Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a hardcore superhero fan. Even more so, I am a hardcore DC Comics fan. For an entire childhood through 40 some years of puberty, I believed Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Hawkgirl were way more heroic and captivating than the likes of Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow.
I mean DC had Christopher Reeve, Michael Keaton and Lynda Carter breathing life into their heroes. Marvel had uh… Bill Bixby? Matt Salinger? David Hasselhoff.
All of that changed in 2008 when Robert Downey, Jr. took to the skies as Tony Stark/Iron Man. With the Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) post-credits scene informing Stark there were others, Marvel’s Phase One was born. And it never stopped reproducing.
Now, in this golden age of superhero entertainment, Marvel Studios and President of Production, Kevin Feige, have given us fanboys and fangirls present after present. Warner Bros and DC’s presents have been more akin to a hammer from Ace Hardware or a tie.
While I defended DC and Warner Bros. over the years it has become harder and harder to do with the likes of the original Justice League, Superman Returns, Superman 3 and 4, Batman and Robin, Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman 1984. We will not speak of Steel or Catwoman in this article.
So every so slowly I have fallen in love with Marvel and its presents that just keep on giving. Here are my reasons why I now believe Kevin Feige exists at the North Pole
Marvel Studios has managed time and time again to take B- or C-list heroes and turn them into A-listers. They managed to take “boring” Captain America and deliver the best trilogy of the individual Marvel films. Shame on any director who says it’s hard to make Superman relevant to today’s audience.
Enter Wanda Maximoff. Kicking off Marvel’s Phase 4, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) was introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron along with her brother Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). While Quicksilver died, Wanda blossomed into an integral Avenger and developed a romantic relationship with Vision. We saw that relationship end tragically in Avengers: Infinity War at the hand of Thanos.
That relationship was magically resurrected in the Disney+ series, WandaVision. The first few episodes were of a brilliant oddity as we watched Wanda and Vision (Paul Bettany) parody to perfection sitcoms of the 1950s through 1970s. While funn and bizarre, there was something sinister brewing underneath. And that sinister was a little-known witch Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn).
By the 9-episode series’ ending, we realized Feige and company had told an astounding story of love and mourning. I cried so much during the last two episodes, I watched the series three more times, forcing my (eventually grateful) friends to watch as well.
The Scarlett Witch was born and I was grateful for this series in a pandemic year. The AFI named WandaVision as one of the top ten TV series of the year. I couldn’t agree more.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier
Just barely recovering from the emotional rollercoaster of WandaVision, Marvel and Feige had us unwrap the six-episode spy thriller The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. When Cap (Chris Evans) gave up his shield to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) the question became could Sam (and want to) carry the mantle.
Along came Cap’s best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), pulling Sam into a mission abroad to answer this question. This led to one of the best buddy action/comedy pairings since Danny Glover and Mel Gibson picked up badges and guns in Lethal Weapon.
Using the same camera-work as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, as well as bringing back composer Henry Jackman, we were immediately thrown back into a Cap’s spy world complete with action, betrayals, and twists.
We also were introduced to U.S. Agent (Wyatt Russell) and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) The overall villain Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), was not that great, but she brought just enough tension to the storyline of Captain America 2.0’s origin story. Bucky’s story of finding redemption from the horrors and tragedies he created as The Winter Soldier was just as compelling.
The speech Sam delivers at the conclusion asking would the world accept a Black Captain America was both poignant and meta. Will the characters of the MCU accept a Black Cap? Will the movie-going audience accept Mackie as the new hero? The latter is the reason I cried because in 2021 we still have to ask ourselves this question.
I accept Sam and Anthony. I hope the world accepts them as Captain America.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
I’ll be the first to admit this was not high on my list when Marvel first announced it. I had never heard of the hero, being a DC fan, and I had never heard of the actor Simu Liu.
Once again Marvel and Feige showed me how wrong I was after I pulled this out of the stocking. Director Destin Daniel Cretton gave us the gift of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings a story that followed Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) who discovers he must confront the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization.
Like Black Panther in 2018, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings introduced audiences to a new culture and we embraced it. The Marvel film was refreshing as it marked a major step forward for Asian representation on the big screen. More so than Crazy Rich Asians, which was a Hallmark movie with Asian tropes, Shang-Chi was a flurry of Eastern culture mixed with fight choreography, dense mythology a heartfelt script and one of the best car/bus chases in San Francisco film history.
The film, along with Apple’s Swan Song, also made me develop a massive crush on Awkwafina.
Another Disney+ series I thought I could take or leave was Tom Hiddleston in Loki which gave us Christmas in June.
Thor’s brother delivered another winning comedy-adventure series as the God of Mischief explored the Multiverse with the Timekeeper’s Owen Wilson’s Mobius and Loki variant Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). We witnessed Loki mature from the self-centered “God” of the early Thor and Avengers films into a real hero as the multiverse breaks down.
The series was ambitious, funny, filled with genuine emotion as well as surprises and a possible new threat – Kang the Conquerer played by Jonathan Majors.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
What can I say about the last film in the Spider-Man “Home” trilogy that hasn’t been said already? First introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland has embodied the spirit of the webhead first launched by Tobey Maguire and then, Andrew Garfield.
While Homecoming and Far From Home portrayed Peter as kind of a wide-eyed and earnest, “Golly, Mr. Stark” kid, there was something that was so likable about the annoyingly nice Holland.
What we got in No Way Home was Peter’s coming-of-age story where he became the Spider-Man we all know and love. Some will say the film will cross a billion dollars this weekend because of all the fan service. But it’s more than that. The story was not good. It was SPECTACULAR. Peter’s fight with the Green Goblin (welcome back Willem DaFoe) was brutal and emotional. Peter finally learned with “Great Power comes Great Responsibility.”
If Tom Holland doesn’t return as Peter, then Marvel, Feige, Sony and director Jon Watts gave him the perfect send-off. Besides, now you have two other Peters to choose from.
Hawkeye was another Avenger I wasn’t that interested in. It’s not Jeremy Renner’s, first introduced in Thor, fault. It’s hard to care about the archer when you have a shield throwing super soldier and Iron Man. Even when his family was introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron, I could still take or leave Clint Barton.
If Clint had gone over the edge of the cliff, instead of Natasha, in Avengers: Endgame, I wouldn’t have shed a tear.
That all changed with the Disney+ series Hawkeye. A mix of Die Hard and Die Hard with a Vengeance, Hawkeye gave us genuine reasons to like and root for Clint.
The series also introduced us to the new Avenger-in-the-making Kate Bishop, played to perfection by Hailee Steinfeld. Her Kate was funny, adventurous, and loyal to Clint and Lucky the Pizza Dog. Kate’s fight with King Pin (welcome back Vincent D’Onofrio) was almost as brutal as Peter’s fight with Goblin.
The finale was filled with awe-inspiring effects and a Rogers The Musical number.
There was also What If…?, which introduced us to The Watcher as well as Black Widow which told Yelena Belova’s (Florence Pugh) origin story. And The Eternals introduced us to cosmic heroes. All in all, in a year that was still challenging from the pandemic, this was a banner year for Marvel and Santa Feige.
It’s clear that Marvel and Disney love and respect their fans, which is why they keep showering them with gifts. I’m not so sure about DC and Warner Bros anymore. The Batman, The Flash, Aquaman, Batgirl and Black Adam will give us a good idea. Until then, I will continue to gladly unwrap what Marvel has to offer.
Phase Four was designed as a kind of passing of the torch to new heroes we will root for over the next ten years. And that is due to the vision of Santa Feige and his elves at the North Pole.