After 2020, we really needed a return of some inspiring superheroes. Luckily, 2021 had a nice slate of superhero movies to not only get people back into movie theaters but also just to provide some hope and brightness for those who needed it. While Marvel carried most of the weight in terms of superhero movies, DC still delivered some sneaky good ones that set them up nicely for the future.
However, no matter how many people these heroes saved in their films, their biggest rescue may have been movie theaters, as people finally came back to watch these blockbusters. Not every superhero movie that came out this year was great, but they were all at the very least highly entertaining. Here is a ranking of every superhero movie released in 2021.
7. Venom: Let There Be Carnage
The first Venom isn’t exactly beloved, but there is an audience that came to appreciate its cheesy nature along with the relationship between Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and Venom (also Tom Hardy). Venom: Let There Be Carnage doubles down on this to the film’s detriment. This wouldn’t be a problem if their relationship struggles were funny or clever but their constant bickering became annoying and it lasted for such a long time. Plus, without subtitles, it’s hard to know what either is saying.
Woody Harrelson as Carnage is delightful as Harrelson just turns it to eleven. However, when Carnage and his villainous girlfriend, Shriek (Naomie Harris), are causing havoc, it feels like it’s pushed to the background as Venom and Eddie’s rom-com style story takes up so much time. The final battle between Venom and Carnage is exciting and contains some visually awesome action but it feels like it comes too late. Plus, the film is only an hour and a half so everything is rushed. No new characters have a lot of time to be developed. Let There Be Carnage is entertaining enough but it squanders a lot of potential.
6. Black Widow
Black Widow was supposed to come out in 2020; however, it feels like a movie that should’ve come out in 2016. The film takes place directly after the events of Captain America: Civil War where Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is now on the run from the U.S. government. However, when an issue arrives involving her family, she becomes involved in a dangerous plot that brings up her dark past.
A Black Widow movie should’ve come a long time ago and while this isn’t bad, it could’ve been better. Johansson is once again great but she is somewhat overshadowed by the introduction of her family. Florence Pugh steals the show as Yelena while Rachel Weisz and David Harbour are also solid additions. The strength of this film is absolutely the family dynamic between the four, giving this film an emotional center. Unfortunately, the villain is completely wasted along with Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) who is also incredibly underwhelming. The action itself is fine but it is very standard for the MCU. In a phase where the MCU is setting up so much for the future, Black Widow feels like a trip to the past that is entertaining but doesn’t give Johansson the final outing she deserved.
Critics really bashed Eternals and it is rather harsh. Eternals isn’t amazing, but it’s nowhere near one of the MCU’s worst. Where Eternals falters is that it is trying to set up too much. It has way too many characters and we never get enough time to truly get to know any of them. Some of the characters absolutely shine, like Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo and Gemma Chan’s Sersi. However, others like Lia McHugh’s Sprite and Angelina Jolie’s Thena aren’t given nearly enough development in order for us to truly care about them.
Meanwhile, there is also the lore of the celestials, which is handled beautifully by director Chloe Zhao but creates a lot of unanswered questions. There is a lot of exposition to take in, making this movie very dense. Zhao does bring a unique vision to this film, creating some amazing visuals that are completely unique to the MCU. In fact, it’s refreshing that this film doesn’t feel like any other MCU film. The action is rather standard and there is some traditional MCU humor, but the themes and pacing are their own. Eternals may have worked better as a TV show so that the immense amount of details could have been fleshed out more, but for what we got, it’s still pretty good.
4. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Yes, this is technically a director’s cut but this is a completely new version of Justice League and should really be the only acceptable version. While it is 4 hours, every added detail makes this movie a completely new experience, especially for many characters. The Flash (Ezra Miller) is given a lot more to do and showcases his abilities a lot more, but justice is truly done to Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. His character arc is phenomenal here and it really makes you wonder just how much Joss Whedon must’ve hated Fisher.
The number of things here that got the chopping block in the theatrical cut is confusing, to say the least. Thankfully, Zack Snyder is able to come back and present the movie he envisioned. The action is better and more brutal, characters are given more time to develop, and there are a lot fewer awkward jokes. Yes, there are still some Snyder-ism’s that don’t work like odd music choices and overuse of slow-mo, but this is still an extreme upgrade over Whedon’s version. Even Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), a rather weak villain, got an upgrade, with more attention to his motivations and even a better design. It’s unfortunate that DC will most likely not continue with what Snyder envisioned for the future of DC because what he was setting up would’ve been awesome.
3. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Finally! Some great martial arts action in an MCU movie. Easily the best aspects of this film are the action sequences shot beautifully by director Destin Daniel Cretton. The fight sequences are fast-paced, hard-hitting, and contain unique set pieces. The bus fight is one of the best fight scenes in any MCU film. Besides that, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has a lot of great characters and is oozing with charm.
Simu Liu is a certified star and he makes Shang-Chi a great character. Awkwafina is also great and is more toned-down than her normal performances which fits better for this film. Michelle Yeoh and Meng’er Zhang are also badass whenever on screen. However, Tony Leung steals the show as the villain. He is a complex character with understandable motivations but is still wicked enough to create some menace. Where Shang-Chi falters slightly is its third act. The action isn’t bad but it substitutes emotional battles between characters for a large, monster-filled, CGI-fest. It’s harder to become invested in this battle when it is so overblown. There are also some comedic moments that don’t hit and some pacing issues. However, Shang-Chi is still a solid MCU adventure and one of their best origin films.
2. The Suicide Squad
The Suicide Squad is the best film in the DCEU so far. It’s so different from anything else. Bloody, hilarious, and filled with dark and mean-spirited humor. However, director James Gunn is still able to work a lot of heart into the film. Each character gets their own arc and their own emotional moments throughout their journey. Yes, they’re all villains but it’s understandable why they do the things they do.
Characters often thought of as jokes like King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) are made out to be more sympathetic characters. Margot Robbie is perfect as always as Harley Quinn and Joel Kinnaman is a much cooler Rick Flag than in the 2016 film. The standouts had to be both Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher II and John Cena as Peacemaker. Cena gives his best performance here and it makes the Peacemaker series coming to HBO Max much more intriguing. Idris Elba is also great but he’s not doing anything we haven’t seen from him. The action is bizarre, chaotic, brutal, and bloody. Immediately, the movie kills off a bunch of characters, setting up the idea that nobody is safe. It’s hard to believe that a movie stuffed with so much works so well but Gunn brings everything together beautifully. There may be tons of violence and gore; however, Gunn still takes the time to create great characters. Hopefully, Gunn can deliver more comic book movies like this down the line.
1. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Spider-Man: No Way Home is the perfect Christmas present for Marvel fans. It delivers on every expectation but also manages to be a great Spider-Man movie. Despite the massive onslaught of past heroes and villains, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker still remains central to the story, setting up his character for an exciting future. Plus, Holland and Zendaya just have fantastic chemistry and their relationship becomes an emotional core for No Way Home. It’s a great conclusion to the “home” trilogy that also contains a boatload of great fan service.
The fan service isn’t just quick cameos for popular characters who just say an iconic line and then leave. Characters like Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) are given their own redemption arcs. They carry over from the last time we saw them and their character arcs give a satisfying resolution for their characters if, in fact, this is the last time we see them. There’s a bunch of things that happen that shouldn’t be spoiled, but the third act is filled with sequences that barely feel real. They are something that used to only belong in a fan’s dream. Yes, there are lots of plot holes and some jokes that don’t work, but No Way Home is easily the most satisfying superhero film of the year and one of the best theater experiences of all time.