With the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Marvel’s Daredevil having dropped onto Netflix, I thought it was an appropriate time to look at the rather unique collaboration between the big and small screen that appears to be happening in the world of comic book cinematic universes. Whilst the DC television shows (The Arrow and The Flash) are inextricably linked with each other, characters and events being referenced to build a wider world, so far they have yet to achieve the same heights as the MCU.
There be spoilers here.
Where did it start?
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is very much the lynchpin in the intertextual link between the two universes. When it first started you knew you were in for something good when Agent Grant Ward was introduced as having the highest test scores “since Romanoff”. That first mention of the Black Widow following on from the Avengers was enough to remind audiences that what they were watching directly coincided with the film that had recently been a box office smash. At the “welcome to level seven” part of the pilot episode where Maria Hill looks despairingly at Coulson as he steps out of the shadows, a large number of fans (myself included) let out an unholy sound because #coulsonlives.
The inclusion of a character who had become a fan favourite in Thor, Iron Man and the Avengers was a smart move on Jed Whedon’s part to use a character that we already knew as an in to draw us closer to the new characters that were slowly introduced. Being able to identify with Coulson meant that we were more easily able to accept and identify with him and his team. It meant we were already invested in this team working.
When S.H.I.E.L.D. collapsed and the Hydra agents turned on their friends it was touched on in The Winter Soldier but expanded upon in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. allowing us to see the human reaction behind the betrayal that is barely handled in the movie because it doesn’t have the time. We also get a sense of satisfaction,for a while, because we know something that Coulson and his team don’t: we know Nick Fury is alive.
Within the TV show, clips of the helicarriers crashing into the Triskellion are played back as news clips, reminding us that for these characters, those movies are reality. Jamie Alexander has reprised her role as Lady Sif on a number of occasions to remind us that the other peripheral characters from the other franchises have a life and responsibilities outside of what we see. In fact, during the first part of the first season, they are actively looking for items left behind from the Chitauri invasion.
Speaking of the Chitauri, did you spot the one in The Collector’s…um, collection? How about the dark elf from Thor 2? How about the ‘official’ introduction to Agent Coulson in the short ‘A funny thing happened on the way to Thor’s hammer’? Oh! Or Hawkeye’s uncredited cameo in Thor? The MCU is rife with Easter Eggs and references for the eagle-eyed viewer that helps build this world up. Sometimes a name drop, missed by most if they weren’t paying attention, is enough to add yet another link between the franchises (the name was dropped in the latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.by the way, ten points if you picked up on it).
Why is it important?
When playing in a wider universe, it’s easy for the canonical elements to be lost and for bits and pieces to get confused, slight discrepancies between films that are meant to exist in the same reality. Considering the literal intergalactic scope of the MCU, it could be near impossible to keep all the facts straight, let alone have things running in parallel with each other. It could have been an unmitigated disaster. Thankfully with the Marvel writers being given the chance for creative control and the fact that the entire cinematic franchise is written, directed and produced by people who love and adore the source material this hopefully won’t be an issue.
So what might this mean overall?
With Daredevil hitting Netflix and soon to be followed up by the release of Age of Ultron along with A.K.A Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist meant to be dropping at some point too as well as a mini series where they all team up in the works, it’s more important than ever to make sure the ends all line up nicely. It would make even the most casual of fans sit up and take notice if something happened that didn’t match the established canon of the MCU.
It’s possible – no, probable – that there will be cameos and crossovers between Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones (although sadly, not in the Daredevil series because they didn’t have anyone cast for the other shows when it was being filmed) prior to their mini series get together, I don’t know if Marvel will cross the streams, as it were, to get Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. involved immediately, if at all, in anything more than a verbal nod. I think they’ll include and create the illusion of a wider, inclusive universe by referencing things the same way AoS has done in TV and news articles, characters referencing what happened in New York etc.
I think Marvel has unprecedented creative freedom now to make their TV shows as expansive as some of their huge crossover story arcs and for this fan, the knowledge that Civil War is the next big storyline the MCU is looking to cover, the anticipation of how the ripples of that story arc will move through all of the associated TV shows is killing me.
What do you guys think? Are you as excited as I am to see how things pan out?