What can the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies learn from the TV shows and vice versa? FingerGuns has some ideas…
Once upon a time, the movies and TV shows of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were all part of the same entity. The early TV shows – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. & Agent Carter – complemented the events on the big screen to add depth to those MCU fans that wanted more than what was in the films. “It’s All Connected” was the motto repeated by Marvel in 2013 and 2014 but, since then, something has changed. Maybe it’s because of the odd hierarchical differences in how the TV and Movie divisions sit within the wider Marvel company or because the movies are planned so far in advance that the TV shows are always having to be reactive rather than collaborative – Whatever it is, the gulf between the 2 division has grown to a point where the only connections are superficial at best.
Anthony Mackie (AKA Sam Wilson AKA The Falcon) seemed to say it best – “Different universes, different worlds, different companies, different designs.” – because that’s certainly how it feels these days.
The Movies & TV Shows might all fall under the umbrella of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” but they certainly appear to be going about their own business and playing to their own strengths. The shows and movies each have their own pro’s and con’s to their format and are each doing great things that the other is not. At this point, after 16 films and 12 TV seasons, it would benefit both parties to take a look at their counterpart and what they’re doing right. With that in mind, we’ve come up with a list of 3 things that the MCU movies can learn from the TV shows as well as 3 things the MCU TV shows can learn from the movies.
***SPOILERS FOR ALL MCU MOVIES AND TV SHOWS AHEAD***
What the MCU Movies Can Learn From the TV Shows
1). Everything doesn’t have to be PG-13
Iron Man = PG-13. The Incredible Hulk = PG-13. Iron Man 2 = PG-13. Thor = PG-13. Captain America: The First Avenger = PG-13. Avengers Assemble = PG-13. See a pattern? Every single Marvel Cinematic Universe film so far has been rated as a PG-13 in America. I’ll admit, none of the existing MCU films have suffered from having a PG-13 rating – The balance of appealing to the younger fans with just enough violence has worked so far – but you only need to look at the Marvel TV shows to see what can be done with more adult themes and an R rating.
Marvel’s Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. made fantastic use of it’s new time slot (moving to 10PM) to add more violence and gore. Without the added blood and guts, the Ghostrider story arc just wouldn’t have had the same impact. They really got across the visceral nature of the “spirit of vengeance” early on and it set the tone for the rest of the best season of the show to date. Then there’s the Marvel Netflix shows – these have always promised to be a grittier, violent, street level version of the MCU and without the adult themes and gore, these shows wouldn’t work as well as they do. For example – In the first season of Daredevil, Murdock corner’s John Healy who then proceeds to impale his own head on a spike because he gave up Kingpin’s real name. It’s this use of gore, where the audience is thinking “Wow. Wilson Fisk must be a really bad dude if a henchmen would prefer to kill himself in the most gruesome way possible than be caught by him” that works incredibly well.
So far, the MCU movies haven’t needed that level of gore or violence but if they ever want to bring some of their most requested characters – say Blade or Moon Knight – into the movies, they’ve probably going to have to start looking at an R-Rated film. Obviously Fox has proven that an R-Rated super-hero flick can fill cinemas with both Deadpool and Logan and, as time goes on, I expect Marvel Studios to follow their TV counterparts into more adult-orientated plots and events.
2). It doesn’t always have to be about saving the world
The MCU has done a fantastic job of avoiding sequelitis thus far. The order of the movies has meant that new heroes can be introduced in a relatively low stakes film (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America) before “assembling” for a high stakes movie (Avengers). This is a formula that has been working for them – but it becoming a little too formulaic. By the time Infinity War opens in cinemas, it’ll be the third time this structure will have been used – NuHero is introduced to the MCU in solo film, hero teams up with the rest of the MCU, Heroes overcome differences to save the world from the big bad. The announced films scheduled between Infinity War and the untitled Avengers 4 suggest that the same structure will be used again there too.
The MCU TV shows, on the other hand, aren’t trying to save the world. They often tell localised or wholly personal stories that are just as, if not more, impactful than Iron Man, Thor, Cap and Co. saving the world from aliens in New York. The entire 1st season of Jessica Jones was a personal battle against an abuser. Luke Cage gets drawn into a gang war with links to his past and ends up on a journey for justice for a friend who got killed in the crossfire. The Punisher is out for revenge against those who murdered his family. Daredevil dishes out justice outside of court against those who he can’t within court, causing him moral heartache. Iron Fist is about a man who’s fighting to regain his identity against foes and allies alike. These are personal stories in which the world-at-large is safe, but are just as enjoyable as those involving the Avengers taking on a genocidal AI.
Kevin Feige has already stated than Phase 4 of the MCU will be “a very different, a distinctively different” series of films compared to Phase 1 through 3. I hope that they’ve looked at what the MCU TV shows are doing so well, as well as what other superhero films are doing, and have decided that that the MCU heroes don’t always need to be saving the world, that the stakes don’t need to perpetually rise with each film. There are a plethora of low-key, personal stories within the Marvel back catalogue that could make fantastic movies. One Month To Live (the story of Dennis Skye who develops superpowers thanks to exposure to toxic waste but also develops an incurable form of cancer giving him One Month To live) is a perfect example as is Matt Fraction’s run on Hawkeye. It’d also be incredibly cool to see a modern day reimagining of the Marvels series.
Note: Spider-Man Homecoming does a great job of this. More of that please Marvel Studios and Sony.
3). Get your villain motivation right
If there’s one criticism that can be laid at the feet of the MCU movies that’s entirely absent in the MCU TV shows, it’s villain motivation. Being a TV Show and having 13 hours to tell a story rather than the 2 of a movie, you’d always expect this to be the case but the MCU shows definitely do explore the motivations and personalities of their big-bad’s much more than the films. We had flashbacks of Wilson Fisk’s troubled childhood, we’ve had entire episodes dedicated to exploring Killgrave’s psyche and we loved Grant Ward before we hated him.
In the movies, the villains are too often treated like a MacGuffin, existing only to get the protagonists from A to B. The Dark Elf Malekith wanted to infect the universe with the power of the the Aether because… well… who knows. It’s left unexplained. Ronan the Accuser wants to destroy Nova Prime because…? Something about a peace treaty and avenging his father’s father? It’s discussed in a throwaway line when he’s first introduced and never again. Aldrich Killian created a superhero drug (admittedly, with some occasional explosive side-effects) and wanted to start a new “war on terror” because…Tony Stark stood him up on New Year’s Eve? With a little more time dedicated to exploring these villains, they could have transcended from “Monster of the Week” to villains worthy of being in a movie.
The MCU Movies are certainly getting much better at this. Both Guardians Vol 2 and Spider-Man Homecoming do a great job of exploring the motivations of their wrongdoers but they’re still a long way off from Daredevil’s portrayal of Kingpin or Jessica Jones’ Killgrave.