Marvel Studios has changed the superhero game in the past decade, introducing the “cinematic universe” approach which has been steadily copied by the likes of DC, Star Wars and Universal. However, Marvel remains without a doubt the most successful architects of the “cinematic universe” – its umbrella of the “MCU” is over 20 films in with multiple television shows on TV and streaming services such as Netflix.
The Netflix series’ are something of a conundrum. Its two launch series, Daredevil and Jessica Jones in 2015 were somewhat groundbreaking superhero fare, offering adult content in an overtly PG-13 universe, with references to the events of the Avengers movies but no direct crossovers. Daredevil’s realism and brutal action sequences won plaudits as well as its directing and acting, with Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin coming in for high praise. Likewise Jessica Jones was again noted for its darker tone, and David Tennant’s turn as Kilgrave earned rave reviews.
“it’s hard to buy into the ‘it’s-all-connected’ mantra when the television series’ have no direct bearing on the films and reference them fleetingly”
However, since 2015, the Marvel Netflix shows have been an incredibly mixed bag of content; though some series have been enjoyable, very little has come close to matching the level of its breakout shows. Both Luke Cage and Iron Fist struggled to gain viewers in the same league and Iron Fist’s first series was universally panned, largely due to controversy surrounding the choice of Finn Jones as the actor to play the Iron Fist (Danny Rand). The conflict between Marvel’s Netflix content and its film universe is hard to fathom – it’s hard to buy into the ‘it’s-all-connected’ mantra when the television series’ have no direct bearing on the films and reference them fleetingly. If anything they’ve become so unconnected it’s like watching two different universes: the zany bright world of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers and the dark world of Hell’s Kitchen and The Defenders.
If as rumoured, the axed Netflix shows Luke Cage and Iron Fist move to Disney’s upcoming rival streaming service, this will likely continue to factor into the equation. Marvel’s television content is struggling to replicate the success of its film family with flops such as Inhumans, and the struggling Agents of Shield failing to fully realise its potential. Agent Carter, which had more links to the films, was cancelled after 2 seasons with solid reviews yet a lack of ratings. It will also be interesting to see how Disney plays its more adult content on its streaming service – judging by the tone of its Star Wars show The Mandalorian, it is keen to cater for adults as well as younger audiences, and perhaps it could prove a vehicle to save its floundering Netflix characters.
The most noteworthy development within the Marvel–Disney relationship is Disney’s acquisition of Fox, and the X-Men film universe seemingly with it, which has already undergone somewhat of a reboot with its First Class focused cast, due to have their fourth film released in 2019. With Hugh Jackman departing as Wolverine following 2017’s Logan, the Fox–Disney merger could be a chance for some smaller X-Men names to be incorporated into future crossover films, with the majority of their major players having had an appearance or two by this stage.
For fans of the expansive comic crossovers such as Avengers vs X-Men this might prove exciting, seeing the likes of Iron Man and Spider-Man interacting with Professor X, Magneto and Wolverine. Are casual cinema goers going to be willing to see what is now essentially a third run at of the X-Men franchise and will Disney be able to retain cast members such as James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender? It also remains to be seen what will become of the Deadpool saga, which has a debatable position within the canon of the X-Men franchise.
“How much of this growth is down to Marvel Studios, and how much is it Disney’s controlling influence manifesting itself?”
Whilst Marvel has been sitting pretty atop the superhero pantheon for the past decade, I feel that they are perhaps rushing to incorporate all their missing puzzle pieces and the Cinematic Universe is growing at an exponential rate. With films becoming more and more interconnected, it may prove too much for more casual viewers to keep up. Are viewers going to remain invested once the likes of Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth leave the party?
How much of this growth is down to Marvel Studios, and how much is it Disney’s controlling influence manifesting itself? Will we see more creative differences down the line as has been seen within Disney’s other flagship acquisition, Star Wars, where each new release seems to have an issue of some kind? The MCU has not been without issues, with Edgar Wright falling foul of studio bosses surrounding his vision for 2015’s Ant-Man and the scandal that has engulfed production of Guardians of the Galaxy 3, following the resurfacing of some distasteful tweets from sacked director James Gunn, who has now seemingly permanently left the Marvel fold.
Whilst comic lovers will surely revel in the wealth of content released by Marvel Studios, a cynic would say that it is perhaps a case of too much, and that as a result some of its content may suffer. This could be a criticism aimed in Disney’s direction, and it will be interesting to see how vast its Marvel empire grows, and whether it continues to scale back its content or keeps on at its current juggernaut pace. Is three films a year really necessary along with seven to eight television shows?