What can I say about Marvel Television and Jeph Loeb’s “It’s All Connected” mantra that hasn’t already been said about on the internet? It’s dead, or at least on the way out. With Disney Plus set to deliver truly connected Marvel series to the MCU, Marvel Television itself feels like an afterthought. So was “It’s All Connected” doomed to fail from the start, or were there glimmers of hope? Well, I’m no expert, Jim, but let’s have a discussion.
So The Avengers culminates what Marvel Studios had been building towards since Iron Man, and one of the links between most of those films was Agent Coulson who, as far as the films are concerned, died in The Avengers. To be clear, I think his resurrection on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. kind of cheapens his death, given how symbolic it was in bringing the team back together, but Agents kick-started Marvel Television’s grand — albeit one sided — attempt to tell stories in the same living, breathing world as Captain America, Iron Man, and the rest of the gang.
As far back as 2015, Jeph Loeb stressed the importance of “It’s All Connected” in regards to Marvel Television’s shows being linked or connected to the grander Marvel Cinematic Universe. That part’s not debatable by virtue of them taking place in the same universe.
The debate begins and ends with whether it truly was all connected. Did Marvel Television’s effors to further build out the MCU have any significant impact on the film side? Well, by this point, you and I know that the answer is a resounding “No,” but it wasn’t all for naught. Nor did this mean that the films themselves had no impact on the shows because of the larger events that led to implications for the shows themselves.
Also, one can make the argument that despite the shows having no direct impact on the films, there was a significant effort to build off of what the Marvel films established, and in a meaningful way. No, this didn’t mean that what happened on an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. here or Agent Carter there would impact the next big Marvel Studios movie, but there was an effort to show an actual connection to the film world. It helped that the studio played a bigger role with the films at that point.
In The Beginning…
Let’s take the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., for example. What some could write off as just piggybacking off the success of the films did, early on, have a strong tie to the films themselves. No, I’m not talking about “The Well” where the Agents just clean up in the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World. I’m talking about the accidental retooling of the series as a result of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
For a show that’s in the same universe, but not directly impacting the films, it would be easy for S.H.I.E.L.D. to just ignore the events of Winter Soldier altogether in the same way that the Marvel/Netflix shows or shows like The Runaways or Cloak & Dagger don’t seem to be impacted by half of humanity being snapped out of existence.
But instead, the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. as an organization and the Russo Brothers making a huge, retroactive change to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole had a significant impact on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For one, there’s some direct continuity with having Agent Sitwell, who first appeared on the film side of things in The Avengers, appear in the episode “End of the Beginning,” which carried over into his appearance in Winter Soldier.
While I doubt the folks behind S.H.I.E.L.D. were in direct talks with the Russos or if there was already a plan for Sitwell to appear in Winter Soldier, the show makes a concerted effort to link his appearance in the film to his prior appearance on a Marvel Television program. This, however, is a one-sided argument, and you’ll be hearing that a lot in this, because the majority of moviegoers probably don’t keep up with Marvel Television as much as they do with Marvel Studios.
Connecting The Dots
One-sided because what big impacts there are on Marvel Television have little to effect on the film side of things. This adds to the credence that Marvel Television is, for the most part, getting the leftovers not seen as worthy enough for the films. Sure, early on you had the likes of Lady Sif, Maria Hill, and even Nick Fury pop up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but this didn’t change anything in the narrative of the Thor or Avengers films.
Like in the pages of a comic book, characters interacting here and there won’t always matter in the grand scheme of things. Considering Coulson’s role in the first Phase of the MCU and Nick Fury interacting with him, one would think that would become relevant on the film side…but that’s only if you’re paying attention to all of it. At the end of the day, things start to look less connected and more “kind of connected.”
Age of Ultron “Connection”
What Marvel Television thinks it’s doing by setting up a plot thread and passing the ball to the film side may as well be ignored. Take the opening to Avengers: Age of Ultron, for example. Long after Loki’s defeat, why are the Avengers bothering to go after his scepter and how did they discover its location? Is it because of Maria Hill and Coulson found Baron von Strucker and discovered that he had the scepter in his possession?
Well, in the grand scheme of things, yes, that’s why, if the S.H.I.E.L.D. episode “The Dirty Half Dozen” is any indication. But if you’re a casual moviegoer just popping in the theater to see what’s up for the next big Avengers movie and you don’t watch the Marvel Television programs, none of that matters. Plus, Strucker having Loki’s scepter is made known in the post-credits scene of The Winter Soldier.
CinemaSins even remarked that you’d have to watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to understand what’s going on in Age of Ultron, but without doing any sort of research, I assume that’s not the case at all because, again, the reveal of the Strucker is made known prior in Winter Soldier.
The folks behind the grander film universe have one thing going on, while Marvel Television has another. Sure, Joss Whedon had a hand in the series — even directing the pilot — but chances are he wasn’t huddled together with the S.H.I.E.L.D. writers when writing Age of Ultron. The appearance of a second Helicarrier, which was revealed to be through S.H.I.E.L.D., further compounds the issue: whatever impact the shows feel they have has, in fact, no impact on the movies.
You could’ve plopped Fitz or Simmons in the background when Fury showed up as an Easter Egg or bone to those who keep up with all forms of Marvel Studios and Marvel Television programming, thus maybe eliciting a cheer or two in the cinema, but the general audience wouldn’t notice.
The Inhumans Conundrum
The problem gets even greater when Marvel Television took the leap and introduced the world to Inhumans. Yes, you remember them, right? The world’s oceans contaminated with Terrigen and fish oil, causing Inhumans to sprout up left and right. Seems like a big deal, especially with an upcoming big Marvel movie event like Captain America: Civil War, right? Not to mention that film noting the rising amount of “enhanced persons.”
Well, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the unsung heroes of the MCU and writers of Civil War, had next to no idea about the Inhumans plotline, despite being a worldwide incident in the Marvel Universe. So again, the “It’s All Connected” line starts to crumble when the events of the television shows have little to no impact on the film side. These characters all live in the same world, but one side couldn’t be bothered to care about what’s happening on the small screen.
Not for lack of trying, mind you. It’s admirable, I find, that the Marvel Television shows live on in the shadows of the greater heroes and want to tell stories in the same universe. The problem is that you can only do so much on a television show versus a film. You have more episodes, and thus time, to know your characters, but if your mantra has been “It’s All Connected,” one would think there would be a payoff.
Somehow, there are people who manage to fit in every hour of Marvel Television and show up for the Marvel Studios films as well, not necessarily because they’re expecting synergy between the two departments, but because they enjoy all of the content. It’s different from the DCCW shows where it’s clear that the world of the Arrowverse isn’t directly connected to Man of Steel and onward — though Crisis on Infinite Earths could say otherwise — or how Legion and The Gifted aren’t directly tied to the events of the X-Men films.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a grand experiment with many different corners. If these shows were simply in their own world, there’d be no problem, but when you have the likes of Jeph Loeb and others stressing “It’s All Connected,” one would think that would have an impact on both sides instead of just one. Of course, as time went on, Loeb stopped saying that as much.
It became a running joke when, much to the chagrin of some fans, Coulson didn’t reappear in Age of Ultron and reveal to the Avengers that he was still alive. Even when Coulson did show up in Captain Marvel, that was in the past when he was still an up-and-coming agent at S.H.I.E.L.D… which already had its name contrary to what we learned in Iron Man, but whatever. That’s another story. But back to the point, the impact on the film side just isn’t there.
Considering that S.H.I.E.L.D. is a bygone remnant of Phase One and all but obliterated by the time we get to Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron, there’d be no point in the films paying attention to what one show centered around that very organization is doing. But again, early on, you can see efforts of directly tying or linking the Marvel Television shows to the films in a way that feels organic, and it’s not just limited to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This brings me to the next example.
Not expecting many to agree with this, but I will argue that Agent Carter is much more of a direct sequel Captain America: The First Avenger than Winter Soldier is. Winter Soldier is the next solo Captain America film, yes, but Winter Soldier picks up more from where Cap is left off in The Avengers. By comparison, Agent Carter starts off directly after Steve went into the ice.
The series even begins with actual footage from The First Avenger and we follow the adventures of Peggy Carter soon after. Agent Carter handles the “It’s All Connected” mantra quite well while still telling a standalone story in the 1940s. Captain America’s impact on the world, Howard Stark’s efforts — underhanded as they are — to preserve Steve’s blood, the daily workings of the Strategic Scientific Reserve as the precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D., and the return of (some of) the Howling Commandos show that this series is indeed connected to The First Avenger without directly impacting it.
What about the Dark Force from Season 2 that would supposedly tie into Doctor Strange? Well, since that film’s release, Zero Matter didn’t play as big of a role as the Agent Carter execs may have initially believed, so that so-called “connection” is a blip that’s barely on Marvel Studios’ radar.
Back to the series, though. Since Steve Rogers is caught up in present-day, you can continue the stories going on with Peggy and company, thus further building a standout character in The First Avenger and carrying on Steve Rogers’ legacy. Despite not being physically there, Captain America is very much present in the lives of those who remember him.
That Steve would ultimately reunite with Peggy, as well as Jarvis, by the time we get to Endgame provides a payoff to the series, even if, again, the casual moviegoer never watched Agent Carter. At the very least, even if they’re not up to date on Marvel Television, they may have a passing memory of seeing Hayley Atwell in The First Avenger, Winter Soldier, and Age of Ultron.
Plus, remember who created Agent Carter? Right, the dynamic duo of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Those two guys you know from writing Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame (as well as Dark World, but let’s put that aside)? Yeah, this was their brainchild. Again, despite the ups and downs of Marvel Television, you had a lot of key influences from the films involved in the television side of things.
While things may have started off at least seemingly connected, as the films went more and more cosmic and grandiose on the road to Infinity War and beyond, the shows, by comparison, remained a bit more static. That’s not entirely fair, I know. Again, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. brought in elements that were first introduced in the films such as the Kree and even gave us a great Ghost Rider, but this feels less organic and more like that series attempting to pay catch-up.
Marvel Netflix “Connections”
Considering how these Marvel shows have gotten more and more supernatural and cosmic, could anyone be surprised that the street-level heroes on the Netflix side of things got left in the dust? To be clear, there is an apparent connection to the film side. Matt Murdock and company reside in New York in the aftermath of The Avengers, with that battle being referred to as “The Incident.”
Cottonmouth utilizes metal from the Chitauri Invasion to put Luke Cage down with a Judas Bullet — courtesy of Justin Hammer — Sokovia is name dropped in the second season of Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones’ mother references The Raft, which had most recently appeared in Captain America: Civil War. That’s a lot of Easter Eggs, but they’re just that: Easter Eggs. To put it simply, the Avengers exist in the Defenders’ world, but not the other way around.
The exception to this rule might and should be Spider-Man since he’s New York-based and close to the ground, but as Fury pointed out in Far From Home, Peter’s been to space. The Defenders are even more set apart from the world of Marvel Studios and even Marvel Television.
But let’s back up here. Including their appearances in their individual shows and The Defenders, were we ever guaranteed to see Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Finn Jones, Mike Colter and so on pop up on the film side of things? Well, maybe, but not really. Charlie Cox confirmed in 2016 that his original contract with Netflix for Daredevil included the opportunity to appear in a film. Civil War producer Nate Moore stated to IGN in that same year that it was “possible” to see such a crossover, but that’s just it: possible.
The problem is that “possible” doesn’t equal “likely.” Mr. Marvel Television himself, Jeph Loeb, even stated that if the story calls for it, then a crossover could be possible.
Missed Crossover Opportunities?
But when would a story call for it? Maybe Infinity War? Wishful thinking that, in the culmination of what Marvel Studios has created, Marvel’s street level heroes would appear. But when and in what capacity? We’re only in New York for a brief battle before Peter and Tony head to space in Infinity War. When your roster includes the likes of Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, to name a few, what are you going to do with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the Punisher? Crowd control? Save that for Booster Gold.
As Markus and McFeely acknowledged in their interview with Collider, the Defenders were once considered for Infinity War, but they’d just be glorified cameos. Only those in the audience who watch every bit of Marvel media would catch the nods, which might be the point. But what if you aren’t subscribed to Netflix and don’t keep up with the Netflix side of Marvel Television’s characters?
Then you’ll just be left in the dark with the Marvel Television inclusions. At the very least, the general audience will have kept up with the films leading up to Infinity War, but not everyone has a Netflix subscription or watches Marvel’s television shows. So there’d be next to no point in including the Netflix characters in what amounts to a one-way street connection.
Loeb’s comments about the Marvel Television shows being set before Infinity War further compounds the issue because the timetable is all over the place. At the very least, to line up with what happened in The Defenders, you couldn’t include Matt Murdock in a movie since Daredevil was presumed dead. Realistically, you have to factor in scheduling as well. The availability of the television actors may not line up with those on the film side. So timelines be damned, real life is an important factor in whether the street level heroes could connect with the film side.
When the biggest threat you’ve faced is The Hand (again) and a mind-controlled Elektra, going from that to Thanos would be a massive step-up for Marvel’s street level heroes. Again, in a world with super-powered individuals who can do more than just punch and kick hard, would the Defenders have factored much into the final battle in Endgame? Probably not. In the end, this may have been for the best. Again, the general audience wouldn’t know these surprise characters, and in the world of comic books, not everyone gets involved with the big battles.
Some stay to their corner of the world. The difference being that the Netflix heroes were at least well known among fans and did catch on in the mainstream. That’s not enough to just suddenly put them in the films for no reason outside of fan-service.
There’s also the problem of actors playing multiple characters. Even before Mahershala Ali had been cast as Blade after playing Cottonmouth on Luke Cage, you had Alfre Woodard playing two radically different characters on both Luke Cage and Captain America: Civil War. So obviously whoever these actors played on the Marvel Television side of things means not a jot for Marvel Studios. I’m sure many fans have their fingers crossed that, despite this, the actors of the main Defenders will somehow be spun into the MCU.
I’m not a fortune teller, Jim, but I’d sooner bet money on a full-blown recast. You think there was a level of fury on the internet when Daredevil was cancelled? Wait until the announcement that there will be an entirely new actor playing him. It’s not like we’ve seen Kevin Feige play around with versions of characters he didn’t previously have a hand in within the Marvel Television world, so there’d be no reason he would start with the Defenders. We shall see.
Even reveals like the name-drop of Ultron’s son on The Runaways, plus a crossover appearance by Cloak and Daggger, should be a big deal for Marvel Television and beyond, but this relationship was always going to be one-sided. Feige and company may be aware of what happens on the television side, but not much beyond that as far as payoffs. How many times had Kevin Feige been asked about the possibility of TV to film crossovers? More times than necessary, I’m sure he’d say. He said that it was inevitable at one point, especially in the lead-up to Infinity War.
Now that those characters are all under his thumb, there may indeed be a crossover, but not with the Netflix versions. For example, you can tell a Daredevil story within the MCU proper, but not with the version made on Netflix. Not with Disney’s model. Hell, there’s more blood in a single frame of Daredevil than the entirety of Infinity War.
Coupled with the recent surprise appearance of Ezra Miller’s The Flash on the CW’s Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover and you see that the barriers between film and TV are crumbling. Not fully, but what once seemed impossible now seems possible. Were Jeph Loeb still in a position at Marvel Television, he’d be wise to take notes.
So is it fair, at the end of the day, to say that Marvel Television’s “It’s All Connected” mantra was a sham? Well, yes and no. When the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter started, going as far as to get the likes of Samuel L. Jackson to show up on a Marvel TV show, there was indeed connection and synergy. When the Marvel Netflix shows began and built off the aftermath of The Avengers with “The Incident” being the name for the Battle of New York, there was a bit of connection, even if just through name-drops here and there.
But it became a sham when Loeb and company continued to insist that it was all connected. Yes, Loeb eventually stopped saying that as much, but in the end, it was a thought process doomed to fail as the grander Marvel Cinematic Universe went more and more cosmic, well beyond what the shows were doing. Now Marvel Television as is no longer exists with everything under the thumb of Mr. Feige himself. All of those characters we’ve come to enjoy over the years? Now under his watch.
We haven’t seen him bring back a prior MCU incarnation of a character and integrate them into the films yet, and I don’t know if he’s in any rush to do so. All we can do is wait and see if we’ll end up seeing new versions of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Cloak and Dagger, The Runaways and so on or if Feige will throw a bone or two to fans of those shows and bring back those actors. It’s a coin toss depending on the show and who you ask.
Plus, regardless of how much Season 2 may have fixed things for the show and character — not for me, personally — Finn Jones’ take on Iron Fist did not click with audiences. So replacing him is an out for Marvel. If you get rid of him, and given how Ali has been cast as Blade, the writing seems to be on the wall that all of those characters played by other actors previously will be recast. After all, how do you explain replacing one of the Defenders, but not all?
We’re talking about an entire — separate — universe of characters that seem to exist in the Marvel universe, but not the Marvel Cinematic Universe proper, name-drops or Easter Eggs be damned. It tried and wanted to be connected, and it started off with good intentions, yes, but at the end of the day, Marvel Television wasn’t even a blip on the massive radar that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Not everything has to be connected, no. But when you’re the head of Marvel Television and spouting that line many times as if it would lead to a payoff, “It’s All Connected” starts to lose its luster the more you say it. Perhaps it’s for the best that the TV characters never crossed paths with the film side. Infinity War and Endgame were full already with characters, so how do you contend with a whole host of characters that a segment of the audience won’t know? Not like this would be their first introduction if you count their appearances on the TV shows as canon.
When Spider-Man, Black Widow, and Black Panther showed up in the MCU, we were given time to know them because those were their first appearances. Do you treat the Marvel Television characters the same way, or throw in some expository lip-service for the sake of the general audience? At least people are familiar enough with Spider-Man’s history that they didn’t need a 101 rundown when we first met him in Captain America: Civil War. It’s different for someone like Danny Rand or Alex Wilder.
So at the end of the day, what do you make of Jeph Loeb attempting to link up Marvel Television with Marvel Studios through “It’s all connected?” Do you see it as triumph, a fluke, or somewhere in between? Do you hold out hope that we’ll see the television versions of these characters show up in the films, or are you bracing for a recast? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and stay tuned for more news on the future of Marvel Television!