With the final nail hit on Marvel Studios line-up of Netflix shows following the cancellation of Jessica Jones and The Punisher, would you consider the partnership between Marvel and Netflix a success?
The initial deal struck saw a wide range of heroes from the Marvel library coming to life on the small screen. Starting with Daredevil, the mixed reaction of the 2003 film with Ben Affleck left those wondering what Marvel planned to do with the franchise after Fox relinquished the rights back. Marvel's answer was produce a more adult-oriented action show filled with the grit of the comics.
The show was a resounding success, with star Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock/Daredevil) displaying his humanity and humility on the show – something Affleck never pulled off in the film. The build-up between seasons mixed themes and built compelling stories for all the major characters involved. Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) didn't feel like "background characters": each had their own enclosed arcs as all paths converged. Cox, Henson, Woll, and Vincent D'Onofrio all deserve equal credit for making those characters fleshed out, intense and genuine. With so much going for it, the news of its cancellation was a massive blow to fans.
While I can say Daredevil was the most complete show of all six, it didn't make it less disappointing about the other shows' cancellations. The third season of Jessica Jones hasn't aired, but the streaming service announced its cancellation along with The Punisher shortly after releasing the latter's second season. Many didn't expect all the shows to leave, even after the first round of cancellations: Iron Fist and Luke Cage, and the forgotten (some would say understandably), The Defenders. All the shows built up to the next season and showrunners had future plans for their heroes.
As fans, we were treated to quality, earnest adaptations – which makes the most likely reason for their cancellation even more frustrating: two behemoths (Disney and Netflix) battling over mounting costs, lack of licensing rights… and Disney's (who owns Marvel Studios) soon-to-launch streaming service Disney+ as well as Hulu. Along with two extra years built into the contract for Netflix's exclusive ownership rights, everybody involved in production has already moved on. All this momentum cut down, because of formalities. Quite different from how most shows see their end: either not high enough ratings or the producers decide the show's creative run has come to an end.
When two years pass and Marvel's parent company Disney decides to move the programming elsewhere, will they start from the ground up by recasting everyone's roles when production shifts to their streaming services? Would it even be possible to get everyone back together to film new seasons after all that time?
While I can accept the fact franchises have limited shelf life and creators end up ending their own vision on their own terms (see Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy), in this case it feels like there's so much more to tell and that the best people to tell them were the ones involved telling these very stories. And again, it's more than just a "feeling": creative from each of the shows has gone on record discussing long-term storyline programming.
It's frustrating trying to follow Marvel on TV. At least you don't have to second guess what DC tries to do. For the longest time, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't feel like it mattered enough in the grand scheme of things. Despite the show's acknowledgement of its Marvel Cinematic Universe counterparts, the films never reciprocate the attention back to TV since none of the other characters on the show – outside of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) – ever appeared on film. In many ways, it was as if we were supposed to feel "lucky" Cobe Smulders and Samuel L. Jackson bothered to even guest-appear.
I can appreciate that series like Runaways, Cloak and Dagger, and even the short-lived Inhumans were all built from a programming approach that had each one be self-contained by design.
Putting aside the subject of which specific service the shows end up and the option of retaining the original cast, what else can they do going forward? Once the rights revert back to Disney's hands, will there be the incentive to give each hero their own series again? Many fans have assumed it would just end up being "business as usual" but there are no guarantees. It's all confusing and frustrating, given how what's transpired goes against the "norms" of the television industry.
Collectively, the Marvel Studios shows on Netflix were a success that showed an international audiences that television can be a viable medium for "dark, serious" superhero fare. At the same time, the lack of foresight, greed, lack of empathy from two major media giants towards the fanbase doomed an immediate future for the shows – makes the final result a colossal failure.
Maybe not for Netflix and Marvel – but definitely for the viewers.