The Case for More ‘Marvel Studios Special Presentations’

With the release of Werewolf By Night, Marvel Studios has given us yet another format in which to experience and further explore the MCU. Following feature films, one-shots, and TV shows, fans have now been treated to its first Special Presentation, with The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Marvel’s second go at the format, just a few weeks away. And one thing is certain: if it ends up being as well received as Werewolf By Night has been, the demand for further projects within the same framework is bound to rise.

James Gunn has stated that his upcoming Holiday Special will be under 40 minutes in length and considering that Werewolf clocks in at around 48 minutes (not counting end-credits) the basic parameters for this kind of project seem to be fairly straightforward. Tv-episode-length with a higher budget, and a more concise and focused script than a feature film. Could this structure become the go-to format for Marvel Studios when it comes to their Disney+ content? As with many debates, the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.

Considering how most Marvel Studios Disney+ shows have been a bit lackluster, there is no doubt that there is still work to be done when adapting the MCU to an episodic format. The Special Presentation type of show does allow Marvel to keep its feature film formula—a formula that works more often than not—a bit more intact, but while that may serve particular stories, there is still much that can be gained by giving certain characters and storylines additional room to breathe by going the 6+ episode route. If anything, Special Presentations allow Marvel to have a sort of middle-ground between a feature film and a TV show, so that when the story does ask for a shorter runtime but still not garnering sufficient relevance for the big screen there is still a way to make it work. It wouldn’t be hard to picture a series like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier being developed as a one-hour tv special, telling the story of how both Sam and Bucky went from Endgame to Captain America: New World Order and Thunderbolts, respectively. The same case could be made for Hawkeye that, as FatWS, would take advantage of previously established characters to streamline the narrative, swiftly leading into the next project. WandaVision would perhaps be the exception since it took the episodic format to heart and made it intrinsic to its essence. As for all Marvel Studios series introducing titular heroes, along with their own set of side characters, from Moon Knight to Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk, the longer runtime provided by several episodes seems completely warranted. Taking time to properly explore their origin, in their own corner of the MCU, without all the noise provided by the evergrowing mob of characters that will eventually engulf them seems fair.

But while the story itself should be the main reason when choosing what format to go with, there are also more specific points working in favor of the new format. For one: talent availability. With the success of the Marvel formula, the franchise is either attracting A-listers to its key roles or turning unknown actors into household names. In either case, unless previously signed contracts so dictate, it will become increasingly hard to get the desired names to be completely available for the time that it takes to shoot the usual 6 to 9 episodes of a regular Marvel Studios series. By having the Special Presentation format available, the studios could keep production schedules shorter, stars happier, and probably even bring about a bit more of that Strange Alchemy that the Russo Brothers valued so much (something that happens when characters who never interacted in previous projects share the screen for the first time) by making everyone’s schedule a bit more team-up prone.

There is also another issue, especially relevant when it comes to streaming services, that the Special Presentation format sort of bypasses, not on its own but due to the sheer volume of premium original Disney+ content. The importance of keeping active subscribers all-year round is a big reason for investing in episodic series to be a good business model. But since Disney+ already has other equally massive franchises that are aiming at pumping out content frequently, there is no reason for Disney, when looking at the bigger picture, to not be ok with a few Marvel shows becoming glorified one-shots and not having to drive online discourse for several weeks since there are other shows that will keep subscribers busy for that same period.

What is perhaps a bit more dubious, but that could actually be a reality, is what the shorter runtime (when compared to a TV series) might do in terms of rewatchability and how that relates to the ease with which Marvel properties have been able to enter the cultural zeitgeist since 2008. For years Marvel Studios made…movies. Fans had to wait months in-between projects and what did they do when a new one was about to premiere? They rewatched the previous ones. And with that, everything about the movies permeated the discourse, from the biggest set pieces to the smallest of dialogue lines. It feels difficult for the same thing to happen when instead of 120 minutes that can be easily experienced over, and over again, fans have to sit through double that same amount of time, especially when there is always something new coming right up. By trimming the actual minutes of content being released, Marvel might be doing themselves a favor since instead of trending due to having constantly something new out, they might give fans the pause to reconnect with the material in a way that’s way more sustainable in the long run, thus imbuing Marvel Studios projects with what made them relevant to begin with.

As for what the future holds for the Special Presentation format, only time can tell. But things are seemingly on the right track for it to become an MCU staple on Disney+.

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