Phase 4 shows the MCU is running on empty

No, I’m not being paid by Warner Bros. or DC to write this.

Honestly, for the longest time I rejected this notion. Marvel Studios had a really good track record here at this site. Aside from “Thor: The Dark World,” most entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe received a 3 out of 5 or higher from yours truly.

For those who may not know, that’s enough to get a “fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes. That was true right up through the summer of 2019.

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REVIEW: Studio-driven ‘Doctor Strange 2’ short on substance

Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been pretty poor so far.

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) starts off this latest Marvel adventure on a down note, having to attend a wedding where the woman he loved is getting married to someone else. Any negative feelings about that have to wait, though, when a giant monster attacks a young woman nearby.

The woman is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the power to travel to different universes, but can’t quite control it yet. After rescuing her, Strange seeks counsel from Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), as she might be able to help with her knowledge of magic. However, Wanda sees an opportunity to use America’s powers for herself so that she can find a different universe where she can be happier.

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REVIEW: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ spins a satisfying web

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s incarnation of Spider-Man fought in the Avengers’ Civil War and the Infinity War, but those end up paling in comparison to his multi-layered challenge in “No Way Home.”

The hero’s alter ego is Peter Parker, once again portrayed by Tom Holland. The movie begins with a news program revealing the webslinger’s identity via a hoax video produced by the villain Mysterio.

In the video, Mysterio not only revealed that Spider-Man is Peter Parker, he also claimed the hero used drone technology to wreak havoc on London. Parker soon has supporters and haters surrounding him 24/7, which pushes him to find a solution. That solution is visiting Mystic Arts Master Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asking if there’s a spell to make people forget Spider-Man’s identity.

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REVIEW: ‘Eternals’ is a low grade MCU entry

Director Chloé Zhao had had a great track record with 2017’s “The Rider” and last year’s “Nomadland,” the latter winning Academy Awards.

Unfortunately, her venture into the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t as good.

This MCU entry features characters older than all of the heroes audiences have been introduced to since 2008. Those characters are the Eternals, a race of warriors with special powers created by a being known as Arishem. Their purpose is to protect life across the cosmos from dark creatures known as Deviants.

Their latest mission brought them to Earth at the dawn of humanity, where they defended mankind for centuries from Deviants across the planet. The movie picks up with the Eternals in the present day, living among humanity and waiting for future orders from Arishem. However, their now normal lives are upended when the Deviants, long thought defeated, come back.

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REVIEW: ‘Shang Chi’ is sufficient, but not sensational

In 2008, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie featured the Ten Rings as an antagonistic organization.

More than a decade later, we finally get a look at the group’s true leader, and his family.

Tony Leung stars as Xu Wenwu in “Shang-Chi,” a man who has lived for centuries thanks to his 10 magical rings he wields. For most of his life, Wenwu had been focused on conquest, leading an army known as the Ten Rings. However, this changes when he meets Ying Li, a woman from a mystical land.

Wenwu ends his warrior ways as he gets married to Ying Li and they have two children, one being Shang Chi (Simu Liu). However, following the loss of a family member, Wenwu once again takes his old mantle while also training Shang Chi to be a skilled warrior. But when the time comes for Shang Chi to go out on Ten Rings a mission, he opts instead to leave his family and the Ten Rings organization and start a new life in the United States.

At the movie’s start, though, Shang Chi’s old life comes calling.

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Eight Great Black Widow Moments

In the last decade, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow, has appeared in eight Marvel Cinematic Universe films. After her career as a spy, she joined the superhero team the Avengers and was integral in several battles during the Infinity conflicts.

There have been a lot of superb spy moments in the Marvel movies, but these eight are my favorite. I’m of course going with eight because of spiders having eight legs. Seemed appropriate.

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