The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the most ambitious franchises ever to exist. Starting out as simply movies, the MCU later branched out into the world of TV after the roaring success of 2012's The Avengers. The first TV show was pretty successful, and the creators masterfully connected the end of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 to the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The aim was to have the plot flow between the movies and the TV shows, with Agent Carter providing a prologue to S.H.I.E.L.D's creation, and Netflix's Defenders showing the impact the events of the films had on everyday life.
And yet, recently it seems like the shows are drifting further and further away from the films. Season 3 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had some pretty huge implications for this fictional world, as the Inhuman threat became more and more ominous, yet this wasn't so much as alluded to in Civil War. Then of course there's the cancellation of Agent Carter, which has left many fans in mourning for the nostalgic show.
So what's going on here — are the TV shows really splintering off from the movie canon?
'They Don't Seem To Care!'
Recently, S.H.I.E.L.D. actress Chloe Bennet fanned the flames of this debate, expressing her frustration about this at the Wizard World Convention.
Bennet plays Skye a.k.a. Daisy Johnson a.k.a. Quake, one of the protagonists of S.H.I.E.L.D. When asked why the effects of Season 3 weren't felt in Civil War, Bennet commented that this was a mystery to her, too.
"I don’t know. People who make movies for Marvel, why don’t you acknowledge what happens on our show? Why don’t you guys go ask them that? Cause they don’t seem to care! The Marvel Cinematic Universe loves to pretend that everything is connected, but then they don’t acknowledge our show at all."
Actually, people have already asked the filmmakers this question — Civil War screenwriter Christopher Markus admitted to Hitfix that he hadn't seen much of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, and there were no plans to incorporate that story into Civil War.
The reason for the divergence of the Marvel movies and shows was addressed by Feige when he spoke to io9, and basically it comes down to timing.
"Movies are developed so far in advance that a lot of those things [S.H.I.E.L.D's Season 3 plot] weren’t done when we started to film Civil War. Or, if we were to do something in a film that absolutely handcuffs what the team can do in season 2 of whatever show, they don’t want to be handcuffed. It’s just finding the right time and right place to do it."
This is all well and good, but the shows moving further away from the films is disappointing, and could have contributed to Agent Carter's cancellation
Inconsistencies In Canon
Agent Carter Season 1 was fantastic, feeding into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and riffing off developments in the films. One of the best episodes is “The Iron Ceiling”, when Peggy and her SSR colleagues team up with the Howling Commandos.
Agent Carter added depth to the MCU, giving a sense of backstory and history. One of the most interesting aspects of Season 1 was the incorporation of the Black Widow agent Dottie Underwood. Through flashbacks to her childhood, we saw the early days of the Red Room training program which Natasha Romanoff later graduated from.
Season 2 seemed to splinter off a little more from the MCU, although apparently we'll see Zero Mattter / Darkforce appear in Doctor Strange. In general Season 2 was a lot more self contained, but because it didn't feed into the movies as much as Season 1 it's possible that this contributed to the dip in ratings and its eventual cancellation.
Fans were really hoping to see Peggy and Howard Stark found S.H.I.E.L.D, but unfortunately this never came to pass. It's a shame, really, because Agent Carter Season 2 missed an opportunity to explain an apparent plot hole in Civil War — why would Howard create more super soldier serum after Peggy persuaded him not to in Agent Carter Season 1? Of course, this could be another case of the screenwriters not watching the TV shows, or perhaps this plot twist wasn't planned when Season 1 was written.
It's all well and good to spot inconsistencies in the narrative, and guess who's to blame for that. But what does all of this mean for the future of the MCU?
Although many fans were hoping to see characters from the TV shows cross over into the movies, this seems to be less and less likely. Initially, the Netflix Defenders seemed to be the best bet for movie crossovers — Daredevil and Jessica Jones could provide some excellent backup for the Avengers in the fight against Thanos in Infinity War. Now though, Netflix have basically established their own little interlinking canon, and the nods towards the films are less and less frequent.
These events definitely occur in the same world, but Daredevil and Jessica Jones are so far removed, tonally speaking, from the films that they essentially live in their own little bubble. And of course, Netflix are building towards their epic crossover show, Defenders, with multiple solo shows like Luke Cage and Iron Fist establishing the characters beforehand. With all of that going on, crossing over with the movies too would become very complicated.
At the end of the day, it does make sense for Marvel's TV shows to start to deviate from the films. As Feige pointed out, it's a logistical nightmare to interlink all the plots completely.
It's a mystery as to whether the Marvel execs have planned to bring the corners of their vast cinematic universe closer together in the future, but for now it looks like the shows will continue to forge their own stories. And we'll just have to wait to see whether those movie crossovers will happen... but I wouldn't advise holding your breath.