By Will Brown
Disney+ was not the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s television output. Under the guidance of Jeph Loeb’s ‘Marvel Television’, we’ve seen the arrival of shows like ABC’s Agents of Shield, Hulu’s Runaways, and Netflix’s Daredevil. But these shows always felt detached from the films and were it not for the occasional passing reference, you would be forgiven from thinking that they were entirely separate.
Disney+ changed all of this. Marvel Television was folded into Marvel Studios, with MCU Overlord Kevin Feige now in charge of both film and television. And in the throes of lockdown, WandaVision marked the start of a new era in the MCU. Major characters like Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlett Witch were no longer restricted to the silver screen. We have now seen four major shows come and go — WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye — and critical response has been mostly positive for all.
Debuting on 30 March, Moon Knight has marked a turning point. Marvel was able to cash in on pre-existing characters for its first four major shows, but now they are introducing new, unknown ones. Whilst it is fair to say that Marvel has succeeded in bringing Moon Knight into the fold, his introduction creates an interesting question — what is Marvel’s endgame for these series?
With the notable exception of Loki, all the Marvel Disney+ shows have been limited series. No second seasons. With WandaVision leading into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier leading into the currently untitled fourth Captain America film. At first, it seemed that these shows would be designed to supplement the films and provide time for the type of character development that the films just do not have time for. WandaVision was the perfect example of this, turning the lacklustre relationship between Wanda and Vision into the most well-developed romance in the MCU. But it cannot be denied that this is an unorthodox tactic, positioning their television output in service of the films to come rather than standing on their own.
I have enjoyed all the Marvel Disney+ series, but none of them have completely blown me away. Whilst critical response has been mostly positive towards these shows, I personally feel none of them have felt as engaging as some of the standalone shows produced prior to the arrival of Disney+. As much as I love the possibilities that the interconnection of the MCU provides, it feels like it is starting to harm the MCU as each story focuses on setting up the next.
Almost entirely divorced from the rest of the MCU (so far), Moon Knight has been a breath of fresh air. It makes the rumours that it is unlikely to return for a second season all the more disappointing. Of course, they were never going to pin Oscar Isaac down to Disney+ for the long-term. But it strikes me as somewhat of a wasted opportunity to start separating the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Introducing characters through series gives them more of a licence to remain there. Moon Knight could have been the start of a connected, but detached, world of street-level superheroes that deal with street-level threats and remain firmly on television.
We have just seen Netflix take a major hit as subscribers left the service in droves. It might be time for Marvel to question how much they can keep everyone engaged with their current model. It’s one thing to ask fans to tune back into their favourite show for a new series, it is quite another to ask them to tune in four times a year for a brand-new story each time.
Nobody knows for sure what the new plan for the MCU is. Whilst I am sure that there is one, I do not think that the MCU should be trying to build up to the next Avengers: Endgame. Juggling thirty-six superheroes in one film is an impressive achievement, and I think that any film would suffer from trying to manage any more. At this point, it makes sense to start dividing up our superheroes — otherwise the MCU might start to buckle under its own weight.
Image: Erik Mclean via Unsplash