The Defenders have assembled to stop an immortal organization from destroying New York - what's next? Well, obviously standalone series for each of its four main heroes (and hopefully a spinoff for Daughters of the Dragon), but what about a crossover with their skyscraper-dwelling counterparts, The Avengers? Everything is connected in the MCU, after all.
Or is it? There's been a lot of fan expectation that paths will cross in mega team-up Avengers: Infinity War next year (or its sequel in 2018) - especially as it's positioned so soon after The Defenders have first interacted - but that's wishful thinking at best, and if we're being rational a rather erroneous assumption. The success of the Marvel/Netflix enterprise, building four tonally disparate series then bringing them together, cannot be understated, yet it's becoming clear they're incredibly separate from the rest of the world.
The early promise of the MCU was that everything was going to come together - in the movies, Phase 1 led to The Avengers, Phase 2 Age of Ultron, and Infinity War is the culmination of the past decade - but as as it's got bigger and bigger (together, all the films, TV shows and supplementary material run longer than a week) the onus has shifted to be more about existing in the same universe over direct connections. Indeed, the TV shows' references to the bigger cinematic picture (and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a few choice cameos) have given way to simply telling strong individual stories; Daredevil existed in the direct fallout of the Battle of New York, whereas two years later The Defenders is predominantly influenced by just the previous seasons (with only minimal acknowledgement of the Incident and bigger team).
At this point, it's unlikely we'll ever see the two teams come together. Let's take a look at why.
Can It Work With The Actor's Contracts and Schedules?
Let's get the classic Marvel concern - actor's contracts - out of the way first. Technically there's nothing legally stopping The Defenders sharing the screen with The Avengers. In fact, that was a consideration made early on; Charlie Cox has said that his contract does have a movie option in there. However, that feels like outside shot future-proofing rather than explicit intention (and as we'll see shortly, the future has changed).
But legality is only one side. Elizabeth Henstridge, who plays Simmons on S.H.I.E.L.D., talked about how the difference in production length - movies take years, a show sometimes weeks - practically doesn't allow for crossovers (this is also why transferring any of the Arrowverse into the DCEU would be tricky); the primary commitment overrides it. This is a little different for a Netflix series which are shot in a more movie-like way with a single release date for all episodes, but it presents a major barrier, especially when you consider a general reluctance to do so.
Marvel Studios Chief Kevin Feige Has No Interest In The Defenders
The whole Marvel/Netflix deal is pretty much built on Marvel not wanting to use these characters. When Fox's options on the Daredevil rights ran out in the early 2010s, Kevin Feige tried to broker a deal where they kept the Man Without Fear in exchange for the Silver Surfer and Galactus; these cosmic characters were more important to where Marvel Studios was heading than a blind lawyer-vigilante. This failed and so Marvel ended up with Daredevil's rights despite there being no desire to bring him into the MCU. The same feeling presumably goes for Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher et al who are either too mature or obscure to realize on the big screen as the MCU currently operated, leading to them being used elsewhere.
Of course, that was five years ago when Daredevil mainly conjured up images of Ben Affleck (and Batman Christian Bale) - opinions could have changed. But that initial disinterest only lay the groundwork for what was to come.
Marvel Studios And Marvel TV Are Now Separate
It may have at once been the case that the long-term goal of the shows was to integrate things more tightly. S.H.I.E.L.D. was initially more directly influenced by movie events and started setting up Inhumans when they were set for the silver screen proper (not just a short IMAX run), while Agent Carter filled in a key gap in the timeline. But that didn't account for a major behind-the-scenes shift.
Kevin Feige had reportedly been at loggerheads with Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter, renowned as a reclusive penny-pincher with a branding eye greater than his storytelling one for decades, and around the end of Phase 2 finally had enough. The Marvel Studios’ Creative Committee was shut down, with Feige and Marvel Studios reporting directly to Disney and Perlmutter keeping control of all other divisions - comics, merchandise and, of course, TV. Overall it's hard to call this a bad move - the general regard for Marvel Studio's output and its addressing of previously embedded issues has shifted positively (Iron Fist's failure has no direct bearing on the film division) - but it has created distance.
The effects of bad blood aside, this meant that the creative decisions made for movies and TV are entirely independent, with little synergy in where the two wings of the universe go. This is why the connective tissue between shows and movies has weakened in recent years; making everything line up - both in-universe and in terms of actor's schedules - is a mammoth task. Avengers: Infinity War's writers even stated this as a major reason why they weren't including any Defenders; they have no way of knowing where Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones et al will be when the film is set to be released.
It's definitely possible to work through these issues, although as we've seen with Spider-Man: Homecoming's timeline flub, maintaining a consistent canon is hard enough with a handful of films a year; Marvel Studios has enough spinning plates at the moment.
The latest word from Kevin Feige is that there are no current plans to work with Marvel TV. He's been able to broker a deal with Sony, yet somewhat ironically seems reluctant to work with Marvel Entertainment. And the more time the passes that stance is only going to get harder to reverse.
It's not unfathomable that Marvel may try and work in a secret surprise cameo for the team into Avengers 3 or 4, but a brief moment and a few more verbal connections is really all we can hope for. Better get used to your standalone Defenders.
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017) release date: Nov 03, 2017
- Black Panther (2018) release date: Feb 16, 2018
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 05, 2019
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018