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: Please, no more ‘Morbius’

Even “Dracula Untold” from the ill-fated Dark Universe did a vampire origin story better.

The movie follows the titular character Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), who’s lived with a debilitating blood illness his whole life. It’s something he shares with his surrogate brother Lucien (Matt Smith), with the two meeting at a hospital as children to be treated for the same disease.

As adults, Lucien has become a wealthy businessman while Michael is a world-renowned doctor specialized in treating blood-related diseases. Michael’s latest experiment to treat illnesses, including his own, turns out to be a mistake, though, as he is transformed into a vampire.

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REVIEW: ‘The Batman’ is a brilliant caped crusader story

Some of the best elements of the “Batman” interpretations by directors Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan are melded into the new crime epic featuring the Dark Knight.

In director Matt Reeves’ “The Batman,” Robert Pattinson stars as Bruce Wayne, who spends his nights out in Gotham City as the caped crusader. The film picks up with him meeting with Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) after a night of fighting criminals to consult on a murder case.

The victim is the city’s mayor, and the suspect is the Riddler (Paul Dano), who leaves behind haunting clues. The killing sets Batman on an investigation, where he partners with Gordon and a cat burglar, Selina (Zoe Kravitz). The investigation brings him in conflict with the city’s underbelly, with the likes of the Penguin (Colin Farrell) in his way.

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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: ‘Venom’ sequel offers below average action, humor

Eddie and Venom are back for another action film, or maybe a relationship-based sitcom. It gets kind of hard to tell.

“Let there be Carnage” is the sequel to the 2018 film “Venom,” which once again focuses on digital journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who is host of an alien parasite, Venom. Venom and Eddie try to get along, but the two begin getting on each others nerves and their symbiotic relationship starts becoming strained.

Meanwhile, serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who Eddie has interviewed a few times, is set to get the death penalty. Before his death, though, Cletus does a last interview with Eddie and in the process, Cletus comes in contact with Venom. The contact mutates into a new symbiote named Carnage, which gives Cletus the power to break out of prison, with vengeance in mind against all who’ve wronged him.

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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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REVIEW: ‘Suicide Squad’ succeeds under Gunn’s direction

Considering there was another movie released just a few years earlier, I figured they would have come up with another title to set this “Suicide Squad” apart than just adding a “The.”

But it works for Ohio State, so, maybe it’s fine here.

The Suicide Squad” follows a new group of convicts turned mercenaries working for government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) for a chance of reducing their sentence. This group includes a pair of top tier elite assassins in Peacemaker (John Cena) and Bloodsport (Idris Elba), as well as a human shark hybrid (voice by Sylvester Stallone), a woman who has a device to control rats (Daniela Melchior) and a man who can shoot colorful energy bolts (David Dastmalchian).

Along for the ride with this Suicide Squad team is their government chaperone Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and the infamous Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). This time around, the crew is tasked with taking down the dictator of a remote island who has fallen into control of a dangerous scientific research facility.

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REVIEW: Deviation from spy genre breaks ‘Black Widow’

The concept of family was brought up so many times, I thought I was in the wrong room watching “F9.”

“Black Widow” takes place between “Captain America 3” and “Avengers 3,” when Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) was on the run from the American government because of the Sokovia Accords conflict. Romanoff manages to go into hiding, but it’s not long before her past life catches up with her.

It turns out Yelena (Florence Pugh) who posed as Natasha’s sister in an undercover family, needs Black Widow’s help. The organization that created the Black Widow program, known as the Red Room, has developed a dangerous mind control system and Yelena is hoping to put an end to it. Knowing they need some additional help, the duo recruit other members of their undercover family, the father Alexei (David Harbour) and mother Melina (Rachel Wesz).

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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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