The Marvel Cinematic Universe is no stranger to the thought of tying together the vast storytelling of its series of films with television projects. But it’s no stranger to...well, basically abandoning a lot of the pretense behind that thought, either. But after Avengers: Endgame, and with the arrival of Disney+, it might actually be taking another crack at it.
From Agents of SHIELD to Agent Carter, to Runaways, Cloak & Dagger, and the now-ended line of Netflix Defenders shows, the past decade of MCU-affiliated experiences on the small screen have all been hampered by one pretty major thing: Their connections to Marvel movies have by and large been a one-way street. They could hint at events on the silver screen happening around them, but it would never be the other way around. Always the reference bridesmaid, never the reference bride, if you will.
That, in most part, played to their strengths—it didn’t matter that these shows weren’t beholden to the events of blockbuster films audiences many times the size of their own would be going to see. It was liberating. They could do their own thing, tell their own stories around all that fancy movie hype, and carve out their own corners of a universe that always wanted you to think it was a lot more connected than it ever actually was. They could just dance around an extraordinarily clunky allusion every once in a while and be about the business of owning their own stories.
But with the advent of Disney+—and with it, at the least four new Marvel TV shows in the form of WandaVision (starring Scarlet Witch and the Vision), Falcon and Winter Soldier (starring...the Falcon and the Winter Soldier), and Loki (do I have to tell you who’s in this one?), and the animated anthology spinoff What If?—leveraging not just characters but talent directly from the Marvel movies, times are about to change.
It’s already been confirmed that these shows (aside from What If?, given its nature of telling alternate tales) will all have canonical congruence with the wider MCU, but speaking to Variety as part of an extensive new cover story about his work at Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige noted that finally—nearly six years since it first promised to do exactly this with Agents of SHIELD—the MCU will truly meld storytelling from both TV shows and movies:
These episodes will intersect with the movies in a very big way. It’s a totally new form of storytelling that we get to play with and explore.
Like I said, it’s a biiiit rich to say that it’s “totally new” considering that they literally tried to do this before. But what is different this time is that Marvel and Disney are much more clearly throwing weight behind this—no offence to the delightful Clark Gregg, but pulling in names like Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen from the movies to anchor TV shows has a bit more heft than when they did it with the agent mook who got to be a victim of Joss Whedon’s insatiable bloodlust in the first Avengers movie.
But that added weight brings with it a whole bunch of potential problems that Agents of SHIELD and its siblings managed to avoid by skirting around the very edges of the MCU—especially given that these shows are only going to be accessible through the Disney+ subscription service. If they truly are going to “intersect with the movies in a very big way,” as Feige professes, are audiences going to be expected to catch up with a TV show before they go see what’s up with Marvel’s post-Endgame films? In turn, are TV audiences going to have to make sure they book their movie tickets opening weekend just so a major movie moment doesn’t spoil whatever’s about to happen on the Disney+ show they’re watching?
It’ll be interesting to see just how Marvel navigates having a truly shared universe across mixed mediums—there’s nothing else other than Star Wars out there that’s really facing a concept like this, and even the galaxy far, far away manages to skirt around it by placing its movies on a pedestal the rest of the material can only really live in the shadow of. Maybe this time around, Marvel will make it work.
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