Marvel-ous! Grading Marvel’s 2023 Offerings on Disney+

marvel studios title graphic

December 30, 2023

Written by: Jim Smith

(A version of this post was shared with Pirates and Princesses on December 31, 2023.)

After a smashing rookie season on Disney+ in 2021, Marvel’s MCU came back in 2022 with a handful of series and even a couple excellent Special Presentations. In 2023, the pickings were slimmer, with only one new series and three continuation seasons of existing series. Where did 2023 land for Marvel on Disney+? Let’s find out.

Ranking Marvel’s 2023 Television Streamers

Over Marvel’s previous two seasons of television on Disney+, I found myself quite surprised with how differently I felt about each of the series, versus my initial level of enthusiasm for each. In 2023, however, I felt quite the opposite. What I expected was pretty much what I got. Perhaps that was because of the sequel nature of most of the content.

For the purposes of my opinions, I consider myself – as in years past – a tick above the “casual fan” category. I don’t actually read any paper (or online) comics, but I do follow the MCU film and television 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 four Marvel 2023 streaming series. 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 year of streaming for 2023 didn’t get off the ground until almost mid-year. The 2023 selections included the following, in order of release date:

  • Secret Invasion – June 21, 2023 (6 episodes)
  • I Am Groot, Season 2 – September 6, 2023 (5 episodes)
  • Loki, Season 2 – October 5, 2023 (6 episodes)
  • What If…? Season 2 – December 22, 2023 (9 episodes)

Secret Invasion

Nick Fury – one of my absolute favorite MCU characters – finally gets the limelight in a series completely centered around the mastermind of the Avengers.

nick fury from secret invasion
Image: Disney

Anticipation – I’m Curious

Nick Fury is one of the coolest heroes in the MCU. He has a boatload of cachet, friends in both high (and low) places, and always another trick up his sleeve. So if you tell me he’s the star of an upcoming series – I’m in! The counterbalance to Nick – of which I’ve never been a huge fan – is the race of green-skinned Skrulls, and their unnerving ability to shapeshift at will. These people creep me out, and I am eternally bothered by the unfair advantage gained by their special abilities. But hey, it’s Nick Fury, so let’s give it a go! And with The Marvels slated for theater release later in the year, this series has gotta be important.

Impression – Flat, Underwhelming, and Ultimately Irrelevant

The one thing I was single-most excited to see in this series was Samuel L. Jackson doing his thing as Nick Fury. However, the series served the audience a washed-up, beaten version of the former S.H.I.E.L.D. director. This was by design to work the story, but still sad to see. A one-time savior of the Skrull refugees who never came through on his promise to find them a new home, Fury returned to Earth after a poorly-explained extended absence. Instead of being welcomed back with open arms, Fury found a hidden collection of Skrull refugees preparing to launch a global takeover under the direction of their ambitious leader Gravik (played quite coolly by Kingsley Ben-Adir).

Over the course of the series, Fury does eventually regain his mojo, but it comes at the expense of relentless reminders by all major characters of just how far Fury has fallen from his glory days. Fury’s story suffered from a lack of demonstrative storytelling, where the writers instead chose to “tell” the audience all about his faults and experiences. Fury takes loss after loss throughout the series, before finally turning the tide towards the tail end, thanks to the help of a select few Skrulls who still trusted Fury despite his abandonment of the race for over a decade.

The underground society of Skulls, living like rats in an abandoned Russian nuclear facility, are tough to look at. Their bright, shiny green skin seemed to get the television smaller budget treatment, and the characters’ look proved distracting to watch. But makeup aside, there were a couple Skrull characters who were actually quite compelling. Gravik – the previously mentioned leader of the Skrull uprising, pushed his agenda forward with the determination of one who is seeking retribution for being wronged. I would have loved to see more of Gravik’s backstory, but the series’ short stack of six episodes did not allow for such storytelling depth. Gravik’s adversary Talos – played brilliantly by Ben Mendolsohn – was a pleasure to watch in any form. Fury’s primary ally didn’t give his old buddy an inch of leeway in the wake of Fury’s prolonged absence. G’iah – daughter of Talos – was significantly less compelling, carrying a distrustful puss on her face throughout the series.

talos from secret invasion
Image: Disney

On the human side, we got a fair amount of another of the coolest secondary characters in the MCU – Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes. While it was great to see Rhodey again, he – like fury – was missing much of the fun I normally associate with the character. Of course this proved to be because Rhodey was…not who we thought he was (I’ll leave it there to avoid major spoilers). Sonya Falsworth – deliciously played by Olivia Colman – exerted the ruthlessness of Wilson Fisk (Kingpin in the Spider-Man and Daredevil stories) beneath the cheeky exterior of a Mary Poppins-like British dame. Colman’s performance was, for me, the most unexpected and welcome treat within the series. I truly hope we can see more of this character in future MCU offerings.

Secret Invasion’s fight between good and evil was unclear at best. There wasn’t an obvious evil thread among all Skrulls, as they were working through their plight, much like members of most other homeless species might do. Even Gravik – the Skrull leader – is relatable in his frustration and heartbreak, even though his actions are severely misguided. But more so than who’s good vs. who’s evil – I struggled with the paranoia-inducing unknowingness of who is a human and who is a Skrull. The mystery is clearly meant to spike the intrigue of the series, but instead it ended up aggravating me and even causing me to throw up my hands in frustration. The Skrull ability for disguise is one of those comic tropes I find unappealing in the MCU.

Another favorite mechanism of the MCU is the ever-more-outrageous superpowered characters. By the time of the film’s final showdown, Gravik and G’iah face off with a collection of superpowers that are so overcharged, they actually become a bit boring. One of the characteristics Marvel/Disney Legend Stan Lee made sure to include in his heroes and villains are Achilles Heels. This applies to both physical prowess, as well as personality. There was no learning curve, no compromise, and no physical struggle for either character, and therefore no profound interest in the final battle.

g'iah and gravik from secret invasion
Image: Disney

Lastly – and most importantly – Secret Invasion carried with it the promise of setting the table for The Marvels film coming later in the year. Unfortunately, not only did Secret Invasion not properly set the table, the events in The Marvels rendered Secret Invasion completely irrelevant in the overarching story of the MCU. The struggle between Skrulls and humans, and the animosity exhibited towards Skrull at the end of Secret Invasion, was nowhere to be found in The Marvels. Nick Fury and Skrulls were both a significant portion of The Marvels story, yet neither made any significant reference to the television series. In fact, the peaceful arrival of Fury and a shipload of Skrulls in New York near the end of The Marvels completely flew in the face of the buildup left at the end of Secret Invasion. This was inconsistent storytelling, and left me thinking I had wasted my time investing watching Secret Invasion.

I Am Groot, Season 2

The most popular Guardian of the Galaxy is back for Season 2 of his own tiny series. 

baby groot in snowsuit
Image: Disney

Anticipation – Meh

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of season 1 of I Am Groot. I figured it would include short-ish episodes, maybe 25 minutes in length. I was way off, as the episodes were MUCH shorter, coming in on either side of six minutes apiece. I wasn’t wowed by the series. I was expecting a laugh-a-minute, given the short episode lengths, but I struggled to chuckle more than a couple times each episode. The visuals were stunning for sure. So coming into season 2, my expectations were adjusted, and I was just ready to have a good time with Baby Groot

Impression – Better Than Expected

Baby Groot never fails to make me smile. His antics are always entirely innocent, and that is exactly what gets me most. Groot’s interruption of the Marvel opening credits always makes me laugh.

Once again, the season included only five episodes, and this season’s selections were even shorter than those in Season 1 – coming in around five minutes each. That made me nervous. But you know what? I was pleasantly surprised. This season had much more heart than last season, despite the shorter aggregate run time. The first episode showed Groot adorably trying to care for a space egg (and its tiny occupant). Did you ever wonder what Groot would look like with a nose? You’ll find out in Episode 2. Wanna see the cutest version of Groot ever? Check out Episode 3, where you’ll find him wearing a snowsuit. Episode 4 rekindled the unique combination of panic and excitement that I remember feeling when the ice cream truck came rolling down my street as a kid. Except here, it was an ice cream ship! Hilarity ensues.

But the best episode in the lot had to be Episode 5, where Groot searches for a sacred seed to save the world (actually, he searches for his super-bouncy ball which was bounced loose in the temple). This episode lovingly pays tribute to classic Indiana Jones adventure tropes, and also cheekily mocks Marvel’s What If…?, consistently confounding The Watcher, who narrates the episode and quickly learns to expect the unexpected from our tiny hero.

All in all, Season 2 of I Am Groot delivered all the feels. And I was done within a half hour! 

Loki, Season 2

The god of mischief returns to save the universe. Who would’ve thought we’d ever be rooting for him to save anything?

loki season 2 control room scene
Image: Disney

Anticipation – Off the Charts

Season 1 of Loki was my most highly anticipated series of Marvel’s inaugural season on Disney+, but it was no match for the sensation that was WandaVision. That being said, Loki was a visual feast set in an old-time office world, combined with a buddy cop story. Oh, and did I mention a love story, and a complete change of character for someone who was once no more than a persistent pest to his older brother Thor? Season 1 left me wanting more (and how could it not, given the huge cliffhanger over which the finale left us dangling?).

Impression – Exceeded My Wildest Expectations

It’s hard to know where to start with Loki Season 2. Let’s begin with what I hoped to get out of the season. For starters, I had hoped the season would have more than six episodes. Unsurprisingly, we got exactly six again. As far as the content – I wanted more Mobius, as Owen Wilson’s portrayal of the Time Variance Authority (TVA) agent contrasts beautifully with Loki’s self-assured “glorious purpose.” Like everyone else, I also wanted to learn the fate of the universe following Sylvie’s assassination of He Who Remains. 

We got all of that, and then some. Season 1 picked up EXACTLY where Season 1 left off, with Loki once again a stranger in a strange (yet oddly familiar) land. One of my first feelings early on in the season debut was disappointment that Mobius did not know who Loki was. The Mobius-Loki vibe was, for me, the heart of Season 1. But that issued quickly rectified itself, as the two quickly refamiliarized themselves.

In addition to Mobius, Season 2 brought back all of the main characters from the first season, and introduced one refreshing new character – Ouroboros (or “OB”), played with a child-like sweetness by Ke Huy Quan. OB was the guiding light Loki needed in his time-saving pursuit. But in addition, OB also proved to be the levity that such a weighty topic needed to stay relatable to the audience.

While Season 2 brought back favorite characters from Season 1, a couple of them came with major changes. Unsurprisingly, He Who Remains came back for an encore, and he was just as frightening as he was in the Season 1 finale. But this character spent most of Season 2 as one of his countless variants – Victor Timely. Here, Timely stuttered and stumbled his way into Loki’s inner circle, unwittingly joining the pursuit to stop an alternate version of himself from destroying the universe. Jonathan Majors plays both He Who Remains and Timely with impressive acting range.

loki season 2 victor timely
Image: Disney

Another returning favorite was Miss Minutes – that adorable orange clock with a sweet southern accent. In perhaps the most unique episode of the series, Loki’s pursuit takes him, Mobius, and their adversaries to 1893 to find Victor Timely. While trying to blend in with the Chicago World’s Fair, Miss Minutes “disguises” herself as a black and white, pie-eyed version of herself. It was an adorable moment, and it’s sure to make its way onto a Funko Pop in the not-too-distant future. But the real change to Miss Minutes wasn’t to her exterior, it was inside her heart. This Artificial Intelligence being developed creepily loving feelings towards Timely, leading to quite an “ew” moment. Later in the series, the timepiece displayed quite an opposite emotion, where she literally quivered with excitement over the gruesome death of a collection of TVA agents. Double “ew!”

But the heart of Loki Season 2 came from the heart of Loki himself. The story of personal growth that flickered back in 2017 with Thor: Ragnarok, and hit its stride in Loki Season 1, came full circle here in Season 2. Loki started as a clear villain and a pest to his older brother. He continued to seek greatness with the maturity of a petulant child heading into Season 1. At the start of Season 2, Loki was bent on saving the universe from utter destruction. And by the end of Season 2, Loki’s journey came full circle, when he prepared to sacrifice himself to save his friends. Yes – Loki had friends.

loki season 2
Image: Disney

Over the fifteen year run of the MCU, never has another character gone through such a complete and fulfilling personal story arc as Loki completed here. His character development and growth make him far-and-away the most well-rounded and compelling character in the entire MCU (at least in my opinion). As a two-season series, Loki was storytelling perfection.

What If…?, Season 2

Marvel Studios is all-in on the Multiverse – sometimes with story-altering consequences, and other times just to have fun playing in the sandbox. What If…? Is the ultimate playground for Multiversal scenarios.

Marvel What If...
Image: Disney

Anticipation – Meh

I’ve admitted that I am not a comic-book guy. I’ve never read a full comic book (unless you count the old Mad Magazines I flirted with back in the day). I love the MCU and most of its content, but I struggle once it goes animated. Which is funny, since I am a huge fan of Disney animation, and many of those stories hit me right in the feels. But I just couldn’t get on board with What If…? Season 1. It was with some reservation that I took up a chair next to The Watcher to spend a second season in the Multiverse.

Impression – Predictably Unpredictable, With a Couple Fun Surprises

The timing and schedule for the release of this second season of What If…? was a bit confounding. Nine episodes, released daily, with the first one releasing on December 22nd. The season straddled both sides of the Christmas holiday, where there is lots of competing noise and excitement in the world of media. If I were simply consuming this season as a casual fan, I would have pushed it off until after the holidays, when I was more willing to dedicate my attention to the show. But alas, in my quest to complete a year-in-review on Marvel’s television content, I forced myself to watch the series during “ the most wonderful time of the year.”

While I really struggled to get through What If…? Season 1, I found Season 2 to be more appealing. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s just that I knew what to expect. Possibly it was the teaser of Christmas-based content, for which I am always a sucker. But honestly, I think my expectations were low enough that I wasn’t in a position to be disappointed.

Season 2 focused heavily on Peggy Carter, returning as variant Captain Carter – the breakout star character from Season 1. If my count is correct, she was either the main character, or a prominent supporting character, in four of the nine episodes. That being said, I like Captain Carter, so this was fine by me. A distinctly Christmas episode was probably my favorite in the bunch, following a Christmas party at Avengers Tower, where Happy Hogan (one of my favorite supporting characters in the MCU) inadvertently turns into the Hulk – with a softer, purple hue.

The most noteworthy episode in Season 2 had to be Episode 6, which featured a new (at least, new to me) character named Kahhori – a young Native American woman who finds the waters of the Forbidden Lake to help save the people of her Mohawk tribe from a Spanish inquisition. She also made a prominent appearance in the season finale. Reading between the lines, I suspect Marvel may be workshopping this character for possible further use within the MCU. Introducing her here in the Multiverse is a relatively risk-free way to gauge interest in the character. For my two cents, I quite liked the character. Native American culture is lacking in the MCU, save for Echo – a secondary villain from Hawkeye who will be carrying her own series in 2024. Kahhori’s alternate world of “sky people” brought an Avatar-like vibe to her story.

what if... season 2 kahhori
Image: Disney

Overall, What If…? Season 2 brought exactly what I thought it would – Multiversal calamity with that animated comic book feel. It’s not my favorite sub-genre, but for many fans it was a very Merry Christmas gift from Marvel Studios.

Final Impressions

Overall, Marvel’s third season of Disney+ offerings was slimmer pickings, but overall not bad, considering the limited quantity. Secret Invasion was the obvious big miss, balanced out by the storytelling perfection of Loki. I Am Groot was a tiny burst of fun, and What If…? delivered a mixed bag of presents to fans of that genre.

With Marvel’s 2023 year on Disney+ in the books, here’s a look at the slate for 2024 (as always, the release schedule is subject to change):

  • Echo – January 10, 2024
  • Agatha: Darkhold Diaries – Fall 2024
  • X-Men ’97 – 2024
  • Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man – 2024
  • Eyes of Wakanda – late 2024

Are any of these upcoming releases exciting to you? Personally, the gritty trailers for Echo have me very excited for this show! Check in with a comment on social: Instagram Facebook X (formerly Twitter)

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