While movies like Avengers, Netflix series like Daredevil, and TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. all exist within the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. On the film side of things, story and characterization can often get lost in the shuffle of massive, CGI-heavy battles. While those sequences are thrilling and mimic the splash pages of a comic book, they can’t recreate the nuanced and prolonged storytelling for which comics are known.
Though Marvel’s shows on ABC and Netflix might feel like separate affairs, they share in common a more intimate scope and the serialized nature of a television series, better reflecting the best of what comics and graphic novels have to offer. Marvel’s movies have nailed a pitch-perfect blend between spectacular action and humanizing comedy, but they can’t hold a candle to how well their TV shows are able to develop characters and flesh out storylines. As much as we love the films they create, here are 13 Reasons Why Marvel TV Is Better Than The Movies.
13 Deep Comic Cuts
One of the biggest advantages Marvel TV has over the movies is its ability to drop in tons of cameos, references, and Easter eggs. This season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. alone has centered around the mystical and ancient book known as the Darkhold, the human-mimicking Life Model Decoys that almost infest the comics, and a little-known speedster named Yo-Yo “Slingshot” Rodriquez from Jonathan Hickman’s run on Secret Warriors (who just got her own digital miniseries). In fact, the entire idea behind the Secret Warriors team, as led by Daisy “Quake” Johnson, gets pulled into the fold, along with fellow member Hellfire and the team's villain, Hive.
Jessica Jones herself is a somewhat obscure character, and the fact that her first season sees her face off against not only the Purple Man, but a super-steroid-fueled Nuke is pretty amazing. And almost the entirety of the Luke Cage supporting cast comes from deep within the pages of Marvel Comics, including the Netflix-hopping Claire Temple. This entry could go on and on, as the TV shows provide Marvel with untold opportunities to insert all manner of comic characters, locations, and themes. No matter how many movies Marvel Studios pumps out, they’ll never be able to catch up to TV in this regard.
12 The Ghost Riders
While we’re on the subject of Season 4 of S.H.I.E.L.D., let’s talk about the season's sub-title: Ghost Rider. Ever since Marvel reacquired the rights to their little friend with the flaming skull, fans have been eager to see the Nicolas Cage version of Johnny Blaze replaced by a gritty, Netflix take on the classic character. When it was revealed that Robbie Reyes would instead be joining ABC’s show, a few were disappointed. Luckily, Robbie’s story is plenty fascinating, and the show handled it deftly. Even better, they absolutely nailed the CGI (and on a TV budget!), making the Rider look every bit as fearsome and cool as you’d expect.
Before they even hit the midseason finale, though, they amped it up even further. After a couple of Easter eggs (a circus poster and discarded motorcycle) teased Johnny Blaze, the show just straight up introduced the character in a flashback explaining how Robbie got his powers. Though it hasn’t been confirmed to be Blaze, it’s hard to imagine it’s anyone else. A few episodes later, we saw Mack himself become a Rider temporarily, followed by Coulson admitting that Robbie wasn’t the first that S.H.I.E.L.D. knew about. Marvel TV has not only left the door wide open for both Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch to appear in the future, but already established that they’ve been operating as Ghost Riders long before Robbie. Even if Ghost Rider debuts in a movie, TV still laid the groundwork.
11 Street-Level Heroes
While the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are (usually) government-backed and regularly go toe-to-toe with Avengers-size threats, the heroes of Netflix’s Defenders universe give Marvel multiple avenues to explore how street-level vigilantes and superheroes operate in this new world. Over the past few years, we’ve met a number of heroes and villains who operate on a smaller scale within the Marvel Universe while the big guns mix it up with aliens and robots.
The stories in these shows deal more with crime bosses, gangbangers, and the occasional super-powered baddie who’s more interested in ruling the block than the planet. Thanks to the proliferation of these shows, we’ve already met comic mainstays like Daredevil, Luke Cage, Elektra, Misty Knight, Kingpin, and the Punisher. Next year will also introduce Iron Fist, Colleen Wing, and whichever villain Sigourney Weaver is playing (who will likely be a big name).
Using this model, Marvel TV can continue to explore local heroes from all over the country and the world who do their part to stop superpowered threats that affect the little people and don’t show up on the Avengers' radar. It also allows for stories detailing the fallout from bigger conflicts and how Marvel’s own first responders work to maintain order amidst regional pockets of chaos.
10 Longer, More In-Depth Arc Arcs
All these chances to explore ideas and characters from the comics is great, but none of that matters if the stories are terrible. Television has never been short on superhero shows over the years, and it takes more than some comic book connections to exceed the high bar set by Marvel’s cinematic offerings. Luckily, this is the Golden Age of Television, and both ABC's and Netflix's Marvel shows are part of that.
When we first met Agent Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger, she was a fascinatingly complex character. She was not only a female military and government operative during World War II, but one of the founders of the peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D. Thanks to her ABC series (and a Marvel One-Shot), we were able to fully explore her place in the world and see a number of her missions during the late ‘40s.
Netflix, on the other hand, has proven on four different occasions you don’t have to try and cram a hero and villain origin into two hours, cutting corners to balance exposition with action. The series show that by taking your time and fleshing out the finer points of how the characters got where they are, you can create a far more rewarding experience for viewers. We don’t just get 20 minutes exploring how Matt Murdock became Daredevil or Carl Lucas became Luke Cage; we get entire episodes and arcs devoted to exploring their metamorphosis.
9 Darker Stories
The Netflix shows are often praised for their darker, less Disneyfied look at the Marvel Universe, but S.H.I.E.L.D. has also proven that the stories get better when more darkness and reality are allowed to be woven into the storytelling. Movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier have gotten the closest to this in theaters, but Marvel movies are family-friendly by design. Fox may be okay with an R-Rated Deadpool or Logan, but Marvel is trying to cast the widest net possible with each release. This could change in the future as the brand diversifies more, but for now, TV is where the grittier side of the comics can come to life.
There’s no way characters like the Punisher and Ghost Rider could fit into the Marvel movie model without losing something in translation. Though the Netflix and ABC shows aren’t at the R-Rated level we usually find these characters in the comics, that basically just means less cuss words. Ghost Rider is still a demonic Spirit of Vengeance who violently murders people deemed worthy of its wrath. Punisher, meanwhile, not only wages his bloody war during much of season 2 of Daredevil, but the character is now getting his own series. Remember, the entire M.O. of Frank Castle is that he just murders a bunch of people who he thinks deserve it. No way is that ever becoming a movie under the current iteration of Marvel Studios.
8 The Inhumans
If we'd written this article a year or two ago, this couldn’t be included as an entry. We know now that even though the first two episodes of The Inhumans will premiere on IMAX screens, it’s still a TV show and will air on ABC. For fans of the Royal Family of Attilan, this means their only chance to see live-action versions of Medusa, Black Bolt, Lockjaw, and the other weird and wonderful Inhumans. But even before these more popular characters grace the screen, S.H.I.E.L.D. deserves credit for kicking off this entire corner of the Marvel Universe.
Way back in season 2, the show teased Terrigenesis before straight up introducing the term along with the word and world of Inhumans and their development by the Kree thousands of years ago. The Kree themselves even debuted on the show before popping up in Guardians of the Galaxy. Considering the ABC series was supposed to be smaller in scale than the Avengers, it’s remarkable how many cosmic concepts they’ve not only premiered, but built entire arcs around. In the comics, it took Black Bolt battling Thanos to unleash worldwide Terrigenesis. S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to pull it off with a few crates of fish oil pills. How’s that for ingenuity?
7 Not Afraid Of The Issues
Though the Captain America franchise has gone the furthest into exploring real-world socio-political issues as far as the movies go, the TV shows are almost entirely built around these themes. As mentioned before, Agent Carter by nature dealt with the idea of a woman navigating a military/government job in the ‘40s. Jessica Jones, meanwhile, surprised and won praise from many viewers for its realistic portrayal of sexual assault victims and the traumas of rape. While Daredevil touched on some ideas of gentrification, Netflix’s second series wasn’t afraid to put some deeply emotional and resonant themes front and center.
Luke Cage took a similar approach by exploring Black America through the lens of the citizens, politicians, police, and criminals of Harlem. At a time when the country is dealing with police brutality and groups like Black Lives Matter are trying to make their voices heard, Luke Cage and creator Cheo Hodari Coker showed that they could tell a superhero story and make it relevant to the struggles people of color face in this country.
S.H.I.E.L.D. has also touched on some similar themes as they continue to explore the persecution of Inhumans by not only militant supremacist groups like the Watchdogs, but even members of the U.S. Senate. Even the Sokovia Accords, the crux of Civil War, gets a more personal exploration on S.H.I.E.L.D. and Slingshot, as we see how the agreement affects those less mighty than the Avengers.
6 Black Widow x 5
The movies only have so much time to slot in different characters, and when one lands really well, it’s difficult for them to expand upon the idea. Take Black Widow for example. She won over fans with her amazing fight scene in Iron Man 2 when she was first introduced, and she’s been continuing to do so ever since. In a world full of supersoldiers, high-tech suits, and lightning-throwing pseudo-gods, it’s just plain cool to see Scarlett Johannson dispatch threats with only her legs, some handguns, and a couple of stingers. Sadly, until she gets her own movie, we can only see so much of this in between all the Avengers-style mega-action.
Enter the TV shows, where there's at least five different women who kick all sorts of ass. Between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, we’ve got Melinda “The Cavalry” May, Daisy “Quake” Johnson, Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse, Dottie “Black Widow” Underwood, and Peggy “Agent” Carter. Each uses their own style of fighting, mixing in weapons and superpowers where applicable. And they’re not just women warriors, they’re some of the best combatants in the entire MCU, who just happen to be female. Thanks to these shows, we don’t have to wait every couple of years for one scene of Natasha’s deadly legwork. We can get fantastically choreographed fight scenes almost every week thanks to Marvel TV.
5 The Aftermath Of The Avengers
Another key aspect of Civil War was how the intervention of the Avengers helped escalate or even create conflicts. No one could argue that the Avengers haven’t done a job no world government or military could, but they did so recklessly and without authority or oversight. This concept gets a little more than lip service in the movie, but it’s shows like S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil, and Luke Cage that truly explore the aftermath of the wars the Avengers fight.
S.H.I.E.L.D.’s connections are obvious, but the street-level heroes have to deal with these issues in much more realistic ways. The gentrification in season 1 of Daredevil and our heroes struggle for control against Fisk is a direct result of “The Incident,” the awkwardly vague word used for the Battle of New York. The season-long arc is all about the damage caused by the battle and the lasting impact it’s had on real estate and the lives of those who live in the neighborhood, drawing stark parallels to Ground Zero and 9/11.
Luke Cage, meanwhile, uses the Incident and the Chitauri metal left behind to drive Mariah Dillard’s fear-mongering and the creation of bullets strong enough to take down our hero and others like him. There’s a good chance that these same ideas will play into The Defenders, as the regular folks of New York grow increasingly uncomfortable that people as powerful as the Avengers are their neighbors.
4 S.H.I.E.L.D. Keeping The Peace
Cumbersomely known as the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. S.H.I.E.L.D. has had a long and influential history in the comics. Debuting in Strange Tales #135 in 1965, the organization was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a sort of super-C.I.A. Often led by Nick Fury, though Maria Hill and Daisy Johnson have also run things, S.H.I.E.L.D. protects the world from all manner of super-powered, alien, and mystical threats with its legion of agents and battalion of Helicarriers. Most all of these ideas have had plenty of room to breathe in the movies, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has obviously been able to spend a lot more time showing how the group keeps the peace in such a fantastical world.
The Avengers may show up to battle Loki or Ultron, but it’s up to S.H.I.E.L.D. to handle more localized threats like Hydra, Blizzard, Graviton, and Lash. Just as enhanced heroes continue popping up all over the globe, so do superpowered threats. On top of that, there are all sorts of gangs and criminal organizations operating on larger scales thanks to the proliferation of bleeding edge science and next-gen tech. While the Netflix shows haven’t yet integrated these peacekeepers, TV is still the place to explore covert ops and spy missions in the world on the MCU.
For some, diversity is just a buzzword or a touchstone. But for many fans, it’s about representing the whole of humanity and giving everyone a familiar face to inspire them. On the film side of things, Marvel has long come under criticism for its heavily white, male casts.
Though they’re slowly rectifying that with headlining heroes like Black Panther and Captain Marvel, TV has had them beat for years. Way before Supergirl, both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter featured shows led by female comic characters. S.H.I.E.L.D. even accomplished the rare feat of having two Asian-American female leads, with Quake being the only live-action Asian superhero in Western media.
Black Panther is exciting many fans with the promise of a primarily black cast, but Luke Cage pulled that off earlier this year. Agent Carter gave us Marvel’s first super-powered female villain with Madame Masque, and Jessica Jones introduced us to our titular hero and another up-and-coming one in the form of Trish Walker, aka Hellcat. And as far as LGBTQ characters in Marvel properties, Joey from S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hogarth from Jessica Jones are the only ones we’ve met.
Robbie, Yo-Yo, Trip, Deathlok, and Mack all gave us plenty of agents and superheroes that better reflected the people of this country and world. The TV shows aren’t perfect in this regard, but they’ve all made huge steps towards exploring stories and characters that represent a wider range of viewers.
2 The Best Villains
Marvel probably doesn’t deserve all the flak they get for having weak villains in their films, but if this election proved anything it’s that if people repeat a vague statement enough times, everyone will take it as fact. In all seriousness, Marvel has pulled in some great actors to play their antagonists and they’ve delivered fantastic performances, but it’s no lie that a lot of them are killed off after one appearance. Loki is always held up as the lone example of a thriving, nuanced foe, but Netflix has made writing for their villains an art.
Vincent D’Onofrio’s turn as Wilson Fisk left many fans pining for Marvel films to lead by example and give us a complex antagonist whose backstory we actually explored. Then, Netflix one-upped itself by delivering us David Tennant’s masterful portrayal of Kilgrave. While hardly redeemable, he still proved to be a complicated and engaging baddie. Once more, Luke Cage found a way to merge the stellar acting and viciousness of Kilgrave with the sympathetic criminality of Kingpin in Mahershala Ali’s game-changing performance as Cottonmouth. It’s a shame that, like Kilgrave, we won’t be seeing him again. That said, Marvel TV has proven time and again that they can create some of the best villains not only in the MCU, but in all of pop culture.
1 It’s All Connected
Uttered by Daisy (née Skye) on S.H.I.E.L.D., “It’s All Connected” became Jeph Loeb and Marvel TV’s throughline until recently. The idea was that all things in the Marvel Cinematic Universe were tied together, including the ABC and Netflix shows. While this was supposed to be the M.O. of the MCU since the beginning, the film side of things has rarely held up their end of the bargain.
Each movie is of course connected to the other cinematic offerings, but none have ever referenced TV. Meanwhile, many of the events of the Netflix series are directly influenced by what’s gone down in the movies and characters regularly discuss the Avengers. Over on S.H.I.E.L.D., they not only react to almost every threat the Avengers face, but they even helped get Nick Fury that Helicarrier he showed up in at the end of Age of Ultron.
On top of that, they’ve had a number of film characters show up, including Fury himself. We’ve also seen Mariah Hill, Sif, President Ellis, Peggy Carter, Gideon Malick, Agent Sitwell, and, of course, Phil Coulson himself. While DC has specifically kept their TV and movie universe separate, Marvel sold us the idea of the cross-platform shared world. If you want the version that most accurately matches the model of interconnectedness in the comics, Marvel TV is the only place you’ll get it.
Any advantages Marvel TV has over the movies that we missed? Which areas do you think the films excel? Let us know in the comments!
Slingshot is now streaming on the ABC app and their YouTube, and Season 1 of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage and Seasons 1 and 2 of Daredevil are available on Netflix. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will return to ABC on January 10, 2017 and Iron Fist will debut March 17, 2017 on Netflix. The Inhumans will come to IMAX screens for Labor Day weekend, then move to ABC on September 26, 2017. The Defenders and The Punisher will arrive sometime in 2017 on Netflix. Premiere dates for the newest seasons of Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage have not yet been announced.