The relationship between Netflix and Marvel has soured. Since Disney announced the creation of a new rival streaming platform, its content has started to disappear from Netflix bit by bit. Soon after, Netflix spiked every one of its high-profile Marvel series. Daredevil went. Jessica Jones went. Iron Fist went. Luke Cage went.
It seems that this was something even Marvel was not expecting. In an interview with Deadline, Marvel TV boss Jeph Loeb has revealed that he was just as surprised by the cancellations as anyone, claiming: “We were blindsided and the things that were to come weren’t finished yet.”
In the same interview, Loeb hints that Netflix’s loss might be someone else’s gain. Describing the lower-tier characters who made up The Defenders, he said: “If the Marvel heroes are here to save the universe, the Marvel Street-Level Heroes, the Marvel Knights, often they are just to save themselves, to save the neighbourhood. Some of those appeared on Netflix, but there are others that live in that category, which are still to come.”
That’s a wearying thought. More street-level heroes. More characters who plod glumly around New York, annoyed that they are not quite fully fledged superheroes. More characters who spend 13 episodes brooding and sighing about an opponent who, say, Thor could erase in a couple of seconds. More shows that take three episodes to get going, then immediately fall into a mid-season funk before staggering to the finish line exhausted.
Those shows, with rare exceptions, were drabness incarnate. They were tired and listless and bloated, and never quite managed to live up to their early promise. Just thinking about a world that contains any more of them makes me sleepy.
The reason for this might be a general sense of Marvel fatigue. Marvel already dominates the box office – three of the five biggest-grossing films of the year so far are Marvel films; and it would probably be more if Marvel had released more than three films – and Disney+ looks set to double down on this. Now, between the sprawling soap opera that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are going to be television shows starring MCU characters who exist only to move the story on in important ways.
So, for example, the new Doctor Strange film won’t make any sense unless you have invested time and money on the preceding WandaVision TV show. You won’t have full understanding of how Sam Wilson learned to become Captain America unless you watch The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. A Loki series is scheduled for released before the new Thor film, so that’s another piece of information fans are going to need.
Marvel has reached the point of cultural monopoly, which means that all these new shows are starting to feel like homework. They are not anything you might particularly want to watch, but you are going to need to if you want to get the most out of your three-times-a-year cinema habit. Little by little, it is becoming less fun to keep up with this stuff. It is taking more and more of a run-up.
This is just the big-ticket, marquee stuff. It is turning into such a slog that I can’t ever imagine summoning the energy to get into something as inconsequential as the street-level heroes. The thought of committing another 13 hours to something as flat and aimless as the second season of Luke Cage, when I am already going to be crawling around broken-backed by the MCU shows, is terrifying.
Marvel is a huge entity made of different branches – Loeb was at pains to point out that the Disney+ MCU shows are made by the film division while the street-level stuff remains part of Marvel Television – but I’m not sure that matters to the consumer. All they see is a huge, insurmountable wall of Marvel looming at them at them like a cliff-face made of encyclopaedias. If it isn’t careful, it might be reaching the point where they abandon it entirely.