A sentiment I’ve many film buffs lamenting these past few years is the current trend of mainstream movie veering away from from tackling difficult or challenging subject matter. We live in a franchise driven industry right now, one where everything needs to have as broad an appeal as possible.
Disney is more guilty of this than anyone, culling their own Marvel Cinematic Universe for the sake of of having it slot into a much neater, and more easily marketable form. The cancelation of Netflix’s Marvel series being the first victim of this.
Back when the MCU was still throwing as much at the wall to see what would stick, Netflix’s shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones told a much different kind of story than the movies. A set of stories that were met with almost universal praise at the time.
While the MCU prime never strayed too far from being popcorn fun, only really dealing with darker subject matter on a surface level. The Netflix shows and their willingness to really delve into the brutal realities of what could happen in a world populated with super powered people.
It looked at the seedy underbelly of society that the movies scarcely acknowledged and dug deeper and deeper still. None of which felt more raw than that first season of Jessica Jones.
It was a harrowing look at horrible abuse and dealing with one’s own personal demons after surviving it. While Iron Man and Thor dealt with super villains and alien invaders, Jessica waded amongst much worse horrors that many people in the world deal with on a daily basis. Kicked up a few notched by the inclusion of a utterly fantastic villain played by David Tennant.
The core of the stories told in most of the Netflix shows are based in personal morality, showcasing different people who have different amounts of flexibility when it came to their own personal moralities. In a world where normal people suddenly realise they have the power to do something about the horrible things going around, we see the gamut of just how different people react to that.
Jesscia, despite her hard drinking, foul temper and general unlikeability, she is the character in the show with the strongest moral core. Her persona being that of a reluctant hero, being unable to turn her back on still doing the right thing, despite hating herself and everyone else for it in the process.
Throughout the third and final season, we see Jeri dealing with her looming mortality, and her throwing any sense of right or wrong out of the window for the sake of her own personal gratification in her final days. We see Malcom become a darker person in the guide of the ends justifying the means, before turning his back on it and coming back to Jesscia’s school of thought.
And we Trish’s descent into disaster. After wanting something so hard for so long, when she finally has it in her hands, she realises that she was not the moral compass she thought she was all along. Learning that power corrupts, even the best of us.
There stories of inner turmoil, personal realisation and broken relationships are real, human stories. Raw ones that cut deeper than anything the movies would be willing to deal with. It was a unique little coroner that Netflix had cornered in the superhero genre. At least they were the only ones executing it this effectively.
It was kind of ironic that The Defeners; the closest they ever came to making something like the larger movie franchise, ended up being one of the weakest series they would produce. The best MCU movies were the ones that told real human stories, and Netflix dealt in the realist of those stories.
Which makes the cancelation of them all in the past year all the more difficult to swallow. It feels like Disney have really double down on creating a more uniform tone to their MCU content. Which feels like a mistake for the franchise in the long run. (he says about a an eleven year old series.)
Disney Plus, Disney’s upcoming streaming service, is going to corner the market on Marvel (and Star Wars) related content going forward. Already having shows like Falcon and Winter Solider and WandaVision announced. These concepts are exciting in their own right, being much more connected to the mainline movies than the past MCU TV shows.
Giving supporting characters who have been hampered by only appearing in larger ensemble casts up until this point more time to grow and breathe, and to possibly soft launch further movies franchises further down the road.
What worries me is that, when asked about it Kevin Feige has said that the events of the Disney Plus series would be of a budget comparable to the movies, as well as have a tone consistent with them. All but saying that they were moving away from the mature themes and events that the Netflix shows were grown from.
The likes of Daredevil, Punisher and Luke Cage were all cancelled with Disney and Marvel Studios having no apparent plans to do something with them. Instead just lock them away in their vault for a few years before possibly reintroducing them into the MCU. For the sake of them having more control.
I personally feel that Disney’s need to keep an iron grip on everything Marvel will eventually become a detrimental choice that impacts the diversity of their own content.
The MCU was a far more interesting beast when it was doing as much as it could to diversify itself and its product. The second Ant-Man and Captain Marvel felt like pretty generic and forgettable movies to me, in an ever increasing slate of movies, it’s easier and easier for some to become buried. Especially when Marvel Studios is limiting themselves in terms of their tone and themes.
For a company who generally gets by on good will and doing right by their fans, this seems like a very shortsighted move that really hurts both the people behind all the Netflix shows and the fans who watched them.
The Netflix-verse was never going to last forever, but for it to end this way, it’s a kick in the teeth for what was some of the best content out of the MCU. Jessica Jones were three fantastic series of superhero television in which nobody wore a mask, there was little to no CGI and the stakes were no higher than those of the real world we live in.
And I’d happily watch another series of Jessica than another movie with Carol.