If there’s one thing that Disney is most well known for, it’s for turning a profit. Much as when they purchased and reinvigorated the ailing Star Wars franchise from the hands of George Lucas, in 2010 the ‘House of Mouse’ saw the potential for the MCU and picked it up for a cool 4 billion dollars.
What has followed has been a masterclass in filmmaking. Assembled in trilogies and sub-franchises, the two companies have produced an endless string of movies that are absolutely packed with talent, both in front of and behind the camera. Linked together by a flexible and adaptable blueprint, and smothered with clever advertising and lucrative marketing deals, it’s hard to see how any part of the Marvel’s cinematic output could fail.
Alas. If only the same could be said about Marvel’s ventures onto the small screen. Of their two principal releases, ‘Agent Carter’ only managed to hold the interest of a somewhat limited demographic, and was cancelled after a mere two seasons. And whilst ‘Agents of SHIELD’ has survived three uncertain years and finally managed to hit its stride, it’s only managed to do so by the inclusion of some seriously big Marvel properties, and some major creative changes to the show’s format.
Things also aren’t looking particularly good for this year’s newest Marvel arrival, ‘Legion’. A maddeningly scattershot affair, saturated with endless dream-sequences and odd little musical numbers, it’s failed to make much of an impact on audiences. With an antagonist that essentially boiled down to a guy in a fat suit, wearing yellow contact lenses, the prospects of a second season aren’t looking too rosy.
Meanwhile, over on the streaming platforms, the initial success of the Marvel/Netflix collaboration has also run into some very public difficulties. A relatively tepid critical response to ‘Luke Cage’ was somewhat unexpected, but this was nothing compared to the frenzied backlash towards this year’s clumsily executed ‘Iron Fist’ series. A pervading air of negativity now seems to have unfortunately tainted the rest of the project as a whole.
When the trailer for the unified ‘Defenders’ series finally dropped last month, rather then an outpouring of fan adoration, it was met with “Oh, good. More corridor fighting”. There’s still a strong chance that the new series may silence the naysayers, and that the surprise ‘Punisher’ solo outing, which is expected in November, may breathe some badly needed life into the franchise. But it’s increasingly clear that what started out as something dynamic and fresh has now lost its way in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
You see, much as ‘Age Of Ultron’ highlighted the fact that Marvel were trying to shoehorn too many properties into one project, The Defenders has shown that Marvel are straying too far into the territory of ‘Quantity Over Quality’. It’s clear that not all of their properties, however well written and presented, can carry a 13 episode series. And no matter how many Easter Eggs and clever cameos are inserted for the hardcore fans, this window-dressing can’t cover a lack of pace and genuine backstory amongst the weaker characters. And the problem is that the growth of Amazon and Netflix has left the marketplace horribly over-saturated with superhero shows.
One of the realities that Marvel need to face up to is the fact that DC got there first, and did it better. Rather than trying to run an extended movie series alongside a supporting TV franchise, they completely separated the two. If anything, it’s DC’s movies that need a long hard look at themselves, not their TV shows. And they can always fall back on their recent ‘Flashpoint Paradox’ development as a means of producing new storylines and characters.
DC can afford to green-light any TV show based on even the most bizarre characters or team-ups, because their missteps can just be incorporated into the more successful shows, which is what happened with ‘Constantine’. Marvel, alas, due to the restrictions they’ve already imposed on themselves with the MCU, do not have the same luxury.
So, when you bear all of the above in mind, it may cause you a little bit of concern to learn that Marvel have no less than FIVE new shows coming out over the next twelve months. Bearing in mind the seven they already have aren’t realistically in that great a shape, just how much of a good idea is this new wave of sub-franchising the company hD unleashed, and what chance of success do these new shows have?
Let’s be honest, they can’t all succeed, surely even Marvel can’t be that naive. So which ones of the five do we think stand the best chance, and why? Let’s take a look:
First out of the gates is the long awaited ‘Inhumans’ series. Expected to debut on our screens in early September, the first few publicity shots and set photos have already landed, along with a 30 second teaser trailer.
The show will be linked into the mainstream MCU, with the storyline spinning directly out of the sub-plot that was initiated in season 2 of ‘Agents Of SHIELD’. Marvel have assembled a strong cast of veteran TV performers including Anson Mount and Ken Leung, and due to the popularity of the characters in the Marvel comics the fan forums are already buzzing about the prospect of finally seeing Black Bolt and the rest of the Royal Inhumans in live-action form.
There are already some pretty worrying signs about this project though. You won’t find any mutant characters in any of the existing shows, due to Marvel having previously sold all the rights to them, so the Inhumans are the closest thing that the MCU can offer. They’re also one of the most problematic issues that the MCU has had to deal with so far. Because each character is powered the show will require a higher special effects budget, which as ‘Agents Of SHIELD’ has demonstrated means the quality of the CGI is usually a little below the expected standard.
Now, bear in mind this show is going to have to regularly feature a giant teleporting bulldog, and a character with mysterious hair-related superpowers (which is really going to be quite difficult to animate) you have to wonder how the showrunners are going to get round the costing and development issues. Oh, yeah. And the show’s main character doesn’t speak, he uses sign language. Which my get a little tedious for casual viewers.
The fact that Marvel couldn’t put an Inhumans feature film together, and bumped the characters to a supporting TV role demonstrates the studio’s overall lack of faith in the project. It’s a risk. A big one. Despite the fan love, if this doesn’t come off, the Inhumans face the indignity of being buried for the foreseeable future. Another warning sign is the show’s scheduling, which was announced this week. It will be running on Friday nights, and will be mixed in between the newly established mid season breaks in ‘Agents Of SHIELD’. Oh, and there’s only been 8 episodes commissioned. Not 22.
Verdict: EXPENSIVE FAILURE
Cloak and Dagger
Next up, with a newly released trailer and due to debut at some point in early 2018, we have ‘Cloak and Dagger’. Airing on Freeform, it’s been revealed that as with the ‘Inhumans’, this will again form a new extended part of the existing MCU. The show’s creators have chosen to set the narrative in New Orleans, well away from the existing Marvel TV properties, and allowing it to develop its own tone and identity. This debut season will consist of 10 episodes, and will be a straightforward origin story for the two eponymous protagonists. But do we really need it in our lives?
It’s fair to say that the names of Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen aren’t particularly well known outside the circles of the most hardcore Marvel fans. But if the trailer is anything to go by, then this is a show with strong potential.
The material looks to be a good balance of dark/brooding and human interest. The use of the special effects needed for the two main players appears sparing, but of a high quality, and the set-pieces appear to be suitably well executed. There’s also evidence of a few cheeky Easter eggs, including the strategic placing of a Roxxon sign.
This is going to be on a more manageable scale than the Inhumans, with much more focus on character development and human interest, which means it’s a far safer bet.
Verdict: GOING TO DO WELL
Whilst our two previous entries are both planned to be incorporated into the larger MCU, the next one doesn’t appear to have been afforded the same luxury. Again, due to debut in early 2018, and also with a 10 episode opening run planned, ‘Runaways’ will be airing over on Hulu.
Principal photography for the show has ended, and certainly seems to have been completed in a remarkably short space of time. This could mean there’s less big action planned, and the show will have more of a ‘Young Adult’ feel to it. The trailer has already been dropped online, so what does that tell us?
Well, from what we’ve seen, the show is staying very close to the source material, with our small band of heroes all finding out on the same evening that their parents are members of a notorious caste of super villains called ‘The Pride’. What’s intriguing here is possibilities offered by the two-tier style of casting. The show has cast a small group of unknowns in the lead roles, but a strong supporting cast playing their parents, including James Marsters (Buffy) and Annie Wersching (Bosch).
If the planned storyline opts to showcase the narratives from the perspective of both of these groups, instead of just the Runaways themselves, there’s some real potential here for it to appeal to a much wider audience, and be a strong success.
Verdict: LOOKING LIKE IT’S GOT REAL POTENTIAL
Moving even further away from the MCU, we’re off to see how things are shaping up for the mutant community, over in the X-Verse. And, as per usual, things don’t appear to be going well for them. Somewhat predictable, sinister government agencies are hunting down young mutants in order to dissect them and learn their secrets. Which is unfortunate for lead agent Stephen Moyer, when he discovers both of his kids have the X-Gene, leading the family to go on the run.
Now, we had some real issues with the creation of this show, and that was before a relatively lacklustre trailer for it appeared. For starters, how many times now have we had to go through the whole ‘young mutants on the run from the nasty government’ schtick? The X-Men movies have already done it to death, and the twist of having a hunter turned hunted to save his family has already been done back in ‘Heroes’. In addition to this, we also have two new X-Men movies arriving next year (The New Mutants/Dark Phoenix), which this series will have to compete with.
The trailer has ‘Made For Television’ written all over it. From the ropey robot hunters, to the slo-mo bendy furniture, and the overloaded mess of different coloured lighting bolts flying out of people’s fingers. The dialogue looks predictable and cliched, it simply doesn’t look like this show is going to be bringing anything new to the table, but will simply be repackaging what we’ve seen a dozen times before.
When it was done much better, on a bigger budget. There is of course, always hope. The cast seems strong, with Moyer joined by Amy Acker and Jamie Chung. There are some familiar characters on display and overt refernciing to both the X-Men and the Brotherhood teases some big showdowns further down the line.
Verdict: CRASH AND BURN
Lastly, fans are still waiting to hear something definitive about the future of the ‘Damage Control’ series, with a pilot episode having been commissioned by ABC back in 2015. Two seasons later, there’s still been no public movement on the project, though it has been revealed by Marvel chiefs that the ‘Damage Control’ brand will make its MCU debut in this summer’s ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’. The movie will confirm that the company was established by Tony Stark in the aftermath of the Battle Of New York, and was a contributory factor in driving Adrian Toomes to become The Vulture.
Now, we’re in dangerous territory here with the idea of following a group of non-powered supporting characters at the fringes of a bigger superhero storyline. The concept has always been paraded as a good one, focusing in on the collateral damage and human suffering that would inevitably be caused at the edges of the Avengers stories. But the reality is that these characters never really hold public interest as much as their superhero competitors.
Without having well-known Capes putting in physical appearances in the episodes, shows such as ‘Powers’ and more recently ‘Powerless’ simply don’t pull in audiences. The only way this would work is by allowing the new characters screen time in the MCU movies, or with MCU characters consistently turning up on the TV show. Which is something that even ‘Agents Of SHIELD’ never managed to achieve.
Our Verdict: RISKY. VERY RISKY…
So there you have it. It appears that Marvel has some interesting shows coming up. Who knows how they’ll turn out? Here’s hoping they’re all great.