This past week delivered reports that Marvel Studios is considering a Falcon/Winter Soldier team-up television series (wait, aren’t they dead? … or alternative parenthetical aside: can we suggest the title Non-Lethal Weapon?) for Disney’s upcoming streaming service debuting next year.
The widely-reported though officially unconfirmed series would join previously-reported projects that would focus on Loki and Scarlet Witch (the latter likely featuring the Vision) for the service.
Because the Disney media monolith is looking to carve out their own territory in the billions-dollar frontier Netflix has trailblazed, the company is almost certainly going to pour big budgets into attracting viewers with their iconic properties like Star Wars and Marvel, and perhaps for the first time really blurring the lines between the big and small screen.
And that would be a pretty radical change in the now-five-year great Marvel Cinematic Universe media experiment, because the line so far has actually been pretty stark and increasingly un-crossable.
It all started out promising enough, with ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of SH.I.E.L.D. serving as something of a logical TV spin-off in wake of the wildly successful The Avengers. S.H.I.E.L.D. still had a huge footprint in the theatrical MCU, and early cameos by Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, Jamie Alexander as Sif, and of course Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury promised a logical sharing of resources between the venues. Of course Clark Gregg reprising his role as Agent Coulson, the fan-favorite lynchpin of the pre-Avengers films, was the icing on the cake.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the rewriting the movie-TV rulebook. While premiering to strong ratings and eventually settling into passable ones, Disney discovered the hunger moviegoers seems to have for new MCU films doesn’t translate literally to television. And what should have been Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s crowning moment – its tie-in to the surprise events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier – instead served as the show’s gentle push out the MCU door. It was now untethered from the main goings-on of the movie serial storytelling and forced to find its own niche, while for the most part those first-season cameos and tie-ins started to go quietly away.
Part two of what then still seemed like an ambitious plan was the Netflix Defenders deal. It was and for the moment still is an unprecedented carving out of a whole particular thematic corner of the MCU, anchored by the recovered media rights to Daredevil, a hopeful 20th Century Fox film franchise that just never clicked. Announced just months after the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiere, the Defenders promised a more cinematic-like TV experience, given the shows were unshackled by the 20+-episode, weekly demands of a network TV show and by the looks of things a bigger budget (thanks Netflix!). There was even very early speculation that the eventual Defenders team would somehow be forced to form in the wake of the Infinity-Stones-Thanos-Avengers through line of the theatrical MCU and perhaps even pitch in with the final battle with Thanos … which is technically still possible but seems highly unlikely at this point.
And by all accounts on its own terms the Netflix-Marvel deal has been a huge success. It's aired 11 seasons over six shows and counting, mostly to fan and critical approval.
But aside from the occasional reference here and there, there has somewhat maddenly been little to no interaction between the film and TV sides of the coin.
Similarly, Runaways (Hulu) and Cloak & Dagger (Freeform) have launched to their own success, with again just passing references to existing within the bigger picture but without any real meat on the shared universe bone.
Which is more or less fine - as we’ve addressed here before the “it’s all connected” mantra has been an unsatisfying but mostly harmless empty promise.
That no Marvel TV show has been so far able to acknowledge the events of Avengers: Infinity War (dudes, planes were dropping out of the frickin’ sky) just shines a brighter spotlight on the fact it really isn’t all connected.
It’s also probably more of a sore spot for your more hardcore fan like us than it is for the general public, but the promise of a Marvel Studios-produced series of TV productions with a much closer relationship to the films and its stars its only going to further illustrate the divide, and dare we say, create something of a Marvel TV caste system.
As we’ve talked many times here at Newsarama, Marvel Studios has lapped Warner Bros. in terms of its theatrical exploitation of its comic book franchises in the same way Steve Rogers lapped Sam Wilson in the opening moments of Winter Soldier. But in terms of the relationship between film and TV, dare we say, did Warner Bros. get this one right and Disney got it ... [gulp] wrong?
DC’s TV-Universes seem to enjoy more freedom to introduce more characters, concepts and ideas than their Marvel cousin, which seems burdened by its choice of characters, storylines to adapt and the brushstrokes they’re seemingly not allowed to make on the larger canvas. Hell, the CW-DCU is about to dip their toe into Infinite Crisis territory.
So in the great tradition of comic book retcons, perhaps it would be wise on Marvel’s part to release ABC, and the various other networks from having to draw within the lines. For whatever life Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has left, for ABC’s in-development female superhero team project, for however many seasons the Netflix and other properties have remaining, maybe Disney should rewrite the rules so they exist and have existed in their own or even shared space, and no longer tied to the restrictive realities of the film-U.
Now we’re not suggesting new versions of Captain America and Iron Man be allowed to appear in the TV properties, but just give them their own freedom to blow up cities, ward off invasions from space, and experience reality-altering storylines without the jumping through hoops to keep it self-contained that earmarked the last season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Conversely, it’d give the films the freedom to re-introduce very usable and appealing characters like Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Deathlok, Ghost Rider, etc. without being dictated by the creative choices and continuity crafted by others outside of Kevin Feige’s purview.
Not that we'd have any problem with Mike Colter, Krysten Ritter, and Charlie Cox joining Chris Evans on screen in an Avengers movie (quite the opposite) but if Marvel Studios didn’t have an issue with it it probably would have happened by now.
So when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns to the air next year after whatever the hell state Avengers 4 leaves the MCU, maybe it should include a sly reference to the Infinity Stones and some quick and tidy exposition to explain a multiverse has been created in which the TV shows now exist separately from the films.
They’ve been separated for years now, might as well make the divorce official.