorts of ways. This is a wild, hang-on-to-your-hat ride through a deliciously weird, often bonkers house of mirrors known as the multiverse, full of mind-bending moments, trippy twists and a fistful of genuine surprises. It’s also very much a Sam Raimi horror movie done Marvel-style: demons, monsters, reanimated corpses, jump scares, doppelgangers and supernatural manifestations fill the frame, as Raimi races from scene to scene with barely a breath in between.

Yes, the plot spills out in fits and starts, and Multiverse of Madness has a frantic, on-the-edge-of-losing-control feel that sends it careening toward its next set piece while the rest of us catch up. Sometimes the movie also forcefully stops for a jarring exposition dump before dashing off again. But Raimi leans hard into comic book imagery here, and Multiverse of Madness might be the most outright comic book-y film in the entire MCU to date, throwing its more bizarre aspects against the wall in often messy but also gloriously weird fashion.

Benedict Cumberbatch is now comfortable in his fifth MCU outing as Strange, but the top acting honors go to Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda/Scarlet Witch, who brings palpable grief to a woman who’s lost her moorings but is also one of the most powerful creatures in the universe. And kudos to the game members of the Illuminati – John Krasinski as Reed Richards, Lashana Lynch as Captain Marvel, Anson Mount as Black Bolt, Hayley Atwell as Captain Carter, and Patrick Stewart as Professor X – for beaming into a sequence that had Marvel fans’ heads exploding. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness doesn’t always land right, and occasionally jumps its own tracks, but it also embraces its weirdness with vigor and abandon, and may be the MCU’s most off-the-wall entry yet. – Don Kaye

The Black Panther in Wakanda Forever

7. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Ryan Coogler never got to make the Black Panther sequel he intended. After the tragic passing of star Chadwick Boseman in 2020, it was impossible. What is remarkable about Wakanda Forever, then, is not that it got made, but that it became such a bittersweet love letter to Boseman’s brief but enduring legacy. The grief exuded by the cast and crew in this sequel is palpable as fictional characters in the nation of Wakanda mourn the loss of their King T’Challa just as sorrowfully as Boseman’s collaborators do onscreen.

Yet in the Black Panther actor’s absence, Coogler and company build a genuine ensemble piece in which characters who previously buttressed T’Challa’s story now share center stage. Together they forge their own dynamic tale, all while building the most compelling version of MCU geopolitics since the early Iron Man movies. Letitita Wright as the wrathful Shuri, Lupita Nyong’o as the more guarded yet grieving Nakia, and most especially Angela Bassett as Ramonda, the regal queen who has lost everything, each leave an indelible impression. Indeed, Bassett may win an Oscar for her most ferocious monologue.

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