Disney+ and the New Era of the MCU

In 2009, Disney and Marvel released the movie Iron Man which began a crazy journey. I remember being a part of the early years. I was excited about 3 movies that were going to come out over the next three years. Each movie had the anticipation build until it finally culminated into 2012’s The Avengers. As the MCU picked up steam, 1 release a year ballooned into 3. I would kick off my summer watching an MCU movie, get a mid summer hit of another and then finish out the year in November with another. I thought it wouldn’t get any better, until it did.

With Disney+ and its success, it was only a matter of time before Marvel was going to be involved in projects. The goal of any streaming service is to obtain and retain subscribers so Disney needed their most popular studios to create content. This added another layer to the MCU. No longer were they confined to the theater but now also had reign of a streaming service to create mini series based around other characters. This has now led to an unprecedented amount of MCU content in the last year. Since the beginning of 2021, we have had 4 series and 4 movies. With the weekly release of the Disney+ shows, we are getting new MCU content almost every week. The question that I have is how does this new era affect the storytelling of the MCU? Up until Moon Knight, every character that has been on the Disney+ platform is known. If you have been keeping up with the MCU you know where Wanda and Vision are in the story. Falcon and Winter Soldier deals with the fallout of the absence of Captain America. Loki is one of the most popular characters in the MCU. It isn’t hard to see where these characters fit into the greater story line since we already know how they fit into the greater story line. Moon Knight is a special case.

Moon Knight is the first series centering around a new character. A good part of the series is simply introducing who the character is and in true MCU form it is simply about the hero. The MCU prides itself in developing the alter ego of the characters. This is why Iron Man’s death is so emotional, Captain America’s arc pays off, and Loki is a fan favorite for his toeing of the good vs. bad line. The characters are more than hero and villain. In the first couple of episodes we flesh out who Steven Grant and Marc Spector are which we need. Unlike the previous series, we don’t have a foundation to stand on. This series must build that foundation. What this means is that most of the time is spent developing the character and his relationships rather than connecting it into the greater MCU timeline. There is no reference to a great MCU timeline in this show. A person could simply watch this with no knowledge of the MCU and not need a 3 hour lecture with 70 charts to catch up on where the characters are physically and emotionally. This is not the only series that will have this issue. Ms. Marvel comes very soon after Moon Knight and She Hulk is also on the horizon. 2 new characters that will need some development. While this is not a bad thing, it does make me question how they will fit in the timeline? Will they eventually make the jump to the big screen? Or is the MCU building an alternative universe on the streaming platform of Disney+?

It isn’t unprecedented to believe that this could be an alternative storyline in the MCU. When Netflix came out with the run of Marvel shows based around The Defenders, there were subtle references to the greater MCU timeline but ultimately these were their own self contained stories that then connected deeply with each other rather than back to the greater MCU story. And it worked…really well. Daredevil was a critically acclaimed success and the first season of Jessica Jones was just as good. Luke Cage and Iron Fist had their issues as did The Defenders series but ultimately, this felt like a great arm of the MCU. It followed the story telling elements that many of the comics take on. Each character has their own issues and villains to defeat and then every so often a big event, like Civil War or Secret Wars, brings them together. Take Daredevil for example. He is a product of Hell’s Kitchen and is adamantly defending it against a corrupt group of business people led by Kingpin. Kingpin’s goal is not world domination. He just wants to control this section of New York and make a ton of money while doing it. It would not make sense for Iron Man or Captain America to come and deal with this problem. They are dealing with aliens coming through portals or robots trying to wipe out all of civilization. They don’t have time for this.

If the MCU decides to go this route, the heroes of Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk and whoever else they decide to make a series about could never see the big screen. They could simply keep them in the Disney+ lane and have them deal with seemingly lesser threats while the heroes of the big screen deal with larger schemes on humanity. I don’t think this would necessarily be a bad thing. Honestly, it was refreshing to watch a series that wasn’t crammed full of references and connections to the greater MCU. There wasn’t a forcing tease of how Moon Knight was going to appear in later movies. At this point, we have no clue whether we will see Moon Knight ever again (though I highly doubt that). 

The other way that they could go about this would be to introduce these heroes, or villains for that matter, in the Disney+ shows and then transfer them to the big screen. Let’s say the next MCU you go see, Moon Knight shows up. Instead of having to use up valuable screen time fleshing out who Moon Knight is, what the different personalities are, and other expositional storytelling, he can jump right and start moving the plot forward. I think this poses a greater challenge in a couple of way. First, it degrades the Disney+ shows. If these shows do nothing except give exposition on characters before they make it to the big screen, I think it makes Disney+ seem like the triple AAA baseball team before the hero gets called up to the major leagues. Second, it assumes that everyone has watched the series and knows the hero. Diehard MCU fans are watching all of these series. Casual ones, maybe not. My wife, I would say, is a casual fan of the MCU and there is no way I am going to get her to commit to watching hours and hours of content in order to understand what’s going on in this one movie. You run the risk of confusing your casual fans which, make no mistake, are an important part of the MCU ecosystem. While there are some challenges here, I do think that Marvel Studios has shown they take great care in storytelling and could clear these hurdles. 

Ultimately, I am in a sit back and enjoy the ride mode. This feels very much like the beginning of the MCU years. New characters. Fun cameos. Grassroots plot points that you are not sure how they will fit together quite yet. In the back half of the Infinity Saga, we knew what was coming. The Infinity Stones were being collected and a showdown with Thanos was imminent. Now, we are back to the days where we really do not know where the MCU is going. Yes we have some theories based on what we currently know but we really have no idea. Think about how many characters they had to fit into Endgame and they did it flawlessly in my opinion. They have upped the game and are now trying to figure out how to bring even more characters into films and shows. Regardless of how they show up and fit together, I am excited to see the finished product.