In theory, a cinematic universe that spans across TV and film is a great idea. In today's day and age, we've learned to embrace epic scope, recurring characters, and serialized storytelling. No longer is it enough that a film stands alone, but we like to see these films also work in favor of a larger story -- even if its contribution to the overall vision is just ancillary. We love the idea of having a flexible and dynamic universe that spans different mediums, as it increases our investment.
But this all comes at a cost. It's one thing to create a universe with a team of 10-15, but with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are hundreds of cooks in the kitchen, and no less than a handful of productions going on at any given time that contributes to this massive universe. These productions in this world currently span film, network TV, and Netflix. In theory, characters and events sort of cross-pollinate between the mediums, and in theory, this is a fanboy's wet dream. But with the number of people involved, it's all become so unwieldy.
We saw the first evidence of this immediately following the release of the first Avengers film. It wasn't long until the series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. got produced, bringing back Agent Phil Coulson, whose passing in Avengers was the kick in the pants our heroes needed to unite. All of a sudden, he's alive again on TV, so it's a given that he'd be in the films again, right?
Well no, not according to director Joss Whedon. Speaking with IGN some time ago, Whedon discussed how it's unlikely that the Avengers will ever see Coulson again.
“It’s a weird little yes and no. As far as I’m concerned in the films, yes he’s dead. In terms of the narrative of these guys [The Avengers] his loss was very important. When I created the television show, it was sort of on the understanding that this can work and we can do it with integrity, but these Avengers movies are for people to see the Avengers movies and nothing else. And it would neither make sense nor be useful to say ‘Oh and by the way remember me? I died!’”
Okay, so it's a storytelling thing. Due to the limited runtime movies have, as well as the desire to maintain the structural integrity of the story, they can't simply take a detour for Coulson without making it the focus of the story, and just like that, we've already disrupted the flow of the film. But you'd be wrong if you thought that was the only difficulty. Whedon went on to say:
“I think actually the movie people were a little bit cross about the TV show, They were sort of like ‘Well you can have this but not this. And this but not that.’ It’s complicated enough as it is without me adding another layer of complication. We also created a TV show called S.H.I.E.L.D. right before they made a movie where they destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D.. So everybody’s having a GREAT time!”
This brings into question: who has overall creative control through all the mediums? How can this work if the movie folks aren't willing to play ball with the TV folks?
And then we have shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones on Netflix, which are a whole other wrench in the situation. Are these shows really benefiting from existing int his universe?
All this begs the question: should Marvel TV just cut and run from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and exist purely in its own little bubble?
MARVEL STUDIOS VS. MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT
Let's star this conversation by taking a look at the relationship between Marvel Entertainment and Marvel Studios. As recently as around this time last year, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was answering to Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter.
So Marvel Entertainment was the umbrella company, and within that we have Marvel Studios (who makes film), and Marvel TV (who makes TV shows), among other branches. The problem is that Ike Perlmutter wasn't really playing nice with Kevin Feige. Perlmutter is a notorious penny-pincher, and as the MCU films grew more ambitious, he seemed unwilling to fit the bill to account for that.
This whole falling out between Feige and Perlmutter was extensively covered in a THR piece last year, which is linked down below, but needless to say, Feige wanted out. Per Feige's request, there was a structural re-organization, and Marvel Studios was effectively placed under Disney Studios' Alan Horn.
"New York had a big say for a long time, but hasn't Kevin earned the right to some autonomy?" One insider told THR. "He's made the company billions. Why is he reporting to a 72-year-old man who doesn't make movies?"
While Marvel Studios was placed under Disney Studios, Marvel TV remained under Perlmutter's Marvel Entertainment umbrella.
It's worth noting that this divide between Marvel Entertainment and Marvel Studios came after the whole Coulson deal. Now, a studio that already had a problem with communicating with Marvel TV was going to be even farther removed from them.
So, as of this writing, it seems as though things will continue as they are now: TV will reference the films, but not vice versa.
As mentioned above, it seems as though the movies will never really reference any of the TV shows. If you're not able to truly have these worlds connect...then what's the point of having a huge universe to begin with?
For example, I love Daredevil and Jessica Jones. In my opinion, they're amazing shows with great stories and character development. They exist in the same universe as The Avengers, but the only reference they make (as stated earlier) is what they refer to as "The Incident," which is basically the attack on New York in the Avengers film.
Though one could argue that without that event, none of the rebuilding of New York could have happened, and thus the show would be different, I argue against that. In reality, that event could have been anything, and is ultimately nothing but a plot device for the series.
At the end of the day, when watching these Netflix shows, I ask myself one question: Is this show gaining anything from being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
This could change in the future, but as of this writing, my answer is no. These shows are amazing completely on their own, and don't benefit an iota from being a part of the MCU. In fact, I could argue that at some point, their connection to the MCU will, at some point, be a detriment to them. As always happens in the Marvel movies, there will be some worldwide catastrophic event that'll change everything. Should the TV show not address that, it will only further contribute to the disjointed feel the whole universe already has.
In addition, these Marvel Netflix shows are already making their own little world as it is. They don't really need to tie into the movies. They're ambitious enough as they are.
And then there is the other important factor in all this: mainstream audiences.
While many of us fans feel as thought these comic books are our babies, and to see these intricate storylines play out in and around each other in different mediums is something we couldn't even imagine ten years ago, the fact is that the mainstream audiences are the ones that allow Marvel to keep upping the ante.
With each passing film, and each passing show that gets added to the long list of MCU properties, the company risks fans dropping off one by one. Even worse is that with every new one, some fans may feel like they can't really appreciate it without seeing what's come before. Things have become so convoluted, that these comic book movies and TV shows have essentially become as inaccessible as the source material from whence they came.
Certainly, a fair chunk of comic book fans adore this about the whole thing. There's a reason they love comics. The lore is rich, and intricacy with which everything is plotted is what makes it so great, but it doesn't always make for a fun watch for a fan who just wants to jump in for two hours and then move on with their day.
So again, I revisit the question I posed earlier: should Marvel TV just cut and run from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and exist purely in its own little bubble?
I argue that they should.
Yes, I love the Marvel films, and they should definitely keep doing what they're doing over there, but as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes more ambitious, it becomes less and less believable that there wouldn't be any crossover on the film front. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, these films add nothing to the Netflix lore, and while they don't necessarily take away from them, it's only a matter of time before the film timeline becomes an obstacle to some subplot they want to tackle.
When Marvel first began creating its expansive universe, it was an unprecedented novelty, but eight years into the game, this novelty has turned into an unwieldy, greedy beast.
While I first scoffed at DC not taking that approach with their own TV shows, as the years have gone by, I've changed my tune, and have decided that, in the long run, keeping these mediums separate is more likely to benefit the content as a whole.
What do you think?
Should Marvel's TV show cut and run from the MCU, or is the whole thing just too fargone? Let us know in the comments down below!