Few genres have been as popular worldwide, in recent times, as the superhero genre. The idea of a powerful individual or group of individuals saving the world from imminent threats has proven to be immensely entertaining. Every film industry has emulated this concept. India too has seen several versions of a superhero: from Shaktimaan to Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt’s upcoming film, Brahmastra, and the Malayalam film Minnal Murali, the appeal of a power-fueled being rising to the occasion has been felt here as well.
In 2021 alone, almost 15 superhero films and shows were released. While most of them were from Marvel Studios, DC Comics released revamped versions of its older movies, Suicide Squad and Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
The fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe brought out several new stories and characters like Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), John Walker (Wyatt Russell), and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). Many of these films received acclaim and broke box-office records. Most recently, Spiderman: No Way Home became the biggest post-pandemic movie. It raked in $600 million worldwide and made it into the 100-crore club in India.
While the superhero genre seems best suited for theatres, many such stories are also being adapted to the small screen in this pandemic era. Jeremy Renner-starrer Hawkeye and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier were both successfully formulated as television shows.
Given the abundance of superhero content, it’s hardly surprising that not all of them managed to make a mark. And so, Silverscreen India has curated a list of the best superhero films and series of 2021, alongside a list of the year’s let-downs.
5 Best Superhero Shows and Films of 2021:
WandaVision (Disney+ Hotstar)
WandaVision is about superheroes Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision(Paul Bettany) and their seemingly idyllic, suburban life in Westview, New Jersey. Pegged as the official start to the fourth phase of the MCU, superhero fans were not sure what to expect from the show. Set three weeks after the events of Avengers: Endgame, viewers were unclear about how the show would proceed and the creators milked this uncertainty. Wanda and Vision’s life seems straight out of a television show – quite literally. It emulates popular TV shows like Modern Family, The Office, The Brady Bunch, The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Love Lucy and uses multiple references from them, to throw the audience off track.
An off-beat superhero series, WandaVision struck a chord with critics and viewers with its themes. Dealing with loss, grief, and identity, the limited series subverts the typical narrative by blurring the lines between a superhero and a supervillain. In addition to this, its strong antagonist, action sequences, and unique character development make it a memorable superhero story.
Shang-Chi and The Legend of Ten Rings (Disney+ Hotstar)
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, this Marvel film stars Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, and others. Shang-Chi, who goes by the alias Shaun, works as a parking valet in San Francisco. However, his past catches up with him and he is soon forced to confront the mysterious Ten Rings organisation run by his estranged father.
While origin stories are a staple of the superhero genre, Shang-Chi is refreshing because of its unique characters, funny dialogues, refined action sequences, and authentic representation of Asian culture.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
The third and final instalment in the Spider-Man Homecoming series, this film has broken multiple box-office records.
After everyone finds out Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is Spider-Man, he goes to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks him to cast a spell to make everyone forget his true identity. However, Peter’s constant interference causes the spell to backfire and accidentally opens up the multiverse. Soon, villains from other universes, like Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), show up and wreak havoc on Peter’s life.
Living up to the hype, Spider-Man: No Way Home is a thoroughly entertaining ride from start to finish. Catering ably to its loyal fanbase, the film has no dull moments and is filled with surprise reveals. Plus, it boasts of big and memorable performances from some seasoned actors.
Loki (Disney+ Hotstar)
The God of Mischief is back and this time, his tricks will just not fly. After Loki (Tom Hiddleston) escapes with the Tesseract in Avengers: Endgame, he ends up at the Time Variance Authority, an organisation that works to keep people from disrupting timelines. What follows, is a mind-boggling plot about variants of Loki, apocalypses, and the end of time as we know it.
Garnering both critical and commercial acclaim, Loki is a fitting exploration of the titular character’s personality and fate. Ending on a cliffhanger where the multiverse is unleashed by the creation of several timelines that cannot be contained, the stakes for the second season of Loki are higher than ever.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Released with much fanfare, Zack Snyder’s Justice League follows Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in their quest to maintain the status quo after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). When Steppenwolf decides to gather three mother boxes to transform Earth into his homeworld, Wayne and Prince decide to stop him. In order to achieve this, they recruit a group of metahumans to protect the planet from threats.
Despite being four hours long and having the same plot line as Joss Whedon’s 2017 version, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was still a significant improvement on the theatrical release. With better cinematography and engaging characterisations, it finally managed to give DC fans the Justice League film that they deserved.
Five Superhero Shows/Films That Let Us Down in 2021:
Black Widow (Disney+ Hotstar)
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) was the last of the five original avengers to get an origin story and the film does not do justice to the character. After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Natasha Romanoff is on the run from the government and is staying at a safe house in Norway. However, she is drawn into a conspiracy surrounding her traumatic past and joins forces with her sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) to get to the bottom of it.
While Black Widow does manage to answer most of the questions about Natasha’s past, the film is underwhelming. The stakes are not high enough and the villain is weak. For a character as important as Natasha, the film fails to give her the send-off she truly deserves.
Directed by Andy Serkis, the sequel to Venom (2018) sees Tom Hardy reprising his role as Eddie Brock and the alien symbiote Venom. Eddie is trying hard to adjust to hosting Venom when he is immediately posed with a new challenge: serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) also becomes host to a symbiote and dons the persona of Carnage.
While the movie is superior to its predecessor, its mediocre and predictable comedy and action scenes do not leave a lasting impact on us.
Thunder Force (Netflix)
Some films are a letdown but others are just plain bad. Starring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer, Thunder Force is a bland and boring take on the superhero genre. In a world where sociopaths have been granted superpowers, two estranged best friends Lydia (McCarthy) and Emily (Spencer) team up to solve the issue after the former accidentally injects herself with a serum granting her powers.
The plot of Thunder Force is not groundbreaking and the laughs are few and far between. Coupled with bland characters and predictable storylines, there’s hardly any entertainment here.
What If? (Disney+ Hotstar)
What If? is an animated anthology series that explores alternate versions of important events that have taken place within the MCU. Many of its stars, including Hayley Atwell, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sebastian Stan, and Chadwick Boseman, have lent their voices to animated versions of their characters. While the premise of What If? is an interesting way to explore alternate timelines of the multiverse, the animation is weak in certain parts and the storylines are not as engaging as they can be.
The Eternals are a group of immortal beings whose purpose is to defeat a group of monsters called the Deviants. Having lived around human beings for centuries, they have witnessed the rise and fall of civilizations and no event has gone by without their knowledge. However, they are never to interfere in the actions of humans. Having gone their separate ways a long time ago, the group is forced to reconvene when the Deviants resurface with the ability to absorb the Eternals’ power.
The main reason for Eternals’ downfall is its lengthy exposition and flashbacks. While a good origin story demands these things, it becomes quickly tedious here. With an unworthy opponent and seemingly mellow conflicts, the plot lets down the star-studded cast and their earnest performances.