2. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
The Marvel Cinematic Universe needed something of a reset following the era-defining work of Phase Three and the double mega-successes of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings we got it. A martial arts-driven comic book movie was all we needed all along.
As much as this superhero origin story was driven by some of the tropes of the MCU we’ve all become way too familiar with, Shang-Chi worked tirelessly to make the most of each of its minutes, fusing Marvel’s all-action style with Jackie Chan-inspired fight choreography and even hints of Ang Lee’s masterful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, to offer something that felt fresh even after twenty-plus MCU releases.
This film was so good that it has to be considered amongst the best of the MCU’s origin stories (see Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy), and it only misses out on the top spot here due to a lack of originality (and a slight pacing issue) in its final act.
1. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Sometimes it doesn’t matter if things make perfect sense, or if every familiar character is written as tightly as they might have been in the past. Sometimes all that matters is that you see a lot of things you’re excited about in one place; the kinds of things that the child in you screams about as tears fill your eyes.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was dream factory stuff for fans of superhero cinema. It was the kind of movie that puts butts in seats on the vague hint of something special occurring and then delivers it all with aplomb. It managed to fill every minute of its runtime with fun or notable moments, character returns or major twists to its tale, yet it never lost sight of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker and the strife of carrying so much responsibility on your shoulders as a teenager about to graduate high school.
As both a vehicle for nostalgia and a final act in an introductory trilogy, Spider-Man: No Way Home was excellent, and while it would be easy to pick faults with some of the dialogue or narrative conveniences, there was more than enough by the way of narrative stakes, meaningful choices for characters to make, and once-in-a-lifetime moments to make this eleventh theatrically released Spidey outing the very best comic book movie of 2021.
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