Comic book movies dominate the cinematic landscape today. It feels like every year more franchises and comic book characters are being brought to the big screen. Though 2020 was a very strange cinematic year, we still got a handful of comic book movies. Pandemic or not, comic book movies are here to stay.
2021 offered up eight comic book movies, which is close to the same number we got in 2019 and 2018 (we had nine in both of those years). 2021 didn’t offer up anything unique or new for comic book movies. It was dominated by Marvel and DC, with Marvel accounting for five of the eight comic book movies that came out this year. Here is my ranking of all the comic book movies that came out in 2021.
I would also like to note that I was unable to see The King’s Man so that one hasn’t been ranked. Hopefully, I’ll be able to check that out soon and update the list.
7. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Say what you want about how or why Zack Snyder’s Justice League exists, but it does and that is the world we live in. The first Justice League, initially directed by Snyder but then taken over by Joss Whedon following a horrible tragedy in Snyder’s life, is arguably the most disappointing comic book movie of all time and, for a movie that features Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Aquaman, is completely forgettable and terribly made. Snyder was given an additional $70 million for reshoots and other edits and made his complete vision of the film, which featured a four-hour runtime, a pallet change, additional scenes, and tons of new visual effects.
Here’s the problem with all of that: this is still the same movie just way longer. Sure, we get more backstory on some characters and the movie looks substantially better, but the plot is the same, which was the first movie’s biggest problem and is this movie’s biggest problem as well. There is also no emotional connection to any of the characters because Warner Bros. and D.C. have done a terrible job of building this cinematic universe. Steppenwolf is an awful villain and there are a ton of scenes that we did not need (Flash saving the girl from the car crash is the main culprit here), which only stand out more when the movie is an excruciating four hours. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an exhausting experience and one I never want to experience ever again.
6. Black Widow
Though I have Zach Snyder’s Justice League ranked lower, Black Widow is probably the most useless comic book movie to come out in 2021. The last time we saw Black Widow, she was falling off a cliff on Vormir in order to get the soul stone for the Avengers to defeat Thanos in Avengers: End Game. Story over, right? Well, kind of. Black Widow is a prequel that feels more like a consolation prize to Scarlett Johansson and her character, an original Avenger who should have had her own movie during Phase 2 of the MCU. The movie also serves as a launching point for Black Widow’s sister, Yelena Belova (a scene-stealing Florence Pugh), who has already popped back up in the Disney+ show, Hawkeye. Though some of the action is good and Pugh is incredible, Black Widow is a movie that feels ten years too late.
5. The Suicide Squad
The Suicide Squad is a significant upgrade from David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad, though that wasn’t really a tall task, seeing as Ayer’s film is one of the worst comic book movies I have ever seen. Warner Bros. and DC smartly hired director James Gunn for this, a man with a great history of bringing together a group of misfit superheroes with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Gunn does an excellent job here, giving the group a fun personality while capturing exciting, violent set-pieces. The stellar ensemble all bring their A-game, with Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, and Sylvester Stallone being the standouts.
Is The Suicide Squad a sequel? A prequel? A remake? Who even knows, but it’s a bloody good time and I had fun with it.
4. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a breath of fresh air in the MCU. Shang-Chi is a character that I knew nothing about, but director Destin Daniel Cretton gave us the best hero intro movie since Black Panther. This a film loaded with backstory, lore, and history, giving us a full picture not only about who Shang-Chi and his family and the Ten Rings. The action is sensational, particularly the finale fight, which is a colorful feast for the eyes, the cast is great (Simu Liu is a star) and it has a ton of humor and heart.
What I liked most was that the film didn’t just focus on who Shang-Chi was and his origin story but acted also as an origin story for the Ten Rings and who can be worthy of them. Shang-Chi is both a mythical superhero movie and a family drama that looks at the effects of our family’s past and trying to right the wrongs.
I’m excited to see where Shang-Chi goes next in the MCU.
3. Venom: Let There Be Carnage
The Venom franchise is an interesting one. When the idea of a Venom movie came out, I think everyone was anticipating a wild, more violent look at Spider-Man’s most iconic villain, and that this franchise would eventually merge with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.
But that is far from what we got. This Venom franchise, led by a brilliant Tom Hardy, is focused less on Venom fighting and any sort of comic book action and more on the relationship between Eddie Brock and the symbiotic alien that has taken over his body. The first Venom film played more like a buddy-action-comedy in the vein in 48 Hours, as we watched Eddie and Venom learn to work together to save San Francisco.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage plays more like a romantic comedy than a comic book movie and it’s an absolute blast. Though the film features a wild Woody Harrelson as the psychotic Carnage, the red, more violent version of Venom, Let There Be Carnage features Eddie and Venom at each other’s throats and constantly disagreeing and fighting (one of the movie’s best scenes) and ultimately realizing how much they mean to each other.
No comic book franchise is doing like the Venom franchise.
2. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Spider-Man: Now Way Home was the cinematic event of the year. A movie that is breaking box office records and bringing moviegoers back to the cinema. Spider-Man: No Way Home is an absolute blast and the best of the Tom Holland-led Spider-Man films. It’s big, bold, epic, wildly entertaining from start to finish, and filled with tons of emotion that really hit the heartstrings. The action scenes are excellent and the final battle is one of the great moments in the MCU.
Tom Holland gives not only his best performance in this franchise but the best performance of his career. What makes Holland’s performance great is that he finally gets to shine as Spider-Man. In the previous two movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, Holland shined as Peter Parker, but not as much as Spider-Man. But in No Way Home, he really elevates his Spider-Man performance to a new level, showing the heroic struggle he faces, something we’d been missing in the previous films. We also get exceptional work from Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina, reprising their iconic roles as Green Goblin and Doctor Otto Octavius.
It does lean on the side of fan-servicey, especially towards the end, but Spider-Man: No Way Home is too epic to not love.
Eternals will go down as one of the most divisive movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is the first time a movie in the MCU received a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes and it is a film that both disappointed and surprised audiences. I was on the side of surprise, and I really loved Eternals and everything it was doing. Eternals introduced us to a new batch of intergalactic heroes and only expanded the universe even further, making us wonder where the MCU will go next and how big the universe could be.
But what made Eternals the best comic book movie of the year was that it feels completely different than all other comic book movies this year and all other MCU movies. Director Chloé Zhao, fresh off her legendary Oscar-win for Nomadland, didn’t make a typical MCU but instead made a true Chloé Zhao movie. The gorgeous look and somber vibe are unlike anything we’d seen before in the MCU, and the themes of finding your identity and being lost in a world you thought you knew are themes Zhao has been tackling her whole career.
Eternals might be a divisive movie, but it is unlike any other movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the best comic book movie of 2021.
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