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Marvel's 5 Best & 5 Worst MCU Moments Of 2023

What a strange year it has been for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Infinity Saga of Phases 1-3 established the colossal franchise as such a major player that it was easy to think it was too big to fail. Lately, however, the good ship MCU has been navigating some pretty rough seas. Though 2023 has brought Kevin Feige's team victories like James Gunn's MCU swansong "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," it has also hit Marvel Studios with some of its most critically lambasted movies and TV shows, courtesy of "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania," "The Marvels," and "Secret Invasion."

It's been a year of ups and downs, to say the least — and perhaps more than ever, the MCU has given us plenty of watershed moments and low points to discuss and digest. Let's take a look at some of the best and worst moments the biggest, baddest superhero multiverse out there has brought to our screens in 2023. 

Best: Flerkittens devour everyone to the tune of Memory

Going into Nia DaCosta's "The Marvels," fans already knew that Carol Danvers' (Brie Larson) pet cat Goose is actually a tentacle-mouthed alien known as a Flerken. The film's trailer also revealed a big batch of kittens floating about, so clearly, adorable chaos was looming on the horizon. What no one saw coming was the scale and tone of said chaos.

After discovering that an apparent infestation of alien eggs on the failing S.A.B.E.R. space station is Goose's litter, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes up with an evacuation plan for the ages. He decides to let the Flerken kittens eat nearly everyone on board and temporarily store them in the pocked dimensions in their mouths, coughing the poor people back up like hairballs once it's safe. This allows everyone to evacuate on escape pods that couldn't otherwise carry them all.

The problem is that Fury has no time to inform his people of this plan, so the only way to save everyone is to just ... let the Flerken flock run rampant. What follows is sheer madness, as the terrified personnel flee from the Flerk(itt)ens like they were xenomorphs from the "Alien" franchise. Meanwhile, the kitties joyfully stroll among them, casually catching people with their creepy mouth tentacles. As a wonderful final touch, what amounts to the world's cutest horror movie scene is set to the Barbra Streisand version of the classic "Cats" ballad "Memory." This blesses the mayhem with an extra layer of sheer feline absurdity that almost makes you forgive the sensory crimes "Cats" the movie has inflicted upon the world. If they ever remake that one, the studio might want to give DaCosta and her "The Marvels" co-writers Megan McDonnell and Elissa Karasik a call.

Worst: The pointless death of Maria Hill

Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) never really receives her just desserts. She spends the majority of her screen time playing a distant second fiddle to whoever she shares scenes with — mostly, Nick Fury. Her character development is minimal and her career trajectory happens almost entirely offscreen, which leaves her with precious few cool moments of the type she has in the comics.   

Fortunately for Hill, Ali Selim's Disney+ miniseries "Secret Invasion" works as something of a sendoff for the tired, greying Fury. This might allow her to finally ascend to the top of the ... whoops, never mind. Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir) kills her in the first episode. Then, the show allows a completely new character — Olivia Colman's admittedly great Sonya Falsworth — to take over what should have been Hill's rightful place as the show's primary active spymaster. Ouch.

The worst thing here is that killing Hill is completely unnecessary. The first episode has already delivered its shocking death by killing the Skrull posing as Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), and the show goes on to pile arbitrary threat upon arbitrary threat until the murder that's set up to really shake the viewer — Gravik slaying Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) — has been telegraphed so heavily, you can see it from a mile away. What's more, Hill doesn't even get a cool death. She's gunned down by a villain posing as Fury and dies in shock and confusion like a damsel in distress while the real Fury holds her with a look of manly anguish on his face. What a way to exit the MCU after 11 years ... especially when Fury — whose last hurrah this was supposed to be — appeared in "The Marvels" just months after the show ended.

Best: That space hallway fight

James Gunn's "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" spends a good chunk of its runtime using the viewer's feelings as a punching bag. It carefully crafts situations that brutally maim multiple core members of the team. It features countless doomed animal experiments. It even gives an edge to the hitherto amicable Kraglin (Sean Gunn), who keeps calling the extremely good Cosmo (Maria Bakalova) a bad dog over a petty grudge, causing the poor hound no end of grief.

And then, near the end, Gunn offers a moment of sheer catharsis. The movie lets its hair down when the Guardians of the Galaxy go to absolute town on the High Evolutionary's (Chukwudi Iwuji) forces in a hallway battle for the ages. The scene shows a well-oiled machine of a team that has fused over three movies and several guest star stints. For a glorious moment, the heroes tear through the opposition like only they can, complimenting and continuing each other's attacks as the camera follows one team member after another in one smooth swoop. After spending the entire film on the ropes, the Guardians are finally at the height of their powers, and no force in the Galaxy can stand in their way.

Of course, it doesn't take. The scene is just a last hurrah before the villain is defeated, the heroes barely escape with their lives one last time, and conflicting interests break up the original team. However, this only adds more value to the hallway battle. The classic MCU Guardians of the Galaxy may disband as the members all chase their brand of happiness and purpose — but in this spectacular scene, they get one more chance to thrive as a team that truly lives up to its name.

Worst: Enter M.O.D.O.K.

M.O.D.O.K. was always going to be a tough nut to crack in a live-action movie. Even in the comics, Marvel's favorite evil floating head tends to be as cheesy as they come. So, when "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" announced the character, it was clear that the movie needed to do something special to bring him on the big screen. It's just that the particular brand of special they landed on doesn't really work — especially in a movie that's already creaking at the seams with weirdness and sub-par CGI.

For what it's worth, I think it was an inspired choice to reimagine M.O.D.O.K. as a Kang-corrupted version of the "Ant-Man" villain, Darren "Yellowjacket" Cross (Corey Stoll). However, by slapping Stoll's realistic but extremely out-of-proportion face on a CGI character, "Quantumania" accidentally created the opposite (yet no less unnerving) version of the Uncanny Valley effect.

As a result, the character works fine as long as he wears his battle mask during his effective and suitably terrifying introductory scene ... but the second he reveals his giant, perma-grinning mug, things fall apart. Write this up as one of those cases where taking bold chances didn't work. 

Best: Beast heralds a surprising version of the X-Men into the MCU

The MCU has taken its sweet time introducing the X-Men. While it still hasn't shown us the entire team, "The Marvels'" post-credits scene does offer some pretty solid hints that they're finally on their way. First, we see Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) waking up in what appears to be an alternate universe after closing the tear in space-time, greeted by her mother Maria (Lashana Lynch) who now looks like the superhero Binary and has no idea who Monica is. Then, in walks the Kelsey Grammer version of Beast, charming as ever but stealthily redesigned to resemble his "X-Men: The Animated Series" look. As stingers go, it's small and quiet — but since it's the first X-Men appearance in the MCU that virtually promises a follow-up, it might just become one of the most pivotal moments of the mega-franchise's history. 

This isn't the first confirmed mutant sighting in the MCU. Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) is a mutant hybrid, and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) rocks his iconic yellow sci-fi wheelchair as part of the alternate-universe Illuminati team that gets wrecked by the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." Still, Beast is the first member of the classic X-Men field team to enter the fray, and his design aesthetic and the fact that Grammer is playing him implies that the MCU intends to lean pretty heavily on the "X-Men '97" aesthetic and actors from the original trilogy. 

With Hugh Jackman's Wolverine fitting right in that same combination of design aesthetics and casting decisions in "Deadpool 3," it'll be interesting to see whether the likes of Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Halle Berry, and Ian McKellen are secretly being fitted for comics-accurate costumes, as well. 

Worst: The world's least necessary F-bomb

Chris Pratt dropping the MCU's first F-bomb in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" was supposed to be such a big deal that James Gunn had to champion it while Kevin Feige tried to nix it behind the scenes quietly. Knowing this, you'd be forgiven for assuming that the swear is a massive, pivotal moment in the movie, possibly delivered while Pratt's Star-Lord beats a major antagonist halfway to oblivion. Yeah, that's not how it goes. The Big, Bold F-word Moment comes when Star-Lord lashes out at teammate Nebula (Karen Gillan) when she's not able to immediately figure out the door handle of a ratty Earth car — a piece of anachronistic technology she's dealing with for the first time in her life. Beyond the F-bomb, the scene is borderline throwaway, and the supposedly major moment was actually so "important" that it went completely over Gillan's head at the time.

Pratt improvised the F-bomb and was happy to discuss it with Men's Health. "It was not scripted," he said. "Everyone's been trying to improv F-bombs [in MCU movies] for 10 years, and finally one made it in. Usually when you start dropping F-bombs in like an improv scenario, it's really your indicator to the filmmaker that you'd like to move on. And they actually put it in the film! ... Yeah, I'm really proud."

It's an achievement, sure. Still, it's worth wondering whether this particular milestone should have happened in a scene where a long-downtrodden person who's only recently found her own agency is trying to operate a piece of machinery she's never seen before, only to be yelled at by a dude who apparently assumes everyone should know the same stuff that he does. 

Best: Ant-Man and the Wasp tackle the probability storm

"Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" has its share of issues, but the probability storm scene isn't one of them. Tasked with a mission to reclaim Kang's (Jonathan Majors) power core, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) has to go through a strange probability field that creates a new copy of himself every time he has the potential to make a slightly different decision. This soon creates an overwhelming number of Ant-Men, as well as one Scott Lang who apparently still works at Baskin Robbins. Unfortunately, the probability storm is highly dangerous, and a whole lot of the decisions the protagonist(s) can make are deadly.

In what must be one of the strangest scenes in MCU history, the various Ant-Men — and, after a while, versions of the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) — try and fail to survive the ordeal, ultimately only succeeding after they band together and work like an ant colony. Apart from providing the mind-bending visual of countless Scott Langs forming a human tower so one of them can secure the MacGuffin, the scene also focuses on just how important Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is to Scott. After all, her anguish is the only thing that convinces the Ant-Men to immediately start working together. It's not the most conventional lesson about fatherhood out there, but good luck finding one that's more visually stunning. 

Worst: The AI opening sequence of Secret Invasion

It might have been a touch easier to understand "Secret Invasion's" decision to use AI in its opening credits if the show was about, say, an artificial intelligence in the vein of Ultron (James Spader) running rampant. However, nothing in the show is about AI. "Secret Invasion's" divisive title sequence may fit the show's intended paranoid tone pretty perfectly, but sometimes real life writes the plot — and looking back, the show might have been better off if it just superimposed the opening credits on top of a looping gif of Talos drinking that milkshake in "Captain Marvel." 

"Secret Invasion" had the misfortune to roll out its AI-enhanced intro during a year that featured plenty of public discussion about artificial intelligence tools in creative work, as well as Marvel's VFX artists unionizing against harsh workplace conditions. Combine all this, and the choice to run with this kind of title sequence is easy to see as a massively inconsiderate choice. 

Best: Loki finds his glorious purpose

"I know what kind of god I need to be. For you. For all of us." 

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) was never going to get a happy ending. He's too broken for that. However, the ending of "Loki" Season 2 gives him something better but far more painful: the chance to save everyone he cares about and watch over them in eternal solitude. The episode focuses on the trickster god trying to fix the Temporal Loom through controlled time-hopping that enables him to go through his team's last-ditch plan over and over again, countless times. In the end, he finally realizes what he has to do. By taking Victor Timely's (Jonathan Majors) place to fix the Temporal Loom, Loki finds a way to weave all the timelines into a construction that strongly resembles the World Tree, and takes his throne in the middle of it all as the next He Who Remains (Majors) — or rather, the new God of Stories. 

It's a big, touching scene that gives Loki all that he ever wanted and more, including the biggest horns he's ever worn ... but all that power comes at the cost of never hanging out with people like Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) or Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) again. Loki willingly gives up his happiness to give his friends a chance to find their own. It's a bittersweet ending, perfectly encapsulated by Hiddleston in his last knowing look at the camera. Loki now protects all the timelines, including the one the viewer lives in. He knows that we're watching; he looks like he wouldn't mind if we remembered him. Which, by the strength of this scene alone, we definitely will. 

Worst: Sylvie finds ... McDonald's?

"Loki" Season 2 takes a decent stab at explaining why Sylvie — a Loki variant who was robbed of her inherent Loki-ness and sent to a life of disarray where she had to spend the majority of her time hiding on the edge of assorted apocalypses — might find a job in a fast food restaurant comforting. In fact, the season premiere devotes its final moments to her, as she takes in the family-friendly atmosphere of an alternate-universe 1982 Mickey D's in Broxton, Oklahoma. 

However, things go awry fast when we return to the subject in Episode 2, "Breaking Brad." When Loki, Mobius, and Brad (Rafael Casal) visit Sylvie, she's in full McDonald's worker mode — and the show falls headfirst into Product Placement Land. Apart from McDonald's being Sylvie's paradise of choice, Mobius pays lip service to the quality of the fast food juggernaut's fare — and despite a slightly ominous vibe, nothing bad ever happens inside a McDonald's. 

It's weird because "Loki" executive producer Kevin Wright gave the impression that the show might get pretty wild with the idea of incorporating McDonald's into the plot. "I was worried that McDonald's would think we wanted to do something ironic or make fun of them," he said in an interview with Fast Company. "But we were selling an earnest story, a love letter to nostalgia through a character's eyes who will see all of the novelty and joy of it." It remains unclear how the higher-ups at McDonald's might've been shocked about a Loki variant finding inner peace in their restaurant or Owen Wilson showering praise on their food, but it's enough to make you suspect that if "Avengers" premiered now, the team would be munching on McNuggets instead of shawarma. 

How did Xoop determine the MCU's highs and lows of 2023?

I'll be the first to admit that in theory, at least, this list could be as long as the sky is blue. Great moments like Lylla's (Linda Cartellini) death in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" or the spaghettifications and "Groundhog Day" antics of "Loki" Season 2 narrowly failed to make it here. As for worst scenes ... surely, every MCU fan reading this has a moment or six they'd like to add or replace here. 

This particular list was compiled with whatever qualifications I've collected over my career as an entertainment journalist and a rogue internet writer. I've followed the MCU since its inception and Marvel Comics a good deal longer than that. I've also been fortunate enough to put this knowledge to professional use in gigs that include the better part of a decade as a writer, columnist, and freelance editor on the comedy site Cracked.com, and my current role right here at Xoop — which involves regular coverage of MCU projects great and small. 

To back up my impressions about the best and worst MCU moments of the year, I've dived into an array of Rotten Tomatoes-approved reviews of each project and scoured social media reactions to study the fan reception of various wham moments. Whether you agree with the choices I've made or the methodology I've used, of course, is up to you — but if nothing else, I hope that these selections help you relive what might just have been the MCU's biggest rollercoaster year yet.