You can’t fault Marvel for one thing – the expansive and shared universe they’ve created with both their film and television properties is a daring and bold feat the likes of which has never been pulled off before. Every film and program produced by Marvel takes place within the same universe, with events in one movie or show reverberating through others. This is most evident with Marvel’s first wave of movies (known as Phase I), beginning with 2008’s Iron Man, culminating to the team-up film The Avengers which had its foundation and groundwork laid out by all of Marvel’s preceding films.
Since then, the movies have gotten increasingly more intertwined with a strong and intriguing continuity being more and more fleshed out with each film. It wasn’t until Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted on ABC in 2013 that Marvel’s universe expanded into television. That show is arguably very much beholden to what happens in Marvel’s movies. When the spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D., which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was solely based around, was destroyed and disbanded in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the show had to completely revamp itself, and surprisingly, became a lot more interesting.
In 2015, Marvel conquered streaming platform Netflix, debuting their first original Netflix series Daredevil earlier this year and recently launching their second series, Jessica Jones, in November. Both of these shows have received their fair share of critical and fan adoration, and each is interconnected with the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe on a grassroots level. Both shows take place in New York after the climatic battle against invading aliens in The Avengers left the metropolis ravaged.
Much the same way Marvel launched standalone films on individual heroes and brought them all together into The Avengers, the company is taking a similar approach to their Netflix shows. Two more series are set to debut on the platform in 2016: Luke Cage, who was already introduced in Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist. Marvel then plans to partner up all four of their Netflix shows into a miniseries in 2017: The Defenders. This complex interweaving of characters and continuity is an exciting and lucrative strategy for the company, both in terms of storytelling and the attractive marketing prospects such a shared universe provides (and one that rival DC Comics is hoping to capitalize on as they start building a shared universe of their own with 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).
However, there remains a hiccup in all of this property building. Thus far, Marvel’s television properties have pulled the short straw when it comes to appearing in or even being acknowledged in any of the company’s films. Sure, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was built around Agent Phil Coulson, who appeared in several Marvel films and subsequently died in The Avengers only to be resurrected. That’s a small example. So is Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter, who was Captain America’s love interest during WWII in his first movie outing. She fronts her own period drama on ABC, Agent Carter, but she hasn’t proved to be a pertinent character in the cinematic universe.
While Samuel L. Jackson has made a guest appearance on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as his Nick Fury character, don’t expect to see Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man or Chris Hemsworth’s Thor show up on any of Marvel’s television shows anytime soon. Now, writers behind some of Marvel’s upcoming films are dashing hopes that the company’s television properties will take any part in them. Fans hoping that The Defenders miniseries coming out just before the next Avengers movie might mean these characters could show up in that film should lower their expectations. Turns out, Marvel bringing their television characters into their movies becomes very messy on both legal and copyright grounds.
Anthony Russo, co-writer and co-director of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and 2017’s The Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1, which will be a culmination of every Marvel movie since the beginning, stated it gets extremely complicated when trying to pull in TV characters like Daredevil into Marvel’s films. “When we start to serialize the telling of stories it’s difficult. The films are controlled by a group led by Kevin Feige, so they function as a unit. Other products, even if they are from Marvel, are controlled by others,” he said in an interview with Super Interessante.
Despite all of these characters being owned by Marvel, there are competing corporate and creative interests at play that make it tricky when it comes to those pariah characters on television shows who still remain very much connected to and at the mercy of the overall Marvel umbrella and universe. Russo states this is a small scale version of the problem Marvel faces with some of it’s properties, like X-Men and Fantastic Four, being owned by outside companies like Fox. Only recently was Marvel able to buy and secure back the rights to arguably their most popular character, Spiderman, from Sony.
As you can see, there’s a lot of tricky maneuvering involved when it comes to these comic book characters and properties. Though everything Marvel happily lives in one gloriously endangered universe, one thing between there’s and our reality stands true: the silver screen and the TV screen are two very separate entities.