At this point, we’re all pretty familiar with the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Already, we’ve seen three Iron Man films, three Captain America movies, two The Avengers flicks, and standalone movies for Thor, Ant-Man, and The Incredible Hulk.
Things aren’t quite so established in Marvel’s TV universe. The heroes there lack the same name recognition as their cinematic counterparts, and in many ways, this is exactly what Marvel needs.
Marvel’s Netflix shows featured individual series for Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage, before they all join forces for The Defenders, acting as a different brand of superhero team. For all intents and purposes, these characters will largely stay out of Marvel’s movies, while still functioning in the same universe.
The Defenders creates an intriguing dynamic, and has the potential to be the perfect yin to the MCU’s yang. Why you ask?
1. The heroes of the Defenders will provide us with more grounded storylines
The conflicts of heroes in the MCU largely consist of universe-level stakes. It’s all building up to The Avengers: Infinity War, a film with a story that will decide the fate of reality itself. As we saw in Daredevil though, lowering the stakes doesn’t have to equal a lesser product.
Throughout the show’s first season, we watched as our titular hero dismantled a local crime ring piece by piece, leading into a climactic battle with Kingpin. Our main villain’s priorities were decidedly small in comparison to that of contemporaries like Ultron, and yet still the excitement and tension ran high.
Most every description we’ve seen of the Defenders tells us they’ll be focused mainly on street-level crime, acting as the more grounded and realistic counterparts to the Avengers. The Marvel Netflix universe will function as a break from the “universe is going to explode unless we stop it” sort of stakes the MCU specializes in, honing in on character development and small-scale stories instead.
2. We see the fallout from the movieverse’s actions
Daredevil didn’t take long to show us that in the days following the first The Avengers movie, New York was in bad shape. Half of Manhattan was completely leveled and thousands of lives were lost, something glossed over by later films. In Daredevil though, we see villains like Kingpin able to rise from the rubble, taking advantage of a vulnerable city to serve his own vision.
We rarely see the stakes of a superhero fight once it ends, with each movie instead moving forward. What the Netflix universe allows us to do is see the wake of destruction the Avengers leave behind, giving us a more well-rounded view of the entire Marvel movie world.
3. We get a welcomed change in tone
The Marvel Netflix world does include more grounded storylines, but its tone is even more prominent in terms of what makes it important. The beatdowns Daredevil inflicts on his enemies take far longer than those of Iron Man or Captain America, namely because that’s the amount of time it actually takes to render someone unconscious with your fists.
The world the Defenders function in feels far more like a place that could actually exist in reality, compared to the more fantastical Avengers universe. We see things like street crime, inequality, and poverty in the Defenders’ world, offering a much-needed human side to the world of inhumans.
4. Marvel’s Netflix shows treat us to heroes we wouldn’t see otherwise
Save for maybe Daredevil, there’s a good chance that if it weren’t for Netflix, we’d never see the likes of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, or Iron Fist anywhere outside of the pages of comic books. And honestly speaking, that would be a colossal shame. All three heroes are characters with rich backstories and stories worth telling, and with the streaming Marvel universe we get to pay witness to that. There’s no time for the story of a former superhero turned private eye named Jessica Jones when Captain America is busy saving the free world. Netflix provides us with that time.
5. The Defenders keep us from getting burnt out
With the next five years of movies planned out for Marvel, there will likely come a time when people find themselves getting tired of superheroes. It’s a tall order to find a way to make each standalone movie unique when they all exist within one single universe, something Marvel Studios has taken careful steps to ensure. Conversely, the Defenders universe is a breath of fresh air.
We have new characters functioning in a different, more realistic world. The sum total is a series of shows that feel less like the same old Marvel, and more like a refreshingly separate property.
6. New avenues for growth
When it comes to Marvel’s release schedule, for the most part it’s set in stone. We know what’s coming for the next five years, and barring any unexpected shifts, there are few (if any) surprises coming down the line. Netflix though has a much more fluid calendar, evidenced by Season 2 of Daredevil.
In it, we saw Jon Bernthal’s Punisher appear for the first time. His popularity and success within the series spurred Marvel to green-light a new standalone series for the character, demonstrating the relative flexibility of the Netflix universe. We even saw that with Jessica Jones, which was approved for a second season on the strength of its debut episodes.
Simply put, there’s far less of a ceiling for Marvel in the world of streaming.
7. Marvel’s Netflix series aren’t as reliant on numbers
When it comes to superhero franchises, Marvel and DC’s ongoing competition isn’t hard to quantify. The two rivals already squared off this year with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War, with their success riding off of who could haul in the biggest box office numbers.
For Netflix, the stakes are far more nebulous. They don’t have to worry about facing backlash for low numbers or ratings, rather depending on their surprisingly secret streaming numbers to figure out how well a series does.
8. Netflix brings more creative talent into the fold
Marvel is notoriously choosey about the directors they sign on for their films, but for their streaming shows, they can afford to cast a much wider net. Steven S. DeKnight’s work on Season 1 of Daredevil was the first indication of this, followed by Twilight director Melissa Rosenberg on Jessica Jones.
Essentially, we get to see the work of stunningly talented writers and directors that Marvel never would have brought on otherwise.
9. The Netflix universe is already outstripping Marvel’s network offerings
It’s become abundantly clear that Marvel knows where their best bets in television are right now. Marvel’s Most Wanted was canceled before it ever hit the air, and Agent Carter got the ax after just two seasons. That leaves Agents of SHIELD as the lone holdout on network TV, demonstrating Marvel’s clear focus on Netflix for the foreseeable future.
It’s not hard to see why either: Marvel’s streaming shows are by far their best, even with Agents of SHIELD having come on strong in recent seasons. Things are likely only going to proliferate from here, and as each series gains steam, you can bet Netflix will start rolling out new heroes to keep up with the demand (a la The Punisher).
10. We get deeper, more-focused stories
The way the MCU functions makes it so a film’s not really about any individual character. Sure, each hero gets their own standalone movie, but even those all serve the main thread we see in The Avengers saga.
Netflix affords us the chance to see a 13-episode, self-contained narrative for each title character. Seasons 1 and 2 of Daredevil gave us a deep dive into Matthew Murdock and his battle with morality, while Jessica Jones ended up being an insightful and sometimes terrifying narrative on consent and sexual abuse.
They’re the sort of stories that can only be told in long-format venues, and it provides us with an intriguing new look for the MCU.
The Defenders premiered on Netflix on Aug. 18, 2017.
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