Marvel have outdone themselves in Phase 4 by branching out to the medium of television and finally exploring storylines of the original Avengers. Branching into the development of TV series might have been the best thing Marvel have done yet. If the response from WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki , etc. are any indicator, then we can anticipate phenomenal Marvel content for the foreseeable future. This does not mean that Marvel has stopped producing films; if anything, it has stepped up its game and expanded its universe even further by introducing brand characters and plot lines. Here, we have reviewed four of Marvel’s 2021 projects, giving both praise and criticism from a viewer’s perspective.
This series was a spectacular continuation of Loki’s storyline. During the events of Avengers Endgame, almost all of Loki’s character development was erased with the changed timeline. This was both intriguing and confusing since Endgame basically rewrote the direction of many storylines, Loki’s included. This was a bit frustrating for Marvel fans, considering that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has been a fan-favourite for almost ten years. However, these same fans were ecstatic to see the trickster god finally receiving a starring role in his own Disney+ series in March 2021.
Loki offered Marvel a unique opportunity to expand a complex character in a more in-depth way than it could have in the past. It proved the Loki’s presence in the MCU is not solely to be the stand-in villain; he holds more value than that. As a character, he is more relatable and his struggles pave the way for self-realisation, contentment, and above all, his own ‘glorious purpose’.
One of the best aspects of the series was the friendship between Loki and Agent Mobius. Both parties are witty, sarcastic and chaotic in their own way which makes for excellent TV entertainment and character development. Owen Wilson gave an amazing performance as Mobius M. Mobius and certainly proved himself to be a worthy partner-in-chaos for the god of mischief.
The emergence of Variants in the series was an enticing new storyline for the MCU. Sophia Di Martino gave a spectacular performance as Sylvie, a Loki Variant who wreaks havoc on the Sacred Timeline and fights to regain control of her life. The depths of this character are similar to those of Loki in Thor (2011) as she struggles with her emotions and identity, although she has lived a very different life. Her resilience and unquestionable fearlessness made her an instant fan favourite.
The unexpected plot twists and changing character arcs during the finale ultimately cemented the success of Loki as a Disney+ series. The series revealed a deeper emotional side to Loki and let Marvel fans watch him really connect with the people around him, especially Sylvie and Mobius. The finale laid the groundwork for an epic start to Series 2 with more adventures to be had throughout chaotic timelines. The Time Bureau is a new organisation in the MCU, and fans are undoubtedly curious to find out more about how it works.
Scarlett Johannson’s portrayal of Natasha Romanoff was finally rewarded with its own screening! The film delves into the origin story of the Black Widow after her introduction to the MCU in 2010 and how she spent her time on the run from the American government following the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016). Natasha Romanoff truly had one of the most interesting and traumatic backstories out of all the Avengers. The film’s release is a fantastic opportunity to understand her character’s journey and finally get a peek inside the Red Room, a brutal KGB military facility created by the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
By far, one of the best features of this film was the introduction of Romanoff’s adoptive sister, Yelena Belova (portrayed by Florence Pugh). This character lived up to and exceeded expectations with her dry wit, exceptional combat skills and her love of pockets. The film had a multitude of sisterly moments between Natasha and Yelena, including the car scene when Yelena talks about her homemade vest, much to her sister’s amusement.
In retrospect, the villain Dreykov was initially introduced in the film as a terrifying, intimidating and ruthless individual. This was highlighted by the haunting and very emotive opening credits. However, the evilness of this promising character seemed to lose some of his dangerous demeanour over the twenty-odd year time jump in the film. The actor should not necessarily be critiqued for this shift – it seems like a result of lacklustre writing for the head of a ruthless, chilling place like the Red Room. It felt as though there was room for more character expansion. More actions scenes with Dreykov would not have gone amiss here.
The ending was also somewhat of a let-down, considering its ambiguity and the potential to finish subplots in the film wasn’t realised. However, most of these holes were remedied with a spectacularly emotional after-credits scene showing Yelena’s visit to her sister’s grave. Her whistle of sorrow and the closing shot of Natasha’s tree gave a sense of peaceful finality to the beloved character’s tale.
This film was a great way to pay tribute to a character that definitely deserved her own film trilogy. Director Cate Shortland has expressed interest in making a sequel – perhaps we’ll see Yelena Belova again as the lead Black Widow in the future? Fingers crossed!
A whole new team of supernatural beings have materialized in the Marvel universe! But apparently, they’ve always been around…?
These Celestials were charged with protecting Earth from dangerous forces known as the Deviants, but also had an active part in helping humanity evolve over thousands of years. The film had regular flashbacks to ancient times when the Eternals’ stories began and revealed why they remained inactive while the Avengers became ‘Earth’s mightiest heroes’. All in all, it adds a whole new prism from which to view the MCU! Hardcore sci-fi/superhero fans will definitely find this film interesting.
The critics’ reviews of this film might discourage people, although it’s always best to judge a film first-hand. There was a solid chemistry between the Celestials, making it easy to view them as a ‘family’ of powerful beings. In particular, Barry Keoghan’s portrayal of Druig was masterful, adding an air of intrigue to the character and quickly making him a favourite for the audience. There were decent choices made for the plot. The concept of building universes by using planets as a breeding space was an unexpected twist, but definitely drew people into the story. The true villain ultimately turning out to be one of their own opened the story up to additional conflict, causing a division of loyalties between the Celestials during the final battle.
Admittedly, the critics’ constructive reviews were entirely justified for parts of the film. The storytelling was haphazardly structured with multiple flashbacks, making it difficult to follow, whilst some characters’ development felt mildly forced. Considering its potential, Eternals could have amounted to something more engaging. It may have been more successful and well-received had it been adapted as a television miniseries. The film itself was entirely too long to provide the level of context needed to understand it. Some things got lost in translation or simply sidelined. For example, the Deviants were initially thought to be the main antagonists of the film but seemed to become an afterthought towards the end. Ultimately, they were used as cannon fodder for action sequences and simple tools to outline the Celestials’ purpose and backstory on Earth. It seems a shame because they could have been used for later scenes on a larger scale. The sequel offers an opportunity for the Deviants to make a more impactful comeback.
Overall, Eternals was an average albeit entertaining film with strong potential for a better, more structured sequel. Hopefully, we will see more about the Celestials’ origins and have the chance to watch the Black Knight’s journey unfold as it ties into the story.
Hailee Steinfeld’s introduction as adventurous archer Kate Bishop was one of the best new changes to the MCU in 2021. Seeing Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) be pulled into a reluctant partnership with her witty, funny character while attempting to right his past sins was admittedly a very entertaining watch. Their chemistry shines through from the start and leads up to an effective teamwork which ends up saving New York from the tracksuit mafia and corrupt elitists. The series is made more engaging and relatable with the introduction of Lucky the ‘Pizza Dog’ and Clint’s endgame of getting home for Christmas.
However, the real asset is Kate’s unfailingly determination to do the right thing and her youthful energy. She is portrayed as an ideal hero with characteristics and goals that are hard to maintain on a daily basis. Kate Bishop’s resolution to protect and inspire hope in people is evident in her actions to help Clint Barton right his wrongs. She also makes the honourable decision to arrest her mother, proving she is willing to self-sacrifice. Hailee Steinfeld connects with her character’s emotional state so convincingly, living and breathing her energy. Along with Florence Pugh, she may be one of the most talented young actresses of this era. Ultimately, Kate Bishop promises to be the next Hawkeye – more hopeful, less jaded, and with a quiet determination to take up the mantle of the world’s greatest archer. Her budding friendships with Clint Barton, Yelena Belova and NY’s finest LARPers make this goal seem more feasible than ever.
Much like the Black Widow, this year, Hawkeye himself finally had the opportunity to star in his own Marvel production. Clint Barton gets to show off his archery skills over the course of six episodes and work through his grief for the late Natasha Romanoff. Renner’s performance is incredibly grounded and expressive, beginning to lend a sense of peace to his character as he overcomes his obstacles.
The pace of the miniseries seems to deviate from the overall direction of the Marvel universe. Arguably, this liberates the story from following the predetermined plots of other Marvel projects and gave it a sense of freedom, light-heartedness and, dare I say it, fun. It all ties together nicely while offering an element of Christmas warmth for its audience. You can really feel the vibes of the comic source material throughout the run of the series. This bizarre pair of heroes set off on their festive, but urgent mission in the wilderness that is New York City.
Ultimately, we can determine that Marvel’s Phase 4 is off to a phenomenal start as it explores more intriguing and unprecedented storylines. Introducing new characters expands the universe even further, leaving us wondering what adventures lie ahead. All of the aforementioned Marvel productions are available to watch on Disney+ and we can’t wait to see what the studios have in store this year!