Some of the top shows on television right now involve a superhero of some sort. But the success and quality of Netflix series Daredevil and Jessica Jones begs a question: Would shows like Arrow or Agents of Shield fare better online? And what about critically disappointmenting films like Avengers: Age of Ultron…Are there more properties that would work better as shows instead of movies?
By Kenneth Shipp
I don’t think many of us had high hopes for the new Daredevil series when it was first announced. We already had the bad taste of the red leather Ben Affleck version. While Agents of Shield hadn’t exactly wowed us until the mid-season Hydra shakeup, it wasn’t exactly terrible or good either. I’ve since come around to liking Arrow, it was still a superhero show on the CW. If you have to wonder why I was apprehensive…..
….so yeah, my prospects for getting an amazing superhero show on television looked pretty grim..
When Daredevil finally released April 10th of this year, however, I was blown away. The tone was right, there was only episode I thought was questionable, the rest of them kept the narrative very tight. Stellar performances were peppered throughout and especially from Vincent D’Onofrio, who captured and arguably redefined the role of Kingpin. And how about we go back and talk about tone some more? There’s a grittiness to the show that would not have worked on normal television. Some of the actions that were depicted on screen, especially some of the brutal hands-on murders by Kingpin would have been a no-go on the networks. I’m only 5 episodes into Jessica Jones, but I’m having the same thoughts with the subject matter and what they are showing.
“There’s no way they could do this on the CW.”
I have my doubts that I would even enjoy whatever that watered down version would look like. That’s not to say I want harder content in all of my comic book shows. If a darker tone was all I wanted to advocate for, why not put them all on HBO? I mean that would have been the logical choice to really get some graphic material through to an audience. Even though working with HBO allows greater creative control compared to the networks. I doubt very much that they don’t influence or require certain themes or concepts to be pressed in their shows. I can’t say there’s a studio exec whispering in each director’s ear “more sex”, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to find that this video was right on the mark…
Creative freedom is what I’m advocating for here. I want a director to be free to develop the correct tone, stories, direction, and feel for the universe they have been given. Without worrying about the ratings, appeasing marketers, and/or a whole host of issues that get mandated by the major networks. The other reason that makes the move to streaming studios tempting as well is the stories can be much better. Let’s use the Avenger movie I referenced above, Age Of Ultron, as an example. There were a bunch of threads that left audiences feeling a bit underwhelmed or just plain confused. A major one, like the romance between Bruce Banner and Black Widow has been harped on as being a forced add-on. I could argue there was a setup for it back in the first Avengers movie, but that’s the problem exactly. With this many characters, it will always be hard to give each of them the right amount of screen time. The romantic interests of Widow and Banner slap us in the face because while the chemistry might have been there…we just didn’t care enough when there were so many things around it being underdeveloped. It was like your aunt Bethany yelling about the the yams not being cooked enough when the turkey hasn’t even made it in the oven.
Or in the Griswold’s case…way too long
Let’s imagine however a different scenario where we are in season 2 of an Avengers television series, and Widow and Banner have been debating back and forth all season about pursuing a romantic relationship. With a relationship explored further and deeper, Banner leaving at the end of the season (mirroring the end of ultron), would have had a greater effect than what we received in the film. If you continue to make Avengers movies, they would be focusing solely on the lead up and battle with a major villain or force instead of trying to do that and explain what has been happening to 8 different characters since their last mashup in 2012.
It would help us avoid using films as setups for other films like Ultron, Iron Man 2 and Captain America: First Avenger are definitely guilty of. When we get further into the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the next decade, we will definitely come back to rate these films as pretty weak. Especially when you compare them to stellar entries like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man or even Ant-Man. If they continue to grow these TV series, it will knock the weaker films or even middle of the road ones down a full letter grade.
And did we forget the other characters? You know, the ones that are never going to get their own movies? An overarching Avengers series (Or New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Defenders, etc.) is the best place to put them and help us see some of the stories that will never make it to the big screen. Seeing Daredevil and Jessica Jones do so well should be a sign to Marvel and hopefully DC too that the characters they would be nervous or downright refuse to do a movie for could find new life in a tv series or appear in an arc. I have been super stoked about Luke Cage in his Jessica Jones scenes and that has made me look forward to his solo series even more. He’s a character I wouldn’t be thrilled to see a movie about or Iron Fist for that matter. But in a series, I see a bunch of potential or even a team up movie would be interesting indeed. Not to mention the mountain of B-list characters we are never going to see on the big screen that could get some time in
Now, to be frank, there’s still issues I haven’t dealt with even with my dream scenario. Kevin Feige apparently runs the MCU rather aggressively which has run off director Edgar Wright from Ant-Man (although I could still see his influence on the screenplay), rubbed Joss Whedon the wrong way during the last Avengers film, and is sure to cause friction down the line. If he continues to prioritize MCU big picture and connections to Infinity War, we will keep getting some rather mediocre films added to the slate. In the same way, my problems with Arrow, Flash, Gotham, and Shield all center around the writers of those shows. They have done really well with some of their arcs, and fallen flat with other ones. Shifting formats or studios isn’t an instant fix for that, the creative teams have to work those things out themselves. But when they are solid, which has been more often than not, it’s going to continue to shrink the divide between film and tv.
You’re going to have a hard time justifying a $10 or more movie ticket to the next Avengers movie when I could stay at home and binge watch Jessica Jones. That’s point though isn’t it? Of course television would be a better format, but studios can’t make ridiculous sums of money from Netflix. That’s why we’ll continue to get this…
And unfortunately, some more of this:
Gotham really irks me with the way the show has been crafted and deserves a post all on it’s own. Any gripe I have towards Arrow or Flash really have to deal with how they’ve handled certain characters or arcs, and not with the entire show itself. Not so with Gotham; I really despise it and not because Batman isn’t featured or the focus. I actually thought a separate story following Jim Gordon on his own could be cool. However what we’ve received has been a hodge podge of various elements and too many villains casting their lots into the pile. This may be stabilizing out in the new season, but it remains to be seen.