Side-by-side stills of a young woman in a t-shirt and blue mask around her eyes, an adult man in a high-necked coat with a shaved head and eye patch, a man in a white hoodie and jacket holding a flashlight; stills from "Ms. Marvel," "Secret Invasion," and "Moon Knight"
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Tv Marvel movies can learn a lot from Marvel Television

Marvel movies can learn a lot from Marvel Television

Side-by-side stills of a young woman in a t-shirt and blue mask around her eyes, an adult man in a high-necked coat with a shaved head and eye patch, a man in a white hoodie and jacket holding a flashlight; stills from "Ms. Marvel," "Secret Invasion," and "Moon Knight"

These days, the Marvel Cinematic Universe looks more like Marvel TV Universe.

Technically, the MCU includes Marvel Studios’ serialized streaming projects, along with major films that first released with 2008’s “Iron Man” and continued with May’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” 3,” but as of late only one of those arms seems strong enough to carry the narrative gauntlet (so to speak) – and it’s not the one historically tasked with doing so.

Over the past two and a half years, Marvel’s television content has eclipsed its feature films in quality, star power, and creative integrity. The television branch of the MCU launched in January 2021 with ‘WandaVision’ (waiting for Marvel’s previous Netflix ventures: ‘Daredevil’, ‘Luke Cage’, ‘Jessica Jones’, ‘Iron Fist’ and ‘The Defenders’), which remains the studio’s most notable and fascinating series to date.

The rest may not hit that initial bar, but each title seeks to revamp, retool, and rethink how audiences consume superhero stories, often with up-and-coming talent at the helm. What continues to fascinate about TV’s MCU offerings is that each title is different from the one before, each significantly less burdened by the formula. Movies? They just seem to get more and more bloated and predictable with each new iteration.

Part of that is because the MCU is getting older. It’s hard to give out more refreshing origin stories as part of a superhero machine that’s been decades in the making, the kind of franchise where a movie with “Doctor Strange” in the title still traverses properties (and universes) and where crossovers are supposed to be getting bigger and more impressive.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantummania”Jay Maidment

Consider an MCU film franchise: “Thor” was a perfectly entertaining and respectable origin story, an average representation of the early years of the MCU and the ways it was able to introduce new characters. “Thor: The Dark World” is almost synonymous with Year Two’s slump, a sequel so confusingly lackluster that it retroactively needed to be assigned narrative significance in “Avengers: Endgame.” That’s what most of the MCU is now: twisty and pointless, with scant pockets of pure entertainment and a promised payoff that takes years, at best.

Then there’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” hailed by many as one of the best Marvel movies ever: a wild creative gamble, an effective character and franchise reset, and just a damned good time at the movies. The Marvel TV universe is a mix of the first “Thor” and “Ragnarok”; complete with charismatic character introductions, genre experiments, and opportunities for existing characters to stretch their legs and play.

In the same period that saw the release on Disney+ of “WandaVision”, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”, “Loki”, “What if…?” “Hawkeye”, “Moon Knight”, “Ms. Marvel’, ‘She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’, ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ and ‘Secret Invasion’, the company also saw COVID-related or theatrical streaming releases of ‘Black Widow’ films “, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”, “The Eternals”, “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”, “Thor: Love & Thunder”, “Black Panther : Wakanda Forever, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and the aforementioned “Guardians” conclusion. In particular, three of these are between the studio’s 10 highest-grossing films of all time.

It’s a fairly equal volume of titles, but the TV side boasts a wide range of story and tone: sitcom pastiche, buddy action adventure, time-traveling romance, animated multiverse adventure, Secret Christmas movie, thriller mental myth, cross-generational family drama, case-of-the-week legal comedy, crazy holiday romp, and Cold War-style spy thriller. The films – with the exception of the legitimately impressive “Shang-Chi” (origin story!), the nostalgic “No Way Home” and the startlingly emotional conclusion of “Guardians” – mostly boil down to filler, if not outright own disappointment.

That’s not to say the movies are worthless or the shows universally outstanding — IndieWire’s own Ben Travers called Marvel’s TV oeuvre overall “underwhelming” in his C-rated review of “Secret Invasion” — but the theatrical releases are betraying signs that Marvel fatigue pervades behind the scenes as much as it does in the audience. Most of it comes down to the climactic action sequences themselves – to be fair, the shows too, but usually at the end of a more creative journey involving a mystery crush or a talking hippo or Kathryn Hahn.

Marvel’s massive production recently put a strain on VFX houses as they scrambled to complete those CGI hybrid scenes on tight deadlines – and for what? What made the first several stages of the film so exciting, including the detail, artistry, anticipation, and innovation, is largely absent from the silver screen and instead manifests itself in the episodic stories.

Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
“Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special”screenshots/Disney+

Bluntly, the higher purpose of having so much Marvel is contentment for the sake of content, but that ending has to have some meaning, too. Kevin Feige’s once ubiquitous master plan – unite the superheroes, take on the Infinity Saga – lacks the stakes and clarity it had years ago. The endgame of the current stages remains much more unclear. This weighs heavily on both film and TV, but also gives the latter an opportunity to delve into character and minutiae instead of one battle after another.

They say we live in a golden age of television, and Marvel and Disney would be remiss if they didn’t throw their masks and supersuits deeper into the ring. In a world that has experienced multiple quarantine lockdowns, many viewers would rather watch an eight-hour TV show in the comfort of their homes than deliberately dehydrate themselves to get through a two-and-a-half hour movie.

Will Marvel Studios switch entirely to streaming TV? Unlikely. As the ongoing WGA strike is firmly established, streaming executives are already struggling to turn a profit and are cutting costs where it hurts creatives. Also the most successful Disney+ series (which isn’t even a Marvel title) can’t touch the $1.9 billion worldwide gross of ‘No Way Home’ and what it does for the company. Even when movies lose quality, they keep the lights on for television projects that can bring in new audiences, techniques and talent (and good hardware to boot).

There would be no Marvel TV without the original MCU, but in 2023, after more than two years of coexistence, the branches can certainly work better together. Marvel movies only have to look to Disney+ when it comes to coming out of their daze, and the shows themselves can always push harder, pitting themselves against TV’s biggest names without compromising on what matters to the original fans (other they did well).

With MCU film releases planned through 2025, there’s plenty of time to figure that out, as long as audiences are willing to stick around and Marvel embraces new voices, creative risks, and the occasional step back from what is. just a historic success. If the central stories have taught us anything, it’s that heroes are not born, but made, and one of the greatest battles is staying clear-headed and ready for whatever comes their way.

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