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8 Problems Netflix’s Marvel Universe Needs To Fix

Way back on 10 April 2015, Netflix completely changed perceptions of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe could be.

Not only did Daredevil restore respectability to its title character after the disaster of the 2003 Ben Affleck movie, but it showcased a completely different side to the MCU: one with a much darker, more adult tone, where there was violence and gore galore, visceral action, and stakes that while lower also felt much more real.

The series launched its own entire corner of the MCU, with Jessica Jones following a few months later and taking its success in dealing with a complicated protagonist and complex themes even further. With a gradual build to team-up The Defenders, it looked like it was ready to replicate the success of the big screen universe.

Since then, though, problems have increasingly started to creep in. Daredevil Season 2 and Luke Cage both displayed cracks, which became caverns in Iron Fist and The Defenders. The Punisher, along with Seasons 2 of Jessica Jones and now Cage, haven’t quite plumbed those depths, but they’ve not done too much to halt the decline either, with a number of familiar issues that just keep cropping up.

8. Sluggish Pacing

Netflix

All of the Netflix Marvel shows tend to adopt the slow-burn approach, very gradually moving its characters into place before (in theory) ramping things up towards the end. It’s an approach that worked well for Jessica Jones and Daredevil, but has shown diminishing returns since.

Too often there are scenes of dialogue that just drag out, or whole chunks of seasons where characters find themselves stuck in place, with the show having to spin its wheels until it can get to the end game.

It doesn’t help that all of the episodes tend to run close to an hour, whereas many of the best prestige 13-episode dramas tend to keep them around the 45-minute mark (see: Breaking Bad, The Americans etc). It’s one thing to take your time and allow scenes to breathe, and of course it can’t all be action, but the episodes could still do with being condensed down and some better editing to move quicker from scene to scene.

7. The Villain Quality Has Dipped

Netflix

Back in 2015, the MCU was still known for having a villain problem. Although it’s a problem the movies have now largely fixed, it was on TV where we really saw the issue being addressed first (and better).

Daredevil brought Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk, while Jessica Jones gave us David Tennant’s Kilgrave. Although they had different abilities, both were seemingly unstoppable forces of nature, played with real menace, and yet also nuanced and, if not exactly sympathetic, then at least understandable.

Cottonmouth brought more of the same in the first half of Luke Cage (helped by the endless charisma of Mahershala Ali), but Diamondback felt like someone out of a completely different show.

Daredevil Season 2, Iron Fist, and The Defenders, meanwhile, all became mired in the Hand who, despite being death cult ninjas, managed to be excruciatingly dull.

These shows can and indeed should be more than just their villains, but it’s also no surprise that the best efforts had antagonists who were not only captivating, but had a real purpose that was deeply connected to the hero.

6. A Loss Of Momentum

Netflix

Although the original plan for this universe was to do one of each show before The Defenders, those plans were somewhat upended by the success of Daredevil. Netflix changed the schedule, prioritising a second season for the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, before then continuing on as normal.

That approach, though, has meant huge gaps between seasons of the other shows. It took two-and-a-half years for Jessica Jones Season 2, almost two years of Luke Cage’s second season, and it’ll have been another 30-month gap by the time Daredevil Season 3 arrives.

Obviously, the difficulty is balancing the number of shows they now have – and maybe that itself is a bit of a problem – but it does mean that momentum stalls drastically between seasons. A big development might happen at the end of one run, and fans will be clamouring to see what happens next, but it’s difficult to sustain that if it’s going to be two-and-a-half years before it’s followed-up on and you’ve had another six seasons of other shows in between. It works for movies, where audiences have long been used to gaps of 2-3 years between sequels, but even with a shifting TV landscape the gaps are running too long to sustain the development.

5. The Weak Action (Outside Of Daredevil)

Netflix

Daredevil has some of the finest action sequences seen on a screen of any size. Electrifying, intense, visceral, and bloody, they bring a hell of a lot of excitement to the show and are incredible to watch.

The other shows, not so much.

Jessica Jones, admittedly, isn’t as action-focused as the rest of the series, but still doesn’t offer too much in this regard. Luke Cage’s style is all based around efficiency, which makes sense for the character but results in fight sequences that are slow and clunky, and the choreography in Iron Fist was terrible. The Defenders tried to bring all of these together, but it was notable that only Daredevil managed to stand out at all, and it was surprisingly light on the action too.

The Punisher fared better than most, especially in its lost couple of episodes where things got truly brutal, but the standard across the board needs to be a lot higher if these shows are going to continue having so many action set-pieces.

4. How Dark It Is (Visually, Not Tonally)

Netflix

One of the great things about the Netflix Marvel shows is the darkness that surrounds each show; they aren’t afraid to get really serious and depict some horrific actions or discuss awful yet important themes.

The other kind of darkness, though, is a problem: too often, it’s just hard to see what the hell is going on. This was at its absolute worst in The Defenders, when things that are supposed to be a reveal – like the dragon – are instead confusing because you can hardly make out what it’s an image of.

It’s something all of the series have struggled with though, and points to them taking the darkness a bit too literally. Shows can be tonally dark and still let you clearly see what’s happening.

3. The Defenders Failed, And Now It Struggles To Connect The Universe

Netflix

While each solo series had its own narrative, the wider purpose was to build an interconnected universe, where the first phase, so to speak, would culminate with The Defenders, allowing the TV shows to operate much like the movie universe.

The only problem is that The Defenders was largely a bust, and has perhaps done more harm than good for these shows (not only because there’s been a noticeable drop-off in hype since).

Because they’re in the same universe, these shows do still need to overlap, which is why you have things like Foggy turning up for cameos in Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, or Karen Page appearing in The Punisher. However, contradicting that is the fact that the majority of these heroes work best alone; Jessica Jones doesn’t want to be part of a team, so you don’t pair her up with Daredevil, and yet they’re both running around Hell’s Kitchen at the same time.

There’s a strange feeling of disconnect to the universe, whereby they’re neither all in or not nor completely separate, and that’s before you get into the fact that the big screen MCU doesn’t acknowledge it and this universe hardly ever feels connected.

2. Too Many Episodes

Netflix

One of the biggest hurdles the Marvel Netflix shows face is that they’re all (with the exception of The Defenders) 13 episodes long. It’s easy to see why this was the case, as it fit with the Netflix model proven by the likes of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black (which in turn borrowed from prestige dramas like The Wire, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad).

As they go on, though, it’s increasingly difficult to see the justification behind having every season be 13 episodes long, because it’s clear from The Punisher and Season 2 of both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage that they’d benefit from being mini-series. It wouldn’t solve everything, but if you condensed the Punisher’s final third into one season of television you’d have something truly electrifying, rather than drawn out.

It’d cut out a lot of the superfluous scenes and make everything tighter, without the need to stretch stories out way beyond what they’ve actually got, which would prevent them from being as boring as they often become.

1. A Lack Of Stories To Tell

Netflix

One of the things that makes the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones stand out is that they both had stories that felt like they needed telling. The stories moved forwards with real purpose, driven by both the inner turmoil of the heroes and the personal, devastating threats they were up against.

Too often, though, subsequent shows and seasons have felt less like stories that needed telling, and more that they happened because of a corporate mandate. The plots are stretched thin, if they’re even there at all (trying to describe the story of, say, Jessica Jones Season 2 isn’t an easy task). The best seasons have generally felt self-contained, as though they could’ve been one-and-done, and it’s since proven difficult to top them.

 

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