Ms. Marvel (2022) aired its finale this past week, bringing a flurry of Disney+ releases to a close until the upcoming She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (2022) premieres in roughly a month. With that breather in store, it’s a fitting time to reflect on the in-canon MCU shows we’ve gotten since the kickoff in January 2021. Yes, this means I’ll be leaving out the Netflix and Hulu shows in favor of zeroing in on the seven properties released on Disney+. Now, without any further ado, let’s get down to business.
7. What If…? (2022)
Conceptually, the chance to see sliding door moments in the MCU is an exciting one. Part of the whole MCU process has been to tweak pivotal times from the comics and reimagine them for the films. Add animation into the mix, a medium flush with creative possibilities, and What If…? seemed like a home run waiting to happen. And yet, what we ended up with was a series of animated Marvel wiki entries. Was it fun to see zombies happen? Yes. Did I tear up a little listening to Chadwick Boseman voice Star-Lord? Absolutely. However, apart from those highlights, the 10-episode run was mostly an exercise in disappointment. It is also a terrible waste of the fabulous Jeffrey Wright, who still managed to squeeze some lovely line readings out of his time as the Watcher.
6. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021)
Pairing up two beloved supporting characters with a shared history should be a chance for greatness. Both Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan are triple-threats able to mix hefty dramatic acting, spicy zingers galore, and no small bit of demanding fight sequences. Throw in each of their fractured but loving dynamics with Steve Rogers, and you have a dynamite starting point. What fails The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a combination of scattershot writing and cut storylines that leave the series feeling simultaneously bloated and underbaked. There are flashes of brilliance when Mackie and Stan get to lean into their frenemy dynamic and actively grapple with where they are after Steve and the Blip. Or, whenever Carl Lumbly or Daniel Brühl is onscreen. But the sum total ends up being about moving titles and re/introducing characters for later projects. Fingers crossed it’ll get better for Captain America.
5. Moon Knight (2022)
When early reports positioned Moon Knight as a proper MCU foray into horror, I was incredibly jazzed. Throw in a dual role from Daddy-in-Chief himself Oscar Isaac, and the table was set for an always-needed bolt-of-lightning to shake up the MCU origin-story formula. What we ended up with was a movie’s worth of story stretched to the breaking point in order to cover six episodes of television. Exceptional performances from Isaac, Ethan Hawke, and May Calamawy cannot make up for the fact that the first three episodes could quite easily be condensed into one, getting us to the far more interesting latter half of the season. Episodes four and five are wonderful bits of MCU television with interesting direction, showcase moments for the cast, and a deepening of the lore. Yet, by the end, we’ve once again come to a rote climax replete with lackluster CGI.
4. Hawkeye (2021)
Hawkeye marks the point on this list where we go from underwhelming projects with glimpses of wonder to a baseline of real quality. Channeling the Shane Black crime-at-Christmas vibe, Hawkeye doubles as an origin story for Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) and a character study for Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Echoing the archetypal “veteran detective mentors rookie” narrative, Hawkeye splits the difference between two MCU eras. Renner and Steinfeld are a dream pairing, their senses of humor and grapplings with traumatic histories blending in ways entertaining and heartwarming. It also finally provides a proper chance to delve into Clint’s psyche, a narrative choice that lends itself to television. New character Echo (Alaqua Cox) adds incredible depth, and Cox is an imposing fight presence to behold. Hawkeye only suffers from a failure to use Vera Farmiga and a regrettable late-stage need to bend to establish spin-offs.
3. WandaVision (2021)
WandaVision was pegged with the unenviable task of launching the MCU on Disney+. Narratively, it was also a test balloon to see how audiences responded to television stories expanding on otherwise minor characters in the MCU films. For my money, the first three WandaVision episodes are the most captivating projects in the MCU. The brilliant pastiche of classic sitcoms operates as both an audiovisual feast, and a showcase for Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s prodigious talents. After that opening salvo, WandaVision remains exceptional television, helped out by Kathryn Hahn’s truly iconic work as Agatha, replete with a showstopping theme song. The only wrinkle that holds WandaVision back from a higher slot on this list is a late-stage turn to MCU monotony. The final episodes take blistering creativity and repackage it into a safe, trope-filled series of showdowns. It doesn’t wipe out the initial brilliance, just leads to a shakier landing.
2. Ms. Marvel (2022)
Reports indicate that likely because of a combination of racism and terrible marketing from the Marvel PR machine, Ms. Marvel has been the least-watched MCU show. That is a travesty for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that the show is some of the most refreshing and reenergizing storytelling that the MCU has taken on in years. Iman Vellani, in her debut role as Kamala Khan, is an absolute delight. Truly hilarious and utterly believable as a teenager going through a surprise power discovery, there are no growing pains in her performance. Pair with that a series of innovative directors finding new ways to inject vivid flourishes and scripts unafraid to blend historical trauma and family drama with lighter story veins, and Ms. Marvel erupts as a totally engrossing introduction to a new character. I can’t wait for more Kamala Khan.
1. Loki (2021)
When Loki (Tom Hiddleston) snagged the tesseract in Avengers: Endgame (2019), therefore blowing up his established timeline, it was hard to know exactly what we would get when Loki was announced. At first blush, it seemed like a somewhat craven way to keep a fan-favorite character around after his death. What we ended up with was a six-episode philosophical thrill ride through a landscape of time and space that grappled with the most expansive questions of self and fate yet to enter the MCU narrative framework. Loki’s creative team proved just as adept at lingering in existential conversations between Loki and Mobius (Owen Wilson) as staging heart-thumping fight scenes to Bonnie Tyler. Boasting gorgeous production design and the deepest bench of supporting players to grace the MCU small screen, Loki is a true marvel to behold. Plus, no one can compete with that Jonathan Majors entrance.
Devin McGrath-Conwell holds a B.A. in Film / English from Middlebury College and is currently pursuing an MFA in Screenwriting from Emerson College. His obsessions include all things horror, David Lynch, the darkest of satires, and Billy Joel. Devin’s writing has also appeared in publications such as Filmhounds Magazine, Film Cred, Horror Homeroom, and Cinema Scholars.