A new chapter in the evolution of Marvel Entertainment begins later this week as the first full season of Daredevil launches on Netflix. Additional series based on several other Marvel Comics characters are already shooting and/or in pre-production (AKA Jessica Jones and Luke Cage) for airing on Netflix over the next two years, culminating in a team-up of the characters for The Defenders. The entire package - four characters and a team-up miniseries - is building upon the successful movie franchise formula employed by Marvel Studios, and more importantly, it's a prototype of what may happen next.
Letting characters who don't fit in the current movie plans have their stories told on the small screen, while still sharing the same live-action universe, is the perfect solution to expansion and works to benefit multiple divisions of Marvel through co-branding and crossover "events." There can only be so many live-action films released in theaters each year from Marvel but that is no longer a bottleneck to taking advantage of Marvel's larger library of properties.
Marvel TV's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter on ABC brought fans behind-the-scenes and explored a slice of history of the major events occurring in the films and Netflix is introducing a set of heroes and villains residing in Hell's Kitchen, New York, but there's potentially much more on the way. At Emerald City Comic Con 2015 last week, Marvel's VP of Animation Development and Production Cort Lane moderated a Marvel Animation panel and responded to a question about whether or not an animated Marvel television series or feature could ever be a part of the official Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"I can't announce anything, but things are in the works."
He referenced the Netflix shows as an example of future types of tie-ins for the franchise. Obviously, a live-action series on Netflix - one described as a long movie - is vastly different than the animated medium but the idea is an interesting one.
There were rumblings of a similar concept when Disney first acquired Marvel and shortly after, Pixar expressed interest in making an animated Ant-Man feature. This was way back before Marvel officially greenlit the long-in-development Ant-Man movie, but from a business standpoint, this example seemingly represents the perfect synergy between Disney-owned production houses. And it's an easy way to transform a potentially less bankable property into something more appealing to additional demographics.
On the other hand, an animated expansion can break the immersion of the larger universe. As it stands, each part of the MCU (whether on ABC, Netflix or at the cinemas) feels like they belong together, that they share the same space and at least, a similar aesthetic (not to mention, the same characters who crossover). The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a live-action one, so to extend that to 2D or 3D animation may dilute what that particular shared universe stands for.
A counterpoint to this of course is that Marvel Comics has official tie-in books for the movies near every release. These in-canon stories typically explain offscreen events, like where War Machine (Don Cheadle) was during the events of The Avengers or how Hydra recruited Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) before the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Perhaps it does makes sense to explore those stories, the ones that flesh out supporting characters or cover off-screen events, in the animated medium. Taking that idea another step further, it's also a way to get around actor contracts - a very real issue Disney and Marvel are needing to come to terms with in the next few years as their roster of core Avengers actors all see their contracts come to an end by the time Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters. Robert Downey Jr. has notoriously been difficult for Marvel to sign on for additional films due to his massive salary quote but the Tony Stark character is one that Marvel ones to keep around forever. They could feasibly tell other Iron Man stories in an animated medium. Can you picture an animated Iron Man 4?
As another (and more realistic) example, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) will never get his own solo movie (even if they have an option on Renner's contract for one), but the Hawkeye solo comic title is one of Marvel's best in recent years and could make for a great animated feature or animated series, one that explores the character's origins and fits into the live-action movie canon. The possibilities are endless and if they do it right, mainstream moviegoers can still enjoy their favorite films and live-action shows without feeling as if they're missing out by not seeing the connected animated projects.
Of course, animated characters inherently won't look quite the same as their live-action counterparts and they will almost always be voiced by other actors. That's part of the problem of the animated medium feeling different and not set in the same universe. That's reason enough for some to say animated projects are best served in their own shared animated universe.
Imagine for a second, that Marvel did launch a few animated shows and features that are meant (and advertised) to be set within the MCU. That would mean some Marvel animated properties would still be their own thing while others would tie-in with the movies. This creates unnecessary confusion and potentially dilutes the brand. It also means in-canon animated projects will be inherently restricted by what's happening in the live-action MCU (the flagship) and its timeline. As it stands, every live-action project by Marvel is in-canon and that's a nice, clean way to grow and maintain the plan of an interconnected long-form story while keeping things clear with the audience.
What really matters is that Marvel starts putting out better animated features, something DC Entertainment has excelled at over the years. They just need to tell great stories. Relying on tie-ins to the live-action movie is not the answer for that. It's just another idea powered by marketing gimmicks over careful planning and good old-fashioned creative freedom - something we've seen negatively impact a lot of Marvel Comics series.
Then again, a Hawkeye origin series does sounds pretty cool... but wouldn't it be better in live-action since we're talking about the live-action Hawkeye?
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