You won’t find many people who don’t think Marvel’s recent run of Netflix shows has been anything less than a rousing success. Kicking off with Daredevil early in 2015, things wrapped up beautifully with Jessica Jones, making for a formidable one-two punch of new television from Marvel. All the while, we also got two movies in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, along with two network shows in Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter. It was a busy year for the Disney-owned studio, making it that much more impressive to see the Netflix arm stand above the rest so impressively.
While Marvel’s various properties are defined by their connection to the greater Cinematic Universe, both Daredevil and Jessica Jones are great in the ways they’re dissimilar from the MCU. We see little of the gaudy costumes, aliens, or call-backs to other movies we’ve come to associate with Marvel. Instead, we see street-level crime fought by people you could imagine meeting in your everyday life. If the rest of the MCU is the macro of the expansive comic book world, think of Netlix as the micro. What’s truly impressive about all this though, is the fact that we didn’t even know we needed the micro until Daredevil arrived on the scene.
In the pre-Daredevil MCU, we were pretty happy with what we had. It seemed as though we all had a general grasp of what Marvel had cooked up for us: A series of individual hero films that all lead into the next Avengers movie, with Agents of SHIELD acting as a companion on TV. But then along came Marvel’s ambitious Netflix empire, and suddenly we had something that surpassed everything we’d previously seen from the studio. We’re now two series deep, with plenty more stories left to tell.
The Netflix universe accomplished a few things for the MCU. First and foremost, it single-handedly fixed Marvel’s villain problem. Until Wilson Fisk and Killgrave, the only compelling baddie the franchise had to its name was Loki, and that’s after two whole phases of films. In one year, suddenly we had the two most frightening and nuanced villains we’ve ever seen from the MCU. Second, we got to see a superhero property deal in something other than “here are a bunch of heroes trying to save the world.” Daredevil gave us a thrilling narrative on morality, followed by the even more ambitious Jessica Jones, diving headfirst into the delicate themes of rape and abuse.
Stylistically, the noir-esque appeal of both series makes for a wholly unique approach to the franchise. For the most part, all the various Marvel movies carry the same aesthetic feel, making it that much more jarring to see Netflix take things in a completely different direction. Jessica Jones makes the choice to ditch the more fantastical elements of its source material in favor of the more grounded gumshoe narrative. Daredevil spends a majority of the show fighting crime in black long-sleeves and pants, only costuming up in the closing moments of the Season 1 finale. What we have as a result is a universe that actively seeks to convince us that these stories are part of our world more than that of the MCU.
Recent shakeups at Marvel have only compounded the fact that they’re doubling down on their Netflix shows. Even while Agents of SHIELD is still going strong, the studio recently canceled Agent Carter after just two seasons, while axing their Agents spin-off, Marvel’s Most Wanted, before the pilot ever aired. That leaves one ABC series as the final bastion for Marvel on network TV, indicating a clear commitment toward the continued expansion of Netflix. Factor in the recently green-lit Punisher series on top of all that, and that message is heard loud and clear.
While we see passing references to movies throughout both shows, the tie-ins are really there are as a subtle reminder that this is still Marvel’s world. None of it is used as a driving force behind the story itself, with the studio making a concerted effort to keep the two universes as separate as possible. It’s this separation that makes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and the rest of the planned Netflix world stand on their own as compelling stories, and in a lot of ways, it’s why they’ve become the best the franchise has to offer.
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