Marvel’s TV shows have been released on set aside for superhero success stories. It didn’t have to be this way – Falcon and Winter Soldier was scheduled to launch just three months after Black Widow, in August 2020. WandaVision was scheduled to follow Marvel’s Eternals and launch on Disney Plus in December 2020.
Apparently, the pandemic meant that things didn’t go that way. And while this year hasn’t been as much entertainment as 2020 (people like Godzilla Vs Kong and Mortal Kombat have proven to be a nice distraction), Marvel’s TV shows have been basically the only game in town when it comes to pop culture. We’ve talked about them every week because, with the exception of the Oscar season, entertainment isn’t happening right now. And superficially these performances look and sound as a success story, simply because Disney Plus has spent so much money on them.
But are they good? They’re definitely entertaining, and after waiting so long to see them (and therefore see Disney Plus reach its full potential after a relatively slow opening year), it’s satisfying to get new pieces of MCU to wait every week.
If you ask me, WandaVision was better than Falcon and Winter Soldier for a few reasons. Mainly this is because it felt more like a television show built specifically around an episodic structure – which, as a viewer, made it look every week to feel satisfying. It helped that the show spread to the era of different sitcoms most of the time; it gave the exhibition a natural TV-type frame that worked well intermittently.
In contrast, Falcon and the Winter Soldier felt it could easily have been a long film. I don’t necessarily mean that as a compliment. There are probably as many great MCU character moments in the show as WandaVision as a whole, and my appreciation for the two conductors didn’t blur throughout that time.
But it was a more confusing show. Confused drawing, character overload, and a completely failed Power Broker mystery made it difficult to enjoy. Some of the creative decisions didn’t work either – I’m still not past the show when Sam Wilson, the famous Avenger who helped stop Thanos, went incredibly secretly to Madripoor. The series dealt specifically with abusers, flag-breakers, a group of young revolutionaries who were a little too happy to blow up innocent people when it suited them. And one of the most interesting elements in the series – the new, off-brand Captain America, John Walker, played by Wyatt Russell, didn’t get enough display time and development.
Falcon and Winter Soldier felt like it could have been a skinny movie about Sami thinking about the idea of being Captain America, and Bucky was trying to make credits on the side. Instead, it ended up being a slightly overloaded TV show.
The series wanted to go big on the fact that it was a global adventure – but this made the really fast location changes a little inconsistent. We saw John Walker kill one of the flag breakers in daylight in an Eastern European city, and then fought alongside Sam and Bucky in one of the many inventory-based episodes in the show at the beginning of the next episode. The changing knowledge of the place was a little confusing.
Marvel continues to figure out what its TV shows look like
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier just didn’t hang me completely. It felt like its “TV show” part had more characters and plot than what you can see in the Marvel movie. But it’s not bad when you first try to tell a more ordinary MCU-style story on a small screen – and I really didn’t find it cumbersome to watch; I eat every episode every Friday.
It feels like we’re approaching seeing the full potential of Marvel on a small screen where we really saw clues from Netflix programs just a few years ago.
In the future, it looks like Marvel will deal with several different types of stories for TV. The log seems to be a higher concept, as the wrapper of the WandaVision performance is that the god of evil is helping TVA fix the different schedules it is mixing. The show is expected to see Loki collide with real historical events, and the first trailer teases that Loki is actually a mysterious airplane jacker and robber DB Cooper. With different realities, Loki is probably very different from his predecessor.
In the meantime, what we have learned from them so far, Ms. Marvel and Hawkeye sound a little more than the usual MCU-type stories – the origin story of teenage superheroes in the former case and the hero who cares about the mantle in the latter. It said there is some (knowledge-based) speculation Hawkeye examines Clint with hearing loss, which may lead to what we haven’t seen before in Marvel’s show stories. Meanwhile, the now-describing She-Hulk sounds like an all-encompassing legal superhero comedy, which has a lot of potential for deep-cut MCU cameras.
Marvel then uses the TV form to handle more diverse stories. And it should – ideally, these programs should tell stories that don’t necessarily make sense as a film, or at least use the extra time allotted to them deeper into the characters.
This is something that WandaVision did particularly well, adding emotional dimensions to the two nominal leads. It’s not something the Falcon and the Winter Soldier did enough as its two heroes fought for the time of the show against John Walker, Baron Zemon, and the crush of the Flags. It says episode 5 was perhaps the strongest in the series because it just gave the audience time to enjoy Sam and Bucky hanging out as they moored the boat together.
If we’ve learned anything from the Avengers: Age of Ultron celebration series, it’s certainly that watching Marvel heroes in itself is pretty entertaining.
Worth the hype?
The Mandalorians set so high standards for Star Wars on a small screen that suddenly it felt like television was the right place all the stories in that imaginary universe should be told. The Marvel series haven’t had this effect yet, although the apparent greatness of WandaVision is an unusual MCU story of grief, and The Falcon and Winter Soldier have entertained enough to keep us watching every week.
But it has more to do with how consistent the MCU has remained on the big screen, while the quality of Star Wars movies has fluctuated dramatically in recent years. However, WandaVision did more to showcase what the TV show can do for the MCU than The Falcon and Winter Soldier – a more experimental approach to the performances would be very welcome. If it feels like a film cut into only six parts, it may not feel like the best use of the form.
MCU performances are a good substitute, even though we don’t have Marvel movies on the big screen – but we’re looking forward to a time when we can enjoy both in parallel.