Marvel Studios’ biggest innovation in film is its vaunted shared universe – the interconnected layering of stories and characters that are the stock-in-trade of comic books but which has rarely worked on film. When Marvel expanded their operations to TV and later to Netflix, they brought that premise to the small screen as well, with Marvel Studios’ president Kevin Feige’s mantra of “It’s all connected” officially establishing the Marvel Cinematic Universe - and spurring other studios like Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures to attempt the same.
But now, with Avengers: Infinity War bringing together nearly every Marvel movie hero - and leaving out characters like Agent Coulson, Daisy Johnson, Daredevil, and the Defenders entirely – it seems that the idea that Marvel’s TV and film endeavors are all part of one big continuum soldiers on in theory and speculation only.
Where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. once referenced the events of Marvel’s films and welcomed the occasional guest star like Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, or Marvel’s Netflix shows would drop references to the “Battle of New York,” we now have three separate worlds connected solely by the studio banner that accompanies them.
Last week's “class picture” celebrating Marvel Studios’ ten-year anniversary seems to draw a fine point on this divide. Though they invited 80 actors and filmmakers from across all of Marvel’s films for the shoot, no one from the television or Netflix side was present for the photo. Where were they? Marvel had known for months that much of Marvel's TV actors were scheduled to be at New York Comic Con - the same October 7 weekend as the class photo.
(There's also the idea of using Photoshop to composite these actors in, but that's a whole 'nother conversation.)
Of course, according to Feige and his Marvel TV equivalent Jeph Loeb, the connection still exists. Loeb told Entertainment Weekly in 2017 “If the story warrants it, we will obviously do our best to have folks cross into each other’s story lines.” But so far, heavy hitters like Daredevil and Luke Cage haven’t made enough of an impact to make the leap to the big screen – and even characters like Agent Coulson, a key character from the first Avengers film, can’t seem to find their way back - with at last mention, the Avengers not even knowing Coulson did not die as they were told by Nick Fury.
Moreover, the flow of content and world development has only flowed one direction. While Captain America: The Winter Soldier fundamentally changed the premise of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., that show's preoccupation with Inhumans (and their ubiquity in human society) certainly haven’t been reflected in the films. While it’s hard to imagine a deep level of reciprocity for a TV show in standalone films, the kind of little touches and references it would take to make this a reality are a staple element of Marvel’s films, or even its Netflix Defenders shows.
Given how much emphasis Marvel has placed on Infinity War and its untitled sequel as the “culmination” of the entire MCU, the fact that an entire wing of the vaunted film world is largely ignored by the film (as far as all evidence indicates, anyway) seems like a pointed statement about what is and isn’t included in that canon – for better or worse - especially now as Marvel Studios movies into its next ten years.