The Marvel Cinematic Universe is now heading into Phase 5, and there’s a lot of speculation as to how Marvel Studios will approach its latest narratives. The way the franchise has previously taken shape has been experimental from the off-set. Marvel’s television department has constantly been in flux, from its status as a separate division producing shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., to additional deals with platforms like Netflix, before Disney+ finally ushered in a new era.
Even now that the MCU’s shows are under the Marvel Studios umbrella, there’s still uncertainty as to what the future may hold. The streaming service has dipped into a range of genres, boasting hits like Moon Knight, Loki and What If…?, but there have also been some missteps along the way. With the advent of the “Special Presentation” in the forms of Werewolf By Night and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, alongside the notion that some serialized concepts might work better as feature-length productions, the question has to be asked; what’s happening with Marvel’s TV shows? Should they perhaps move to produce more Special Presentations, or could another path prove to be a more viable option?
Marvel’s current approach doesn’t appear to be succeeding in the way that head honcho Kevin Feige might have liked. Every series that has been produced thus far has appealed to a slightly different target audience, but criticisms have also emerged upon each outing. The series are proving to be divisive, with only a few releases arguably hitting a home run. That isn’t to say that the current Disney+ strategy is a complete failure. The MCU has been fleshed out further from these projects, with audiences getting to know familiar faces better, while new heroes and foes are competently introduced. Disney+ has also been instrumental in setting up future phases.
However, there are flaws to dissect that could be attributed to pacing. Might Ms. Marvel’s narrative have been a little more focused, had the run been limited? Was Hawkeye a necessary show, or could it have perhaps been just as entertaining as a Special Presentation for Christmas? And that’s where the alternative options come in. Marvel’s Werewolf By Night was a smash hit, showcasing the appeal of the Special Presentation format. Accompany that with the concept that Marvel Studios could produce direct-to-streaming movies to replace some televised ideas, and the structure of future projects seem uncertain.
If something already works, there’s no need to fix it. That’s the general sentiment when looking at sequel shows heading to Disney+. It would seem odd to begin with a serialized format only to then follow-up with a Special Presentation. Loki Season 2 is evidence that Marvel Studios don’t want to change the formula for an ongoing project. The same can be said for Daredevil: Born Again, which loosely follows on from the Netflix series that garnered critical acclaim. Other sequels such as Moon Knight and She-Hulk would also likely benefit from some consistency. While there might be areas of their structure to improve upon, more harm could be done by completely moving in a new direction when the groundwork is already set. Oftentimes, second seasons end up improving in quality. But all bets are off when it comes to how newer projects might be deemed to be best-suited.
The Current Slate
Secret Invasion is already in the can. It has been produced as a televised show, although the pitch has very much stuck to the idea that this is a premium limited series. It’s obvious Marvel don’t have plans to expand past this, so no sequel show will be heading to the platform. With so many characters involved in the premise already and a massive comic book story to gain inspiration from, the material is definitely there to warrant this expanded exploration. A feature-length production might have been exciting, akin to how Civil War was adapted, but as a crossover event exclusive to Disney+, a Special Presentation just wouldn’t have been enough.
Ironheart sits in a truly unfortunate position. Riri Williams is a newer hero that could easily be paralleled to characters like Kamala Khan and Kate Bishop. While there are debates about whether they should have been utilized in these longer formats, it’s also worth noting that Williams has already been introduced to audiences in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Currently, the project appears to be continuing as a TV show, but there does appear to be some hesitancy to fully commit to that structure. Perhaps the show’s antagonists will help to ensure no time is wasted. With The Hood and the rumor of Mephisto finally making his debut, a supernatural edge might give Ironheart that extra kick that differentiates it from becoming an Iron Man-lite affair. Williams is compelling enough as a character to continue down this path, so while a show is likely to work, an extended Presentation isn’t completely out of the question.
Ironheart is sure to lead directly into Armor Wars which begs the question, should it also be a television show? That was seemingly how the concept was first conceived with War Machine in the leading role, but that idea has taken a back seat. With reports suggesting that Marvel was eyeing a potential movie for the project, it was an indication that their tactics were changing. A Special Presentation could be perfect here, allowing the narrative to run its course, while also giving Riri Williams another platform to develop as a personality after receiving a series of her own. Armor Wars might have a great deal of big screen potential considering how well the Iron Man saga previously performed, but as a boost to Disney+ and with budgets taken into account, Armor Wars could fit into the Presentation structure perfectly.
Agatha: Coven Of Chaos could be the most bizarre project that Marvel Studios is currently producing. The supernatural character was a standout in WandaVision and audiences are keen to see further from the magical side of the MCU. Yet, Agatha Harkness does not seem like a figure that could carry a long format, considering the character rarely even gets a comic book run of her own. There is still time for this project to evolve into something else and some might think that the most logical choice is to follow in the path of Werewolf By Night and transform Coven Of Chaos into a Special Presentation fit for Halloween. Marvel surely wants to continue highlighting the holiday seasons by punctuating them with unique cinematic stories.
Echo has been in development turmoil for some time, it seems. It’s still slated to be a TV show, but one that hasn’t quite managed to find its footing. Daredevil: Born Again will be a natural fit to continue the character’s arc, and there are sure to be other street-level stories inbound. Maya Lopez herself was a compelling character in Hawkeye, but it’s unclear whether audiences have connected with her enough to go down this path. Once again, as Marvel struggles with fully forming the beats of the show, the Special Presentation formula becomes ever-more attractive. There are some characters and concepts that can form a story that ebbs and flows in the right way, but from what has been seen from Echo’s production so far, the resistance shown might indicate how to proceed.
Although pre-production has begun on so many other exciting series which may or may not end up becoming Special Presentations, there are a whole host of other concepts in development that could really be fit into any format. The untitled Wakanda spinoff for example would surely be better suited for a TV show, considering the sheer wealth of material there is to explore within this fictional nation. The same can be said for Wonder Man, which has the chance of becoming a detailed character piece that balances humor, showbiz and superhero antics in an unusual display of ego. Other rumored developments like Strange Academy, and Midnight Suns balance so many moving parts that a serialized form would be more natural.
On the other hand, characters like Nova, Man-Thing and Ghost Rider could all lend themselves better to the Special Presentation, especially when budgets are considered and holiday theming is taken into account. Crossover events such as a Young Avengers team-up might feel more special if limited to a Presentation rather than dragging out the idea over numerous weeks. Afterall, if the Avengers themselves were together on a weekly basis, it would feel slightly less monumental. Vision Quest appears to be taking this idea and running with it, with early rumors hinting towards the WandaVision spinoff largely becoming a singular tale; a character-driven piece that doesn’t have to keep padding itself out. The further into the analysis of confirmed and potential projects we go, the more obvious the answers to our questions become.
The Future of the MCU on Disney+
Marvel should ultimately begin to judge whether to move forward with TV shows, Special Presentations or indeed feature-length productions on a case-by-case basis. It’s all about the character and the idea. While the holidays will always be an influence, alongside whether a project is already a sequel, a crossover or an ensemble, the lesson to be learned is about taking risks. Marvel has to be risky in experimenting with its formula. She-Hulk didn’t have the same structure as most other series and it worked to its benefit. The decisions made with the longer Daredevil: Born Again and cinematic Armor Wars showcase that the studio is prepared to mix things up for the benefit of its audience.
Variety will continue to enhance the MCU, as it has done in the past from its use of One Shots to its ability to step into any genre. The format genuinely matters. But every project offers another chance to invent and expand. Special Presentations are simply the next piece of the puzzle.