Marvel TV and the Recasting Dilemma

2020 marks the 5th year since the Marvel-Netflix universe debuted with Daredevil. The year also coincides with the “reverting” of the character rights to Marvel, 2 years after the first set of shows were canceled abruptly. Because of this and rumors of Kevin Feige having an interest in bringing back some cast members like Charlie Cox, loyal fans of the shows are optimistic in seeing these characters played by the same actors in potential movie appearances moving forward.

It’s the age-old question among MCU fans since the inception of Marvel Television with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. back in 2013 that keeps coming back: when are these characters going to appear in the films? After all, they’re deeply beloved among fans and the actors themselves have it in their contracts to appear in films if the opportunity arose. But in the 11 years of the MCU, this question has never been outright addressed by the powers that be. Kevin Feige has either dodged or politely answered fluff to every hard-hitting Marvel TV question asked. For example in 2015, when asked point-blank about any movie appearances, he said:

Into the movies? No. Well…. Right now, what Jeph Loeb and the TV guys are doing is focusing on those shows. And certainly with Daredevil coming out last night and being so well received. The next one’s already in production and the one after that has been announced. So I think they’re doing quite well for themselves in that medium. We’ve certainly had discussions on where down the line, who could show up where. But I think they’ve been very smart in saying, “Let us establish this here first.” They’re off to a very good start.

That’s just one of the handful of fluff answers the mastermind of the MCU has given to the press. If you count him purposefully avoiding any Marvel TV answers in a Reddit AMA a couple of years back, his feelings on the matter are telling. During the 2015 same press tour for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Joss Whedon candidly, albeit jokingly, spoke about the film division’s true feelings about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. saying, “I think actually the movie people were a little bit cross about the TV show. They were sort of like ‘Well you can have this but not this. And this but not that.’ It’s complicated enough as it is without me adding another layer of complication.” Just last December, when all these brand spanking new Disney+ shows were getting announced, Kevin Feige shadily affirmed that it would be the first time TV content would interlink with the MCU.

Of course, diehards have always known why it’s always been like this; the feud between Kevin Feige and his former boss and overlord of Marvel Television, Ike Perlmutter, that made collaboration between the two divisions near-impossible. But that all changed several months ago when the current iteration of Marvel Television was disbanded following those Netflix cancelations. Right then and there, Disney announced that Kevin Feige was being promoted to Chief Creative Officer for Marvel Entertainment, practically making his rival Ike’s position obsolete in the company. The announcement’s fine print stated that all creative decisions for any property – be it in comics, animation, TV, or film – would go through Feige. This was, in many ways, the biggest status quo change for the Marvel Studios system. All of a sudden, the keys to Marvel TV’s future were now handed to Kevin Feige.

As all the Marvel Netflix characters await their return into the hands of the MCU’s showrunner, two new questions beg to be raised. Should the characters be rebooted from scratch or should they live on with continued stories in the MCU?

Believe it or not, the answer is a very complicated one and starts with the man himself, Kevin Feige. It shouldn’t come as a surprise now, following the billion-dollar success the Infinity Saga became, that Kevin Feige loves being able to do what he wants. His system at Marvel Studios has always prided itself on having the freedom to go bold and big whenever and wherever regardless of the cost. Marvel TV’s creative decisions, however, have remained separate from Feige’s purview and a lot of them haven’t been exactly great.

An amazing character like Iron Fist made his live-action debut in a show that was nothing short of lackluster. Iron Fists second season was an undeniable improvement but the first season’s stench dwarfed the corrections they made that it was too little, too late. Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and The Punisher all started out as very strong shows but slowly diminished in quality as their stories progressed. Even the highly-publicized Defenders team-up show that was the epicenter of Marvel’s multimillion deal with Netflix failed to live up to its hype despite having all the tools to make it great. And in light of reports of Jeph Loeb’s racist mandates that derailed the creative process for these shows, the whole thing seems like one wasted opportunity after another. It’s honestly a miracle that Daredevil managed to stay consistently solid amidst all that.

With hundreds of hours of content, these shows have already established their own set of rules and canon. Even though the canon initially revolved around the events of the first Avengers movie or the Incident, they’ve pretty much taken their own steps to where they wanted this corner of the Marvel universe to go. This might not lineup with Kevin Feige’s idea of a Marvel street-level universe, especially now that street-level properties like Moon Knight and Blade have been greenlit. Kevin Feige likely has his own idea of K’un L’un and Shou Lao, his own take on Frank MIller‘s iconic Hand/Bullseye/Elektra saga, his own version of Luke Cage that is primed for the Avengers, and his own vision of how he wants these characters to be. It’s hard to imagine any interest from Kevin Feige in continuing and tieing into stories that he had no hand in shaping.

People have brought up the idea of doing a soft reboot i.e. continue with the cast but start from scratch. This makes more sense than straight-up continuing the established Marvel-Netflix status quo; the fans win by getting to see their favorite actors play their favorite characters and Marvel Studios gets a fresh start on where to take them. However, going this route has its own set of problems. Netflix is, by and large, a competitor of Disney, especially now that the House of Mouse has its own streaming service. Even though the live-action “rights” of all the Defenders characters revert to Disney this year, that doesn’t preclude Netflix from airing all the existing Defenders shows, which they legally own.

To continue the cast puts Disney in a tough spot. Say they bring back Charlie Cox as Daredevil or Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin in a new Daredevil film. It’ll be the shit because both of them are absolutely great in that role. You go out of the theater and say to yourself, “That movie was amazing. Charlie and Vincent were killer. I sure would love to see more of them together.” Well, guess what? You can see them together in the comfort of your own home. Just queue up the show on Netflix and enjoy 39 hours of Charlie and Vincent at your behest.

Therein lies the biggest problem with continuing the cast. To continue this iteration of Daredevil will inevitably drive audiences to check out Charlie Cox’s other appearances as Daredevil and where else will they find more of that but on Netflix, Disney’s #1 competitor in the streaming wars? “But the fans! Disney has got to listen to the fans!” Fans are great and play a big part in why these things get made but at the end of the day, it’s corporate interests that drive the decision making. Remember, this is Disney we’re talking about. There’s a reason why they refuse to even give Universal the time of the day even if its to make a highly-demanded Hulk solo film. There’s a reason why the Sony-Spidey talks broke down last year. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Disney becomes cool with its content driving audiences to Netflix.

Logistically and fiscally, it’s more sensical to just completely start from scratch. Get a new face to play all these characters and tell the stories you want right from the beginning. Avoid the trouble of turning audiences towards your competitor. Get rid of the baggage of having a pre-established canon. Yes, losing the cast members, who’ve done exemplary work on these shows, will sting hard but it’s the easiest way to move forward.

Ultimately, the one guaranteed silver lining here is that these characters will live on no matter what. Regardless of the cast returning or not, we’re a hundred percent going to see the Marvel Studios version of Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones down the road under Marvel Studios. The Netflix shows may have clocked in longer than all the MCU films combined but there’s actually a lot in the comics the shows didn’t get to explore. A lot of that had to do with budgetary constraints, so the creative teams had to opt for a more grounded, real-world gritty tone. While that’s not a bad thing, it’s important to remember that these stories are based on source material that’s grand and exciting. Dragons exist! Sorcery exists! Demonic ninjas exist! A villain called Stilt-Man has hydraulic legs! Daredevil should be able to traverse high-rise buildings like he would in the comics. Danny Rand needs to fight an actual dragon. With the budget Marvel Studios invests in their projects, these things are all possible now.

As for the other defunct Marvel TV shows, they’re in a slightly better position than the Netflix shows. For one, they don’t have the competitor problem the Netflix shows pose since ABC, Freeform, and Hulu are all under the Mouse House. Now that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has ended and in light of rumors of a S.W.O.R.D. Disney+ show happening, Chloe Bennet reprising her role as Quake is certainly a possibility. It’s logistically a lot easier to soft reboot someone like Quake and incorporate her into the MCU without worrying about helping the competitor. If anything, a film appearance might boost the syndication deals ABC has with international networks. Of course, it’ll be a matter of Marvel Studios being interested in that idea. But judging from stuff that’s been said, it’s clear that the fan demand to see the Marvel TV actors appear in the films might not be as mutual as some people think. However, stranger things have happened. We all at one point thought that neither Spider-Man nor the X-Men would ever make it to the MCU. Yet here we are.

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