Even with Agent Carter’s recent cancellation and ABC’s unwillingness to pick up Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff Most Wanted, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never been bigger. The recent addition of Luke Cage to the television roster, joining its Netflix brethren of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and this year’s debut of a whole score of new superhero faces – the Punisher (Jon Bernthal), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna) – are more than proof of this.
The question that’s been dogging Marvel Studios for the past three years however, is just when – or if – the movie slate will begin to reflect this ever-more-expansive reality. With 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War promising to feature a giant cast of characters helping to defend Earth from the irrepressible Thanos (Josh Brolin), most assumed that would be the perfect opportunity to have at least the Netflix heroes join in, given the streaming service’s more concentrated production time. However, Marvel Studios head (and MCU architect) Kevin Feige, along with Infinity War’s directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, continue to shoot that idea down.
"It all depends on timing. It all depends on how to do it, because I don’t think what anybody wants to do is have such important characters show up for one second. Black [Panther] and Spider-Man, to me, are the high bar in [Captain America] Civil War of how you can bring in new characters into something – Vision and Ultron, Wanda and Pietro in [The Avengers: Age of] Ultron. And it takes a lot of screen time, and it takes a lot of work. Infinity War has a lot of people in it already. So it just depends on how we could figure it out."
The explanation is more than understandable, and it is a reflection of the production reality that has been potentially hindering the whole hypothetical enterprise right from day one. As Netflix moves to do three seasons of Marvel TV shows per year instead of the usual two (and as Marvel Studios does the same with its films, starting in 2017), the probability of aligning schedules and character arcs becomes increasingly low.
However, this doesn’t take into account the other apparent driving factor in the situation: back-room politics. The "feud" between Marvel’s film and TV divisions is well known, and it’s now reaching the point where Feige answers only to Disney executives. There's all the less reason for Feige to bend over backwards to incorporate Marvel TV characters into the larger saga of his MCU movies.
Many fans still hold out hope of the situation somehow rectifying itself over the next few years, just in time for the next two Avengers installments to hit theaters. With comments like these – and with other networks, such as Freeform and Hulu, now jumping on the Marvel TV bandwagon – it continues to seem unlikely that the Defenders and Earth's Mightiest Heroes will be sharing the screen together anytime soon.
Daredevil seasons 1 and 2, Jessica Jones season 1, and Luke Cage season 1 are now available on Netflix. Iron Fist will premiere on March 17, 2017, with The Defenders expected later in the year. Premiere dates for the newest seasons of Jessica Jones, The Punisher, and Daredevil have not yet been announced.