Season 2 of Daredevil recently hit our screens, marking the latest continuation of Marvel's critically-acclaimed and growing slate of Netflix shows, which serve as an extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Along with its sister series Jessica Jones, Daredevil's first season was praised for capturing the seedy underbelly of the MCU, and showing the actual implications of people getting hit very hard in the face rather than masking it with camera trickery.
Despite telling their own stories and dealing with differing threats, the various TV shows set in the MCU have had to deal with an undercurrent of dissatisfaction from fans who believe that the worlds should be more connected. It’s true that Daredevil and Jessica Jones didn’t contain nearly as many references and foreshadowing as some would have liked, with the latter seemingly afraid to even speak the Avengers’ names lest it ruin all the grit. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been hit with this less, considering it seamlessly wove the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier into its narrative and has acted as a sort of crutch to the main movies on occasion. Of course, that still doesn't clear up the problem of how Phil Coulson is running around very much alive while his various heroic friends remain completely unaware.
One narrative challenge that arises from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. co-existing with the grander spectacle of the Marvel movies; the agents constantly clashing with Hydra can seem a bit insignificant when the problem could just be transferred upstairs to Tony Stark, who could send his army of robots to sort out the problem (or at least add some considerable fire power to the mix). Whatever threat the Defenders face when they finally team up will have to be big, but also include a convenient reason for the Avengers being completely absent. Keeping things separate definitely makes for complications.
That’s the reality we've been given, however: the Defenders in their little box, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in their corner, and the movies running around outside - each of them dealing with their own issues. And with a bit of thought, that all makes perfect sense.
Comics have so many issues running at once, it becomes nearly impossible for anyone to keep up with timelines, who met what, what happened when, or whether anything actually happened at all, since the next writer can just come along and declare that it was all a dream. Or an acid trip. Or psychic aliens. It’s becoming more and more common for DC and Marvel to just throw up their hands and delete their entire history from existence via massive crossover event, because otherwise no newcomer will have the slightest clue what the heck is going on. It’s a lot easier just to brand everything as ‘The New 52’ and have the Justice League re-form, or stick the Fantastic Four in charge of rebuilding the entire Marvel multiverse so that it can have a fresh start.
Comics are weird and complicated, and that’s exactly what the MCU is trying to avoid. Marvel is steadily creeping to the point where the movie universe can fill an entire DVD shelf, and that’s when it becomes hard to retain a casual audience. That’s where a connected-but-kinda-not TV universe comes in, telling its own stories, free to forge their own paths but still under the MCU brand. It’s stunningly easy to start watching Daredevil from first episode to last and not have to think about what's happening in the movies. There was an invasion, and superheroes stopped it. It’s a background piece, but you can watch the series without giving it much thought. Jessica Jones went a bit over the top in its attempts to deny any of the superheroing going on just over the fence, but it was the same basic principle. The story wasn’t about Jessica fitting into the high-flying world of the Avengers, and so it left her free to take on a manipulative psychopath while struggling with her own PTSD.
As bizarre as it sounds, the Marvel TV shows are meant to be closer to us as viewers. The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might face supernatural/alien threats, but with a few exceptions they’re regular people doing their jobs against insurmountable odds. Matt Murdock has great senses, but he’s still a blind guy taking on street-level thugs (and only occasionally brightly-garbed ninjas). Jessica Jones is just trying to make a living as a private detective. Meanwhile, the Avengers are fighting aliens and killer robots. That’s not to say they don’t have their ordinary, relatable problems, but there’s far less time for any of that when Ultron is planning to wipe out the entire human race.
"The Avengers are busy" has so far been an excuse mostly avoided in the MCU's solo outings, as we’ve been given somewhat-solid reasons for the heavy hitters staying out of big events. You can justify no one else helping out in Winter Soldier as it all happened so quickly that there wasn’t time to call in the cavalry; and besides, there were two Avengers (and one future member) present anyway. Hank Pym didn’t want Tony Stark getting his hands on the Ant-Man suit, which, given Stark’s record of inadvertently creating global threats, was probably quite wise Thor is staying out of all this Civil War nonsense because it’s not really his fight, and he’s doing his own thing on another plane of existence.
These reasons are all acceptable, to varying degrees. But there’s a much more simple answer as to why there isn’t (and shouldn’t be) more crossover: this is a universe. In fact, it’s there in the title. The portion of the fanbase clamoring for all of Marvel’s properties to intersect seem to have the idea that folks with powers or special tech are drawn together like magnets, and it’s unrealistic if Luke Cage and Bruce Banner don’t bump into each other in the street.
While organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra have their interest in powered people, there’s no reason anyone else has to. There’s no obligation for even Jessica Jones to have anything to do with Matt Murdock, though they live in the same area and are both exceptional humans, because they’re utterly different people doing different jobs. That Claire Temple ended up being the nurse on duty to treat Luke was astounding enough, though it’s a coincidence we’re willing to accept to bring the Defenders together. What’s a bit less advisable is holding out for for Daredevil to join the Avengers when it’s clear that he has his own problems and turf to take care of.
This is an entire world, presumably with the requisite 7 billion people, and wanton crossovers would mangle that scale until the MCU outer space and nine realms included- was a tiny place with a set number of plots. Future properties would be forced to have constant hero team-ups or suffer from isolation. The way things are right now, we can have a standalone movie about Black Panther or Doctor Strange, or a TV series with a few exceptional misfits roaming the rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen, because they’ve created a world where not everyone is confined to the same little play pen. The door is open for change, but right now it’s truly a universe teeming with diversity, differing types of plot and sometimes an utterly random segue into the personal struggles of a talking deep space raccoon.
Fans looking for the ultimate crossover might want to keep holding out for Infinity War, which will bring us the largest roster of heroes yet, for other elements of the MCU to be drawn in as well. The jury’s out on the plot details, but even things such as film-making practicality might be a reason not to get your hopes up too high. After all, that’s why we haven’t seen any Avengers on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; budget, time, contracts and a host of other foibles.
That leaves plenty of room to enjoy the intentional references, major name-drops or surprise cameos. In fact, you couldn’t have an MCU without major events being dredged up in conversation or Scott Lang casually mentioning that they need to bring in the Avengers, since this world is one where superhero culture cannot be ignored. Yet there’s a method to the apparent madness of keeping the movie and TV worlds so separate, that might just be for our own good.
Captain America: Civil War opens in U.S. theaters on May 6, 2016. Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018;Ant-Man and the Wasp– July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans– July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.
Daredevil season 1 & 2 and Jessica Jones season 1 are now available on Netflix. Luke Cage season 1 will arrive on September 30th, 2016. Release dates for Jessica Jones season 2, Iron Fist, and The Defenders on Netflix have not yet been announced.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with ‘Watchdogs’ Tuesday March 29th at 9pm on ABC.