Drink it in guys, it finally happened. After seemingly being on a never ending streak of good fortune, Marvel hit its first major MCU road bump with an all mighty thud this week. The bungled arrival of Inhumans into the Marvel Cinematic Universe exposes not only the biggest fault line within the hugely successful property – it’s a problem that potentially poisons the well. The worst part for Marvel? It’s a problem that’s been staring Marvel square in the face for years.
For the longest time, Marvel has treated its television division like a second class citizen. Despite initial MCU’s boasts of “it’s all connected”, the reality is that the television product has long existed within its own little bubble. While The Avengers have gone on to claim plaudits and fan admiration – the television side of Marvel has increasingly been spinning its wheels. Without the fanfare and hype that Marvel’s movies drum up – audiences have been left increasingly frustrated at the result.
So it’s fitting really that Inhumans, the long heralded “next big thing” within the MCU has arrived with such a massive clunk, seemingly hitting every possible branch on the way down to the floor. The early reviews of the initial two episodes are scolding, more than anything else within the MCU up to this point. It might not be a movie, but because of the way Marvel’s promoted its cinematic universe, it doesn’t matter to the casual audience. They see the Marvel logo at the start – it’s all the same to them. Marvel’s created its own biggest problem – and it can only get worse from here.
It’s not like the warning signs weren’t there. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. span its wheels for so long that the show had to be handed an effective reboot. The initial concept so devoid of the typical Marvel glamour that audiences abandoned it in their droves. Yes, things have picked up – but the initial excitement that greeted the arrival of S.H.I.E.L.D. has never come close to being fulfilled. Instead of seeing superheroes on a weekly basis, the show felt more like your run of the mill spy outing. That’s not what audiences wanted, but it set the tone for everything that followed.
It’s only made worse when you remember that initially, they really pushed that “everything is connected” line. The show never got major Avengers on board, but they managed to tie into the wider events of the movies. Because of this, audiences have been trained to connect all the dots – meaning that what happens on the television properties still matters in the grander scheme (Even if the movies never reference it). It means that if Marvel stops putting in the effort with their television product, it only harms the wider MCU.
Heck, that line could go for everything on the television side of things. The Defenders series was met with indifference when it released in August, struggling to match the lofty expectations (That’s ignoring the increasingly hostile reception to the series themselves, culminating in Iron Fist’s outright derision when it finally released). It doesn’t help that these shows are treated like awkward siblings to the movies ongoing stories. It baffles me that the original Avengers New York battle is only tentatively mentioned as “the incident”. This breaks the promise of a cinematic universe, as it means the audience aren’t immersed in the same world. What about the events of Age of Ultron? Civil War? These haven’t even been mentioned during these shows – and it creates a bizarre disconnect.
To the casual viewer, there is no dividing line. The events of Peggy Carter happened. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s agents are really running between Avenger’s missions. Now they have to remember that The Inhumans are a thing, floating around in the MCU. As negative as they are, they can’t be taken out or retconned – and that’s a huge problem for Marvel. They trained the audience to care about everything – the good and bad. The MCU’s biggest strength has meant that audiences flocked to see movies they otherwise wouldn’t have. It also now means that when something goes horribly wrong, there are no second chances.
The more Marvel continues to push its television studio to the sidelines, the more this kind of thing is going to happen. When Kevin Feige insists that the “real” MCU is in cinemas, audiences are only going to get more confused. In particular when Marvel tries to have its cake and eat it – pushing Inhumans into a bewilderingly ill-thought out cinematic release. If Kevin Feige doesn’t want audiences to believe the television and movie products are one and the same – perhaps don’t blur the lines so awkwardly.
It’s made even worse when you glance over at the Arrowverse. For all DC’s faults, the Arrowverse is arguably everything Marvel’s television offerings should be. Not connected to the movies in any way, never promoted as such yet audiences are fine with this. Audiences love it and it’s helped to bring several characters (Notably Supergirl) into prominence. That’s what the TV product should be for Marvel – a proving grounds for properties that aren’t ready for the main stage yet. But by constantly changing their stance and muddying the water – they’ve only gone and harmed one major property that will effectively be unusable moving forward.
I know there’s been a lot of backroom drama at Marvel over its television and movie operations – but perhaps it’s time to sort it out properly? Maybe on this one thing, Kevin Feige is wrong. Maybe the television part of Marvel is just as important as the movies – maybe it’s time for Marvel to shift its focus.
Because if Marvel doesn’t, it only risks the credibility of the entire project moving forward. Those same audiences that have been trained to care about every Marvel product will find themselves wondering if movies like Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther are worth checking out – because the weekly television product has dropped so hard in quality. It’s a connection they created – they have to live with it.
The television side of things needs to improve at Marvel – fast. Inhumans was born from a situation that shouldn’t have been allowed to occur. If they don’t sort the problem out – it’ll only get worse moving forward.