The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Lost Connections

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The MCU

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It wasn’t too long ago that I was singing Marvel Studios’ praises and although I’m not about to turn heel, I will say that the #EverythingsConnected franchise we were once promised perhaps isn’t so cohesive after all.

Films

Since the post credit stingers for both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in 2008, producer Kevin Feige’s vision of a connected franchise of comic book characters began to draw toward the culmination of an Avengers film in 2012, featuring Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye. In only nine years we have seen fifteen franchise entries with an additional two more due before the end of this year.

The most recent Marvel Studios feature film, Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2 is perhaps the least connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe but James Gunn’s sequel is an exception. As with 2012’s The Avengers, next May sees the completion of Marvel Studios third phase. This eighteen-film franchise will pit The Avengers AND Guardians of the Galaxy against the big purple baddie Thanos and tie up many of the narrative threads over this behemoth run of sequels, tangents and team ups.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe now extends to short films, comics and shows on both TV and streaming services. While the narrative canon has remained relatively consistent, connectivity-wise, there has been very little cross-over between the formats.

One Shots

These short films were available exclusively for home viewing with the DVDs of several earlier MCU movies. Some acted as backdoor pilots for television shows while others ironed out plot kinks from the movies and made for more bang for your buck when you shelled out for the home release. Sadly, these have been discontinued since 2014 and this enticing short thread of mini-sodes smarts of wasted potential.

T.V. Shows on ABC

A shaky first few half-season aside, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  (AOS) gets a bum rap. Mere months after it started airing on television, Marvel Studios released Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which deals with the corruption and fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a government agency in the MCU. Cue a more refined, reactionary, second half of the season which deals with this dilemma and throws in some great twists and curveballs in the team dynamic. Simply put, ABC’s series was cut off at the knees as the very title of the series became meaningless post The Winter Soldier.

Kevin Feige image

Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios.

This was the first major indication that everything wasn’t quite rosy between Marvel Studios heads Kevin Feige (in charge of the films) and Ike Perlmutter (who oversees everything else) and would lead to a second massive gulf opening between the film franchise and the telly series when Inhumans was announced as being part of Marvel Studios Phase III slate of films, set for 2018. The second season of AOS introduced the concept of Inhumans (an ideal substitute for X-Men/ Mutants who are part owned by Fox), but the rug was pulled from under the series when Marvel removed Inhumans from the film slate indefinitely toward the end of AOS third season.


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While the inclusion of the excellent Haley Atwell in the Agent Carter series, and Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson miraculously brought back from the dead to lead the team in AOS, there have been scant few crossovers between the films and TV shows to date. We get a Nick Fury here, a Maria Hill or a Lady Sif there, but the likelihood of an Iron Man or Thor turning up in the show is pretty much zero. When the AOS characters failed to appear in the final reel of Avengers: Age of Ultron I finally realised that this reactionary TV show would always be considered the unwanted stepchild of the MCU, despite the series going from strength to strength, creatively.

Netflix

When Marvel first announced a collaboration with Netflix, we were to receive a season of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, culminating in a team-up series tilted, The Defenders. Since then we’ve gained a second season of Daredevil with a third in development, while second seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage will appear in 2018. Before the end of this year we will also have our first season of The Punisher hitting Netflix, having been trialled (literally) in season 2 of Daredevil.

As with AOS, the Marvel Netflix shows are reactionary to what appears in the films, and in the context of the show’s more “mature” themes, this is understandable. However, both shows are produced by ABC and yet there’s been no crossover between them. Once upon a time, a bulletproof man and a dude with a glowing yellow fist would’ve been high up on the list of curiosities for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Having Mike Coulter, Finn Jones, Charlie Cox or Krysten Ritter show up on ABC would clearly be a boon to both shows and the brand as a whole.

Coming up over the next twelve months is an Inhumans television series (produced in association with IMAX), The Runaways (with Hulu), Cloak & Dagger and also The New Warriors (on Freeform). These shows are all produced by ABC but I hold no hopes of any connectivity between them, let alone with Marvel Studio’s films.

Marvel vs. Marvel

So, on one side we have Joel Loeb (Executive Vice President of Marvel Television) and Ike Perlutter (CEO of Marvel Entertainment), and on the other there sits Kevin Feige (President of Marvel Studios) and Disney. The televisual side and the motion picture side of Marvel Studios. The sheer lack of cohesion between these elements is going to become more apparent as each grows to be more unwieldy.

X-Men image

The X-Men are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Each creates wonderfully entertaining content, which surely should be enough. But part of the allure of the MCU was its potential for connectivity. It is highly unlikely that characters such as Kingpin (superbly portrayed by Vincent D’Onofio on Netflix) will ever interact on screen (large or small) with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man (Sony), which seems nuts considering the calibre of actors involved and the rabid fan-base clamouring for such a pairing. But perhaps this union of IP isn’t as ergonomically sound as it appears on paper. Warners and DC have kept their DCEU films and The CW television worlds almost entirely separate. Ditto Fox’s Gotham series.

If Marvel had made the same distinction from the outset, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so underwhelmed by the lack of connectivity between the various platforms.

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<p>Regular type person by day, film vigilante by night. Spent years as a 35mm projectionist (he got taller) and now he gets to watch and wax lyrical about all manner of motion pictures. Daryl has got a soft spot for naff Horror and he’d consider Anime to be his kryptonite. Co-host of Sudden Double Deep: The Triple Bill Title Podcast, you’ll often find him lurking at The Prince Charles Cinema.</p>

  • last.caress

    Terrific piece Daryl, as ever.

    I’m not sure how much I’m into these constant connections anymore anyway, tbh. Seems to me that, the more standalone the movie is, the more the director can stamp their own character into the thing. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all of Marvel studios’ properties were essentially standalone movies with that promise of a mashup little more than a tantalising tease; and then, every ten years or so… BANG! An Avengers pic, one which begins and ends within its own runtime.

    Logan doesn’t perfectly sit inside the rest of the X-Men continuity, and it’s maybe the best of that franchise. Some of DC’s “DC Universe Animated Original Movies” (catchy title, chaps!) are linked but many are not, and it all still works really well. I’m glad Venom has been confirmed as NOT being an MCU picture and I’m slightly concerned that Spider-Man has only become further confused and ballsed-up by becoming an MCU “guest appearance”. Batman was coping perfectly well outside of the DCEU.

    It would be terrific I think just to be able to see a take on a superhero from this director or that which ISN’T necessarily dependent on existing continuity. No more movies which serve essentially as adverts for other movies.

    • Alton Williams

      Great piece as always!

    • SuddenDoubleDeep

      Thank man. I honestly think we’re starting to see some directorial-aesthetic stamps with Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, James Gunn’s Guardians and Taika Watiiti’s Thor: Ragnarok. Just a shame it’s taken them nine years to get there. I admire the cohesion that’s inbuilt but having flavoursome tangents is a very tantalising notion.

      As far as I’m concerned, the FoX-Men continuity was smashed to pieces early in the game. It’s only because of the studio’s stubbornness and inability to admit fault that they haven’t had a clean reboot. I wish DC would stop announcing projects in development and just update their schedule with clear goals and an assured vision.

      By the sounds of things, Sony is ballsing up Spider-Man all by themselves. After the fallout of the Sony hack I’m amazed that Amy Pascal still has a career. She’s like Avi Arad 2.0. No idea how they’ll try and cobble together this Spider-verse (seemingly without SM). Seems like the kind of bad judgement they made which led to The Amazing Spider Poo 1&2.