(A version of this post was shared with Pirates and Princesses on January 2, 2023.)
After a smashing rookie season on Disney+, Marvel’s MCU was back at it in 2022 with a handful of series and Special Presentations. A couple of these offerings reunited us with old friends, while the majority introduced us to new characters. Where did 2022 land for Marvel on Disney+? Let’s find out.
Ranking Marvel’s 2022 Streamers
Having concluded 2022 with the raucous Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, I took some time to look back on Marvel’s second year of original content on Disney+. Similar to 2021, I found myself quite surprised with how differently I felt about each of these series, versus my initial level of enthusiasm for each.
For the purposes of my opinions, I consider myself just a tick above the “casual fan” category. I don’t actually read any paper (or online) comics, but I do follow the MCU film content quite closely. I listen to podcasts which discuss the offerings, and occasionally read supporting content online.
I certainly can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but indulge me as I take my shot at grading all four Marvel 2022 streaming series, as well as both Special Presentation offerings. I’ve listed each entry in order of release date. With each entry, I offer my pre-viewing anticipation followed by my post-viewing impression.
Marvel’s second year of streaming included the following, in order of release date:
- Moon Knight – March 8, 2022 (6 episodes)
- Ms. Marvel – June 8, 2022 (6 episodes)
- I Am Groot – August 10, 2022 (5 episodes)
- She-Hulk: Attorney at Law – August 18, 2022 (9 episodes)
- Werewolf By Night – October 7, 2022 (single-episode Special Presentation)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special – November 25, 2022 (single-episode Special Presentation)
Something about a mummy, who was at one point rumored to be played by Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe.
Anticipation – Meh
As a self-professed non-hard core comics fan, Moon Knight did not scream out to me. I can get up to enjoy the legendary tales of ancient Egypt, but I knew nothing about the Marvel character. Being a huge Star Wars fan, I am quite familiar with Oscar Isaac’s work as Rebel Poe Dameron, and was curious to see how his bravado in a galaxy far, far away would play out in northern Africa.
Impression – Frighteningly Fantastic
In the months leading up to Moon Knight’s debut, the series was touted as the MCU’s first dip into the horror pool (at least, as much as would be allowed within the confines of Disney’s family-friendly palette). This horror aspect, while certainly present at times, was not overwhelming. Isolated moments of creep gave the series just enough edginess to not scare me (a horror film wimp) away.
The series follows the journey of Stephen Grant – a shy and eccentric worker in a London museum who finds himself blacking out and having vague memories of alternative exploits. Stephen comes to learn he has an alter ego – Marc Spector – who serves the Egyptian god Khonshu. Throughout the series, Isaac’s double-role as both Stephen and Marc was mind-blowingly smooth. Anytime a mirror (or other reflective surface) presents itself, the mental battle and eventual partnership between the two personalities had Isaac working overtime, and he succeeded in spades. For the record, I believe he deserves consideration for an Emmy award for his roles.
Ethan Hawke played the villain role of Arthur Harrow – a slippery-yet-charming cult leader who serves a different Egyptian god, Ammit. Harrow is committed to using a special scarab to awaken Ammit and bring his version of predetermined justice to the world. Hawke plays Harrow with a quiet, unassuming ease, which makes the character’s intentions all the more frightening.
If the Stephen/Marc relationship plays on emotional horror, and Arthur Harrow plays on mental horror, then much of the final two episodes play on psychological horror. Stephen and Marc find themselves in a mental purgatory of sorts, after Marc is seemingly killed by an Egyptian pyramid by Harrow’s team. The mental games and psychological warfare present in the penultimate episode of the series are the stuff of nightmares, and complex enough to warrant several watches just to fully understand everything.
Overall, Moon Knight far exceeded my expectations. The story was solid, even if the larger-than-life finale battle in Cairo was larger-than-needed. I will pay money over and over to see Oscar Isaac shine like he did in every episode of this series. And based on the last episode’s mid-credits stinger, which i troduced a third personality Jake Lockley, I just may get my wish.
With a name like ‘Marvel’ in the title, the show most certainly had better be good.
Anticipation – Meh
I admit it – I’m not a big fan of Captain Marvel. I didn’t find the film all too endearing, and the title character has way too much power to engender a feeling of concern or sympathy. While Ms. Marvel is an entirely different character, I couldn’t shake my lack of enthusiasm in the shared namesake. But in my quest to stay up-to-date of all things MCU, I was committed to giving the series a go.
Impression – Strong Start, Clumsy Finish
Much like Moon Knight, I had zero experience with Ms. Marvel going into the series. And on the surface, a middle-aged white American male would seem to have very little in common with a young Pakistani-American girl living in Jersey City, New Jersey. But you know what? I immediately loved the title character, who began her MCU journey as Kamala Khan – a nerdy inner-city girl who also happened to be a superfan of the Avengers – especially Captain Marvel. Of course, actor Iman Vellani’s adorable nature was key to Kamala being as likable as she was.
The first half of the series follow’s Kamala’s journey through adolescence, while she also balances the sudden and strange superpowers she’s begun to find within herself. Kamala’s friend Bruno (played to nerdy perfection by Matt Lintz) helps her sort through her newfound abilities, while the pair struggle with the uncertainties of teen friendships and romance. The part of “keystone cops” was played in the series by the Department of Damage Control (DODC). These one-dimensional bureau goons had zero real intelligence, yet still managed to wreak havoc on Kamala’s fragile social life.
The back half of the series lost me. After Kamala learned of her family history dating back before the India-Pakistan political split, she was convinced by her mother to visit her grandmother in Pakistan, to better understand her powers. The series introduced way too many religious concepts, spiritual legends, family lore, and unflushed villains. The stakes in the series went from teen girl street-level, to otherworldly heights.
The unevenness of the series may have been easier to swallow if presented over a longer period of time (and if the audience was given a proper introduction to the different characters and concepts). Even though the series landed flat for me, the character of Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel shows great promise.
I Am Groot
Baby Groot has his own show. How could this not be awesome?
Anticipation – Woo hoo!
I Am Groot is much more than a catch phrase. It’s a cultural phenomenon. It’s a language unto itself. It’s a huge payday for actor Vin Diesel. And in 2022 it became a series of its own. I usually keep my ear pretty close to the ground when it comes to MCU news. This series was announced in December 2020, yet it really snuck up on me. That being said, I’ll always take more Groot (especially Baby Groot). Sign me up!
Impression – Meh
So when I said “Sign me up!” I meant for more than five minutes. But I Am Groot was apparently intended to be an amuse-bouche – a short series of little bites with the aspiration only to entertain Groot’s loyal fanbase, give the kiddos something fun to watch, and maybe mess around a bit with CGI animation. At five minutes each, the commitment level was low, and at least a little something is better than nothing.
The problem, for me, was that these little five-minute bursts were really not so entertaining. It should be relatively simple to pack a handful of funny moments into such short episodes, but I found myself struggling even to chuckle more than once or twice. The shorts were visually stunning, but lacking in imagination. I watched a few of them more than once (mostly because my son wanted to watch a couple of them again) but otherwise this was a one and done for me. There will reportedly be a second season of these shorts, and I’m hoping Marvel ups the ante on the entertainment factor.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
Bruce Banner has a cousin, and she’s a Hulk too. Time to smash…the courtroom?
Anticipation – Do I really need to watch this?
I’ve never been a huge Hulk fan. For most of his career, he’s been squarely two-dimensional: bland as Dr. Banner, and predictable as Hulk. When Marvel announced a second Hulk, who dwells in the legal field, my overwhelming thought was….booooooring. That, and the CGI displayed in the previews was much less than impressive.
Impression – Yes please! Thank you!
Last year, I was totally (and very pleasantly) surprised by how much I liked Hawkeye – a series for which I had very low hopes, but shone brighter than most other series in Marvel’s class of 2021. This year, She-Hulk earned that honor, and then some.
Let’s just acknowledge the pink (or in this case green) elephant in the room. The aforementioned CGI wasn’t great. In fact, at times it was quite distracting, occasionally taking me out of the story. But it was what it was, so let’s move on with the story and other elements of the series.
Over the course of the MCU’s first three phases, Mark Ruffalo took the Hulk’s personality to places never before reached, to a point where both Banner and hulk reached a synergistic coexistence. I knew Ruffalo’s hulk would be a presence in the film, but I didn’t know quite how much. As far as I was concerned at the series’ outset, the more Ruffalo, the better. While he was very much present throughout the first episode in the series, he was rarely seen throughout the rest of the show.
And you know what? That was fine with me. Tatyana Maslany played Jennifer Walters / She-Hulk with a delicious combination of humor, class, and adorableness. She was a joy to watch whenever she was on-screen, and the series’ deliberate erasure of the “fourth wall” allowed for Maslany to shine even brighter in both obvious (statements to the viewer) and subtle (knowing nod into the screen) fashions. Maslany possesses that perfect combination of beauty and humor, which I haven’t felt since Jennifer Aniston.
The stakes of She-Hulk were set much lower than the world-altering stakes of Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel, and for me that was a huge breath of fresh air. The largest crisis in this series was the potential for Jennifer Walters to lose her legal career. The show never took itself too seriously, and yet it deftly handled social issues such as sexism, workplace relationships, and social media carnage.
The writers and producers for the series seemed to anticipate that the character of She-Hulk wasn’t likely to be strong enough to carry a series without some help. With that in mind, several popular characters were brought in to support our leading lawyer. Abomination (reprised by Tim Roth) was the sole carryover from the early semi-MCU film The Incredible Hulk, and served a real purpose in furthering the plot, though proved not to be the ultimate villain. Wong (always amusingly played by Benedict Wong) seems to be everywhere these days, and was lots of fun in his limited time on-screen. Perhaps the most anticipated character return was that of Matt Murdock / Daredevil (Charlie Cox). This was the one major returning character that fell flat for me. There was no good reason for him to be in the show, and aside from one of his signature kick-butt hallway scenes, he really added no value to the series. But with the return of Daredevil to the MCU in 2023, this felt like a bit of a lazy way to raise his profile.
Aside from those three big fish, She-Hulk also featured several fun supporting characters, including Jennifer’s friend Nikki, her subtly goofy coworker Pug, sharp co-lawyer Mallory, and the red herring and secondary villain of the series – Tatiana. And I haven’t even mentioned the MCU debut of K.E.V.I.N! The entire finale episode of She-Hulk was a laugh-a-minute fun fest. It was my favorite MCU series finale of 2022 by a mile.
Overall, She-Hulk served up abundant helpings of fun, while establishing a new character I hope to see much more of. Well done, but keep working on that CGI (I’m looking at you Skaar – son of Hulk).
Werewolf By Night
Marvel’s “Special Presentation” debut was released in perfect synergy with Halloween. Who’s in it? I have no idea. Can Marvel pull off a compelling story in only 45 minutes? We’ll find out.
Anticipation – I’m intrigued
When discussing Moon Knight, I admitted that I am not a fan of horror films. But I can stomach a certain degree of Gothic Horror, a la Frankenstein, Dracula, and all their frightening friends. So with that in mind, and still relying on Disney’s tempering of adult content, I took a chance on this one. Much like I Am Groot, this was an overall short selection, in the form of a roughly 45-minute single episode, so my commitment level was low. And any time a modern film is produced in black & white (as this film was), I conclude that it must mean business.
Impression – Surprisingly delightful, and worth a rewatch next Halloween
The Halloween horror set is not one previously explored in the MCU, with the semi-exception of Doctor Strange and his creepy exploits. And aside from that, this Special Presentation film did not feature any characters previously known to MCU viewers. So at the outset, the film faced two significant challenges – how to tell a compelling story in only 45-plus minutes, and the added challenge of doing it using previously unknown characters.
This film made the wise choice of setting the stage quickly – introducing all characters via a memorial service for mutual friend/family/adversary Ulysses Bloodstone. Six hunters in all have gathered to compete for the Bloodstone – and the respect and leadership of any remaining competitors. The challenge at hand feels like classic gothic horror fiction – hunt for (and kill) a horrible monster who runs loose in a confusing maze. The plot is simple, which is critical for a one-shot short film.
While we meet all six hunters, the film focuses on two of them – Jack Russell (who is cursed as a werewolf) and Elsa Bloodstone (daughter of the deceased Ulysses Bloodstone). The two meet early on in the event, and cross each other’s paths frequently during the hunt. The pair team up to rescue the monster – a friend of Jack’s named Ted. In return for Ted’s freedom, Jack will be happy to help Elsa win the Bloodstone. However, Elsa’s mother (Bloodstone’s widowed bride) has other plans, which include eliminating both competitors from existence.
This film succeeds in telling a compelling story in a relatively short amount of time. In doing so, it wasn’t able to flush out the characters well enough to make me care a whole lot about them. I did develop a bit of a fondness for them, but I felt much more sympathy for Ted. I’m not sure where exactly these characters or their storyline will fit into the greater MCU (maybe they’ll relate to Agatha Harkness?), but I can say that I’m game for seeing more of them. I’m also in favor of seeing more of these Special Presentation productions, which is a good thing because Marvel’s final Disney+ offering was…
Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
Marvel’s dysfunctional family (with the possible exception of the Odinsons) returned in the long-awaited and most highly anticipated Disney+ MCU show of 2022.
Anticipation – Off the charts
With all the drama surrounding director James Gunn’s future with Marvel, the Guardians have resided in limbo for most of the last five years. Earlier in 2022, Gunn announced that he is taking a leadership role as the creative head of DC Studios – the largest competitor to Marvel. With both Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special and Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume Three (releasing in 2023) in production or post-production, this made for a very interesting backdrop to what may be Gunn’s final two contributions to the MCU.
Putting James Gunn aside for a moment – science fiction and the Christmas holiday haven’t historically played well together (with the recent exception of Hawkeye). But if one property can buck the trend, the Guardians of the Galaxy have my vote (even if they used a cheat code and brought in Kevin Bacon). So Marvel’s second Special Presentation of 2022 had its work cut out.
Impression – A Christmas gift that really delivered
In Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume Two, Drax and Mantis quickly created a hilarious chemistry that infused humor throughout a film that was slightly more serious than its predecessor. For the Holiday Special, James Gunn leaned hard on this comical partnership, and the pair did not disappoint. Like Werewolf By Night, this film had a simple plot – Drax and Mantis kidnap Kevin Bacon to give as a Christmas gift for their friend Peter Quill, to cheer him up at Christmastime. With the combination of Drax, Mantis, Kevin Bacon, and Christmas – it was kinda hard to screw this up.
The Guardians never disappoint. In this film, the hijinks were many, and most landed dead-on-target. All of the major Guardians actors were back reprising their roles, and the camaraderie shared by the group in real life bleeds through on the screen. Aside from the jokes, the film proved to be quite touching. Plus – it very casually dropped a huge nugget of information which may play importantly in Volume Three later this year. I won’t tell you how this holiday offering concludes, but suffice to say “All’s well that ends well.”
If I had to pick an issue with the film, it has to be with Groot. Now a young adult, Groot is expectedly large. However, the plumped-out rubber suit portrayal of the legendary tree was visually the stuff of nightmares. In this special, Groot was barely a half step ahead of the Godzilla who ruled 1950s and 1960s sci-fi films. Please let Groot bring his A-game in Volume Three!
Overall, Marvel’s second season of Disney+ offerings were a mixed bag. With deeper dives into less well known characters, the menu didn’t scream out to most casual fans. But there were surprise impressions – both for better and for worse. And the introduction of the Special Presentation format was a welcome change.
With Marvel’s 2022 year on Disney+ in the books, here’s a look at the slate for 2023 (release schedule subject to change):
- What If… Season 2 – early 2023
- Secret Invasion – Spring 2023
- Echo – Summer 2023
- Loki – Season 2 – Summer 2022
- Ironheart – Fall 2023
- X-Men ‘97 – Fall 2023
- Agatha: Coven of Chaos – Winter 2023/2024
Loki and What If… will mark the first two Marvel series to roll out sophomore seasons, while Echo and Ironheart will give the spotlight to two characters who first made their MCU debuts in supporting roles. Are any of these upcoming releases exciting to you? Let us know with a comment below, or by reaching out on social: