As the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown, it has done so under the credo that "it's all connected" – that every part of the universe, no matter how disparate and different, all exists within the same continuity. This is a task that has become all the more daunting as it has branched across both film and television, stocking this universe with superheroes and supervillains every bit as diverse and varied as the comic books proper.
We’re now reaching the point where the MCU itself is nigh unto a juggernaut — not just in financial and critical success, but in its scope. While The Defenders team up to save New York, #AgentsOfSHIELD heads into space; even as Spider-Man officially joins the world of the #Avengers, Black Panther and the people of Wakanda wait on the horizon. And that’s all before we even get the big-screen mashup two-parter of Infinity War.
Every year, the MCU only becomes more vast, with more characters, concepts, and pieces of this universe to explore. But as it continues to do so, we really have to start to ask, is it really all connected? And perhaps more importantly, does it really matter?
Each Area Of The MCU Largely Stands On Its Own
The biggest divide is of course between television and film — which is no doubt a consequence of producers having to work within two distinct industries. But beyond that, it rather feels like the universe is split into three: the big-screen films, the Defenders-verse, and Agents of SHIELD (which, like Agent Carter before it, The Inhumans could tie into in a big way). And there’s been little more than vague hints and minor references made from one sphere to the next.
Technically they all exist in world of the Avengers — but as it currently stands, that fact has very little bearing on this micro-universe. In spite of Coulson’s revival in Agents of SHIELD, the attack on New York in The Avengers creating the foundation for the Defenders shows, the appearance of Peggy Carter across multiple films and TV series, and the seeding of Easter Eggs in every known corner of the universe, there still hasn’t been much in the way of substantial interaction — and what interaction there is serves as little more than cameos.
The more individualized each of these spheres become, the less relevant it is that it’s all supposedly connected. Sure, Daredevil was cleaning up Hell’s Kitchen after the Chitauri attack — but by the time he met his cohorts in #TheDefenders, the big-screen properties were starting to feel less relevant to their world. It’s not even just the logistics of having someone in Defenders-verse, for example, explicitly address goings-on from Civil War. It’s that there’s an increasing risk of the shows and the films actively intruding on one another — a byproduct of them existing separately for so long.
Major Interactions Might Become Intrusive
If Iron Man stops by Agents of SHIELD or Jessica Jones, it might not only feel out of place, but it would rob the individual shows of their own personality. This would mean putting the narrative and characters the regular audience has invested in on hold to make room for Tony Stark. And it would be very difficult to organically integrate any number of the big-screen characters into the shows without it briefly becoming, for example, Captain America and Friends, rather than the established show at hand.
When the foursome of the Defenders get together to take down the Hand, it's entirely irrelevant what the Guardians of the Galaxy or Dr. Strange might be up to. This micro-universe could break off on its own, with no ties to the rest of the MCU at large, and it would see very little change.
And the difficult truth is, for all that it would be great to see the Punisher appear on Agents of SHIELD and meet Ghost Rider, or have Daredevil show up in a Spider-Man movie, odds are that if it were feasible, it would’ve happened already. We’re now five years in from the start of Agents of SHIELD, and there’s been less than even a handful of significant interactions — almost none of which break that barrier between film and television. Whenever Kevin Feige and co are asked, the answers are often along the lines of “we’d love to, but…” Meaning, it’s unlikely to ever happen.
This probably hurts Agents of SHIELD more than anyone else. The show has unofficially become the fulcrum of the universe, making references and dropping Easter Eggs to nod to just about every other #Marvel property around, all the while doing more to establish the MCU as a living, connected narrative than any other show or movie has. The fact that the films have yet to make even a single reference to Agents of SHIELD in return is disappointing. But more than anything else, this speaks more to the increasing divide that’s growing not just between film and television, but between the three different spheres altogether.
Perhaps this is just the harsh reality of things. It’s a nice idea to craft a shared universe — one that mirrors the interconnected realm of comic books, and that has since become the envy of just about every other major studio. At the same time, we’re likely seeing the limitation of the concept. The different areas of the MCU can’t really intersect in any meaningful way — and the longer that draws out, the less we would want them to anyway. Because there reaches a point where it would be very difficult to do so without having them step on one another’s toes.
And maybe that’s okay, too. The Defenders-verse doesn’t need the Avengers to be great; and the films are already teaming up their own characters in increasing, unprecedented ways. This exclusion hurts for fans of Agents of SHIELD, yet the show's solo status has also allowed it to flourish into a consistent bright spot of the MCU. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a wonderful thing – but at a certain point, maybe it no longer really matters if it’s all connected.
Do you still want the MCU to be all connected? Shout out in the comments below!