Ever since Marvel and Netflix first announced that they were partnering up to create television shows based on Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, fans have wanted to know whether or not any of them would ever appear in a Marvel movie, and, of course, vice versa. The answer, generally, tends to be no. But is that the right move?
This time the "no" came from actor Anthony Mackie, who suggested while on a panel at Wizard World Cleveland that the TV series and the movies are too tonally divorced from one another and will almost certainly never meet. “Different universes, different worlds, different companies, different designs,” he said. “Kevin Feige is very specific about how he wants the Marvel Universe to be seen in the film world. It wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t work at all.”
As far as the movies are concerned, he has a bit of a point. As much as we all would love to see Daredevil kicking butt alongside Captain America when Infinity War hits theaters, there are already too many characters to keep track of in the MCU proper. Think of how many heroes were slammed together in Civil War, and now add The Wasp, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, the Guardians Of The Galaxy, and everybody’s assorted supporting characters. Besides, can you really picture Daredevil’s costume appearing in broad daylight? He would seem so out of place.
But on television, time constraints aren't an issue; heck, many critics already argue that the Netflix shows are a few episodes too long. So why not use the time that thirteen plus hours of story gives you to bridge the gap between the television shows and the movies? Or, more importantly, why not use fans' expectations of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is supposed to be like as a storytelling advantage rather than an obstacle to overcome?
Certainly, the already tightly-knit world of the Defenders is rich and engaging enough on its own that cameos from movie stars will not make or break it. But sometimes, Netflix seems to refuse to engage with the MCU at all, even going so far as to couch their references in awkward, stilted euphemisms. The Hulk suddenly isn’t The Hulk anymore, he's "The Big Green Guy;" "Captain America" is "The Flag-Waver," and that time the Avengers saved New York from a bunch of aliens is "The Incident" (and is the only movie plot that gets any kind of lip service, even now that we're five years beyond it). It's funny once or twice, sure, but as both franchises progress, it's going to become more and more off-putting. We know that both worlds are one an the same — at a certain point, why continue to apologize for it?
Besides, its not as if as if there's no precedent for allowing Marvel movie characters to be mentioned or even featured on TV. Lady Sif from Thor has appeared multiple times in Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., to say nothing of how both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel's Agent Carter both revolves completely around supporting characters from MCU films. In fact, S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been more closely tied to the MCU than any other series, admittedly sometimes to its detriment; recall how the series was forced to tread water in the lead-up to Captain America: Winter Soldier during its first season, knowing that a huge shift in the status quo was imminent.
The Netflix series would exist without the movies, so there's no point pretending that they aren't connected.
Perhaps its that that water-treading that's prevented Marvel's Netflix shows away from really planting their feet into the MCU's world. And yeah, it's true: nobody wants to see a crossovers that exist solely for the sake of a spectacle. Even with comics, I personally avoid those big-ticket events like the plague, sticking instead to my small pull list of solo-led series. But sometimes, my favorite aspect of those character-specific titles is seeing up close how they engage with the fantastical world around them — and more than any other part of the MCU, Netflix has the opportunity to make those moments happen.
Matt Fraction and David Aja's run on Hawkeye is a perfect example of this; Clint Barton's misadventures are compelling on their own, but taking the time to highlight his experience with and connection to the Avengers is a fantastic way to throw his own mess of a life into the spotlight. Rather than pretend that someone like Tony Stark doesn't matter, Hawkeye finds a way to use our already-existing impression of Tony to its advantage, and creates meaningful drama from that. Sure, it's technically a crossover or a cameo, whatever you want to call it — but it works organically to highlight the characters we're spending the majority of our time with.
If this sounds familiar, by the way, it should — it's exactly how the Marvel movies structure the vast majority of their cameos. There's no reason why the TV shows can't do the same, even taking into account the fact that both production companies are completely separate from one another (so are Sony and Marvel Studios, and yet, there Tony is in all the Spider-Man trailers).
Obviously, the Netflix series would exist without the movies and thus are inexorably tied to them, so there's no point pretending that they aren't connected already, even if no one wants to say the name "Thor." But these shows could still be making much better thematic use of Marvel's status quo, even without paying MCU actors to reprise their own roles. Jessica Jones could walk up to the Avengers Tower as a last-ditch effort for help and stop short, like she did in the first issue of Alias. Nuke (remember, we met him in the first season of Jessica Jones) could be forced to consider the idea that his hero, Captain America, might not approve of his methods — although if Chris Evans is game, I certainly wouldn't say no to an actual full-on brawl between the two a la the climax of Daredevil's Born Again storyline. Danny Rand could offhandedly make fun of Doctor Strange's magic. The possibilities are endless.
In any event, a flat-out reference like we saw in Luke Cage (where he was called "Harlem's Captain America," specifically) should not feel like a revelation — as the audience, we shouldn't stop to think "Oh man, they actually said it!" when it happens. We all know what we're watching. They all know why the story they're telling exists. Let's stop pretending it can't work.
What do you think? Do you want to see more of the MCU in Netflix's television shows? Let us know in the comments!
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Images: Netflix, Marvel Comics