2021 added a new dimension to the MCU with it’s Disney+ shows that began with Wandavision which started almost a year to the day (15th Jan 21). Since then we have also had The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, What If and finally rounding off the year with Hawkeye. In a year when films were getting delayed, cinemas were closed and people were still cautiously emerging from their home offices, it provided a way for the MCU to keep rolling forward and catching us up with the whereabouts of our heroes post Endgame as well as many opportunities to understand a Post-Blip world. It is also timely that I write this now as almost a year ago I wrote about the future of the MCU and how it was looking to be brave and promising considering the films we could expect and the series that would fill the gap, as well as some very in-depth subsequent reviews of Wandavision.
I have a plan to write a wider Phase 4 discussion and what challenges the MCU faces over the coming years but I wanted to take this week to look back at the first five series of the MCU and review them and the structure as a whole. I won’t go into too much detail for each one but will discuss key plot points and characters so consider that there may be spoilers ahead for these shows. I want to talk about these shows over 4 sections:
- How important are these shows to understanding the MCU?
- How good are they really?
- What issues are there with the shows and the format?
- What’s next for the MCU Disney+ shows?
Buckle up ladies and gents – it’s a long one!
The Scores on the Doors
If I had to score them, this is what they would get from me. As you can see the Disney+ Shows form a bit of a sandwich; two amazing pieces of bread house the great Loki filling but the rest of the stuffing is what lets the overall sandwich down.
I’m conscious that there is very little context to these numbers and in reality you have only really heard my thoughts on Wandavision as I was silent on the blogs across the rest so I will try and work my thoughts into the discussion as a whole and maybe, time permitting, do a quick summary blog post to catch it all up.
Wandavision – 9/10
The Falcon and Winter Solider – 7/10
Loki – 8/10
What If… – 7/10
Hawkeye – 9/10
How Important Are These Series?
I am going to start first with how important these series are on the MCU stage rather than how good they actually are. The reason I am doing this is in case you want to simply catch up with what’s happening in the Marvel continuity quickly so you know where to go and what to watch.
Something that I will discuss further in the ‘Fantastic Fase Four’ post in February is that I reckon the MCU is going to be split into tiered stories;
- Ground Level/NYC Focused stories – Kingpin-centric
- Country & Earth level stories – Stories including Wakanda, Dr Doom & Latveria etc
- Cosmic level stories – These are the Thanos level events, potentially involving the Celestials and Galactus
- Multi-Verseral stories – Stories from across the various universes colliding
- Concept level stories – this could well be where Kang plays but it also ties into the Multiverse section.
I wanted to outline these because each of these Disney+ series have a different influence on each of the tiers. Loki, for example, sees the literal birth of the Multiverse in the finale and sets up Kang so I would argue that this is going to be an ever increasingly important series. And the events of Spider-Man No Way Home, in theory, couldn’t have happened without Loki & Sylvie releasing the Prime Timeline and allowing the branch realities to exist meaning it has an impact on the films. Time is a complicated one to talk about but because the TVA (Time Variance Authority) exists outside of Time; the events of Loki happen both at the start of the universe and alongside every other event that has happened since then so its hard to place. If that seems confusing and a lot, its because it is, but its also why I think that Loki is necessary viewing to understand Phase 4 and beyond. So it sets up the Multiverse and it also introduces us to the next potential Avengers villain, Kang. Kang can fill this ‘concept level story’ as the Avengers potentially protect time from Kang the Conqueror or he could also fit into the Multiverse stories or even the Cosmic level stories. Kang variants exist across the Multiverse so we could see these as cameos in various films and we could also see Kang trying to consolidate (and potentially successfully if the end of Loki is anything to go by) power over the timeline. It also sets up the possibility of the next Multiversal War which seems suspiciously like the Secret War series… TLDR – Loki is a must watch.
Now that the Multiverse has been ‘created’ there are two stories that exist within or draw from the Multiverse. What If… is much more on the nose about it and introduces us to various variants of heroes we know and how situations could have changed depending on slight changes in different universes. This gives us a better idea of who the Watcher is but also introduces us to the Guardians of the Multiverse which includes a very important version of Dr Strange. I would say that if you don’t want to watch the animated series, to at least get an understanding of what’s to come you should watch Episode 4, 8 & 9. Asides from introducing us to the concept of traversing the Multiverse and the idea of conquering it, you also meet Strange Supreme, the Dr Strange variant who didn’t lose the use of his hands but is instead was driven to great lengths to try and bring back Christine Palmer who died in the crash instead. This warped version ended up destroying his universe to try and change a fixed point in time (again, something that could be important to the laws of the MCU) and ends up overseeing the imprisoned Killmonger & Ultron at the end of What If… The reason he gets so much focus is because it appears that this variant (or one of the many infinite similar variants of Strange) will be making his appearance in Dr Strange: Multiverse of Madness. And on the topic of Multiverse of Madness, guess who else is in it? That’s right, its Wanda. Wanda and Wandavision kicked off the Disney+ Series last year and wasn’t initially tied so much to the Multiverse. The series introduces us to S.W.O.R.D as well as the new Vision who is likely to pop up again in various films, but it’s the end that ties the series all together. She is introduced to us as a Nexus Being which in the comic lore is someone with the power to influence the future so you can see why she could be integral in combating someone like, say, Kang. On top of this, she is seen in possession of the Darkhold, a very powerful magical book and at the end she seems to be seeking her sons in what we assume is the Multiverse. Fast forward to May 2022 and we are going to see her pop up again in Multiverse of Madness where her intentions are largely unknown currently but she will no doubt play a pivotal role. Unlike What If though, I would recommend watching the whole series as its a great watch from start to finish and serves to develop her character in a great way post Endgame. This is all without mentioning the fact that Wandavision sets up magic further in the MCU, leads us into the Agatha Harkness series that is to come and finally developing Monica Rambeau, who was first seen in Captain Marvel and gets powers and who is likely going to appear in Captain Marvel 2. If you want to see how this all ties in, you can see the Strange Supreme and Wanda in the Multiverse of Madness trailer below.
Okay so, Loki opened up the Multiverse, What If… explored it and Wandavision gave us a motivation to dive into it. The next two step away from the grander cosmic scale and to a more ground level story – Hawkeye and the Falcon and the Winter Solider look to set up what’s happening with mere humans post Endgame and delve into some of the politics on Earth post blip. TFATWS (I am going to abbreviate) tackles Steve Roger’s legacy and the idea of who is going to take up the Shield now that Cap has gone. As we are talking story and the impact on the MCU, I won’t delve into the societal issues here that it tackles, but it does throw up some interesting views on the perception of who Captain America should be and the attitude that the American people have toward him. In this series we see Sam Wilson fight to understand and earn what it means to be Captain America in contrast to John Walker, the insecure solider who is given the shield without earning it. It also brings the Super Solider Serum back into the mix where see various recipients of it, including Walker, and how it effects the user and how it is still a commodity that the world desires. You could probably get away with not watching this as its a story about Sam, Bucky and legacy rather than a larger conflict but I would recommend watching it more for the issues it tackles rather than the MCU implications. Despite the story being largely self contained there are several MCU implications coming out of it. Firstly, it introduces us to Madripoor, a famous haunt for mutants paving the way for their inclusion in the MCU as well as Sharon Carters new dynamic as the Power Broker. Secondly, Sam Wilson is the new Captain America so expect to see him leading the Avengers in whatever form they take in the future. And thirdly, we get the introduction of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (she was meant to be introduced in Black Widow but due to delays TFATWS landed first) recruiting Walker, now US Agent for an unknown benefactor. She is super shady and seems to be interested in building a team that rivals the archetypes of the Avengers (a super soldier, a spy etc). We also see this character recruit the new Black Widow, Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh at the end of Black Widow to kill Natasha’s best friend and the person ‘responsible for her death’ which brings us nicely to… Hawkeye
As a way to round up the year, Hawkeye gives us a new hero in the form of Kate Bishop who is likely going to be in the Young Avengers further down the line, probably joined by Tom and William Maximoff (introduced in Wandavision) and hopefully even Yelena Belova. The story also brings back the Kingpin who was last seen in the Netflix Daredevil series and although his fate is unclear at the end, I am pretty sure he is set to come back in a big way as he fights to gain control of New York again. When you consider that Daredevil/Matt Murdock makes an appearance in No Way Home, its clear that there are big plans for these characters that Netflix once owned. Tying this back to the tiers above, Hawkeye is playing very much in that ground level story where its NYC focused, fleshing out Ronin and the criminal networks that exist within the city, the city that Kingpin plays in. You can easily imagine that now Spider-Man is in NYC and we have characters like Daredevil on the board again, that the Kingpin can come back as the Thanos villain of NYC while our heroes fight to save the soul of the city. It also suggests that Kingpin is the man trying to pull together his own team who are being recruited by the one and only Allegra de Fontaine. She was the one who approached Yelena about killing Hawkeye, and in this series it is revealed that this hit was done via Kate’s mum and Kingpin. So if Fontaine is hiring Yelena on behalf of Kingpin, its safe to say he is also behind the recruitment of John Walker from TFATW meaning the Kingpin could be creating his own Thunderbolts-esque team. In terms of if its important and what you should watch, I recommend watching the entire series as it serves as a great epilogue to Natasha (previous Black Widow) and puts plenty of new players on the board, including Echo who will also tie into this new status quo in a big way. It also establishes Clint Barton as a hero and mentor in a way that previous films haven’t and sets him up to be very influence Avenger in future films.
Upon reading this it all seems like a lot but this is why I wanted to start with if these series were important first because as you can see, they are all connected to each other and the MCU in various ways; some with stronger ties than others. As the MCU steamrolls forward, these links and ties will probably become even clearer which became apparent with the release of No Way Home last month for example. In summary though, my suggested watch is as follows:
- Loki – Watch the whole series to understand the timelines & multiverse as well as Kang & the TVA.
- What If… – Watch Episodes 4, 8 & 9 to understand the Multiverse and Strange Supreme.
- Wandavision – Watch the whole series as it sets the scene for the Marvels, Young Avengers, Multiverse of Madness and more
- The Falcon and the Winter Solider – Can probably skip to the end of this one watching Episode 4, 5 & 6 or just watching the highlights of it.
- Hawkeye – Watch the whole series to understand the crime network in NYC, meet Kate Bishop & understand the implications of the Kingpin.
How Good Are They?
I will admit, that last section was a lot to take in terms of how it all connects etc and I hope, if you read it all, that it all makes sense. What it does do is show the scale and reach of these shows but that isn’t always a good thing. I have had a lot of people talk about their varying degrees of commitment to these shows and how the MCU is becoming ever more complicated, so I wanted to first start with how you could watch these series quickly or at least catch you up to where we are at the start of 2022. The big question though is, are they actually good? Its fine if they add to the MCU and push the story, lore and universe forward but if it isn’t enjoyable to sit through then ultimately what’s the point?
Wandavision – 9/10
Approaching this at the start, Wandavision is honestly great. It gave us a new style and approach to Marvel content with each episode taking on a creative style to mimic iconic TV shows and their quality and tone at the time. On top of this it also added that dash of mystery and intrigue around the nature of Westview which only became clearer episode by episode. It develops it’s characters well and it has some genuinely touching and poignant moments and despite the finale descending into more of a typical Marvel showdown, it all felt complete. It offers a lot to Wanda and develops a great new supporting cast while also keeping it small, all things considered. There was obviously a lot of theories circulating around as the series was released but, despite a lot of these not panning out, it never really felt like a let down. It was an incredibly strong start for a serialised version of Marvel stories which also meant every week it was back to that excitement and anticipation before release.
The Falcon and the Winter Solider – 7/10
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier had big shoes to fill and unfortunately, for me, it failed to fill them completely. After Wandavision and experiencing something that felt that fresh, Falcon felt like it regressed to the traditional ground-level Marvel story. It was a combination of great fight scenes and stunts but little in the way of what felt like actual genuinely new things. There were stand out moments and one that stays with me is John Walker killing the man in cold blood with the shield, but overall it didn’t grip me like Wandavision did. It touched upon some very important topics though in terms of race and equality, and how there is still racism and inequality across the world, and in this case quite prevalent within America. Luckily these messages didn’t feel forced and felt very natural to Sam’s story and how, at the end it is clear that being Captain America isn’t about your colour or your background but your ability to stand up for what is fundamentally right. In terms of dynamics as well, I enjoyed the friction between Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes as they vied for Steve Roger’s side in Civil War and its great to see this duo work together and clash in this series. It grows them both, especially as Steve’s legacy looms over both of them, making for some interesting and funny interactions. Despite all this, it fell short in terms of quality and overall story telling which was a shame.
Loki – 8/10
Luckily Loki marked a return to one of the more abstract parts of the MCU and tackled the Time Travel aspect head on. It also gave us another chance to see a Loki adapt, change and grow; a transformation we saw over many Thor films, however this time it was alongside a very good Owen Wilson. Despite the story taking a very predictable turn at the end with a Wizard of Oz reveal, it gave us a lot of great moments including the various different Loki’s, a Lady Sif torture loop and a very compelling and interesting female Loki Variant in Sylvie. From a story point of view, it sets the scene for a lot of what is to come (and in a way allows events that have already happened for us to actually happen) while also establishing some laws of the universe. It was a lot slower in terms of combat and focused more of the mystery and conspiracy surrounding the TVA but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was funny and charming, but didn’t shy away from some emotional moments. Also, trust Loki to be the only Marvel character left alive in the MCU that is narcissistic enough to fall in love with himself.
What If – 7/10
What If… was always going to be a risk. I think that as a series it was a bit hit and miss, with some incredible episodes like the Marvel Zombie one and the Dr Strange one to some less interesting ones such as the premier episode around Captain Carter. The art style was off putting to some and its a shame that they didn’t alternate the art style for each universe but I can imagine that could have caused some problems in the final two episodes. I also found that the voice acting wasn’t very consistent – these actors may do a great job with these characters in live action but when dubbing over the animation it didn’t feel like the quality was there. That’s not to say they were all bad, it was touching to hear Chadwick Boseman play the Black Panther one last time for example and that, luckily, was done justice. The story was entertaining and gave us some great characters, notably the Watcher and Infinite Ultron but on the other side it was let down by some of the characters such as Partyboy Thor. The premise is enjoyable but I am hoping that Season 2 deals with some more of the crazy sides of the Multiverse. Into the Spider-verse gave us Spider-Ham and Spider-Noir so I am hoping that the second season throws some variety our way and explores some of the more bonkers worlds that Marvel lore has to offer.
Hawkeye – 9/10
Closing out the year, Hawkeye gives us a great look at one of the MCU’s most under-rated characters. It does a great job of humanising him, both in his grief and loss of his best friend but also in the fact he is simply a man with a bow in a world becoming increasingly more enhanced. The great pairing of Renner and Steinfeld makes the duo of Barton and Bishop enjoyable and believable; one young and naïve but eager and excitable, the other worn out and fed up who’s only wish is to get back to his family for Christmas. That isn’t to say that this is just the Hawkeye show as additions of Echo and Yelena serve to develop both characters in a way that makes them feel vulnerable and powerful simultaneously. Echo’s episode exploring the challenges she faced due to her disability but showing how she overcame them is both insightful and inspiring and something I hope they delve into more in her own series. I was dubious about the LARPing involvement but it offered some funny moments, but a little cliched at the end. Characters aside, the story was interesting and I audibly cheered when Kingpin was revealed in the penultimate episode so, for me, it was a great run all round. I am glad that Hawkeye is getting some sort of recognition for us viewers, even if he’s not by the residents of the MCU Earth but at the end of the day its clear he only really ever wants the respect and recognition of his family.
What Challenges Face Disney+ Shows Next?
Everything I have covered has been probably slightly bias for me as I have enjoyed 2021’s slate of shows but that isn’t to say that these shows don’t come without risks. The fact I could cover so much in terms of their importance to the MCU is a huge problem that faces Disney & Marvel because they need to keep people invested. The MCU is no longer just about two or three films that are released every year but it is now requiring homework by watching these series in your own time as well. To put this into perspective, 2019 saw Captain Marvel, Endgame and Spider-Man Far From Home release and their runtimes combined came out at 434 minutes or 7 and a bit hours. In 2021 if you count up all the content they released it amounts to a massive 2,157 minutes or 36 hours of content. That means the requirement to stay in the loop of what’s going on has gone from a work day a year to a whole day and a half! For a fan like me this is great – keep this content coming thick and fast as long as it maintains the quality it is at, but the expectation on normal audiences who aren’t as invested as me is getting higher. 2022 is shaping up to be a similar amount of time as well, with 5 series and a special confirmed for the year and 3 more MCU films alone, not including any other superhero films like the Spider-Verse films. The time investment and cost required to watch some of the later films is getting higher and higher and I already know people, some who were fans who are losing interest as they don’t have the time to put into the franchise. The challenge facing these series is keeping these people on board by creating stories that are both connected to the wider universe and can be enjoyed standalone and that they don’t become crucial in understanding some of the later big team up films. You can imagine that if Young Avengers comes out in 2025 (random guess by the way) that there may be a requirement to have to have watched 8-10 thousand minutes of content to fully understand what is going on…. that’s quite the ask for someone who isn’t that into it.
On top of the time investment, the challenge is also keeping the stories fresh. By pumping out so much content you run the risk of running out of stories faster. I know people who were already experiencing Superhero fatigue before Avengers Endgame and they view Endgame as the perfect place to close out the franchise. Marvel has different ideas and is doubling down by investing in bringing a whole new, diverse roster to our screens but that comes with multiple risks; one risk being that the stories become stale and repetitive with the same old origin story and another that people who aren’t that invested anymore don’t put the time into unknown characters. The upcoming Moon Knight is a prime example – it has the possibility of being great but no-one really knows who he is. These shows need to keep exploring some of the stranger parts of the MCU like Wandavision and Loki did and steer away from the standard, tried and tested Marvel formula. It’s through bringing these wacky stories and concepts to life that it creates entertaining content (if done correctly) otherwise it could become just any old Marvel show.
I have been speaking about the Marvel shows in relation to Marvel but not considered the wider industry as well. Disney runs the risk of cannibalising it’s own viewer’s time by bringing out Star Wars shows as well as we know that the Mandalorian for example was well received even to people who weren’t fans of that universe. That means that viewers have to choose what they spend their time watching on top of anything that Netflix or Amazon Prime create. The on demand market at the moment is filled with recommendations of top quality shows to watch and viewers only have a finite amount of time. These shows need to earn their right to be watched which means the MCU and the wider universe needs to prove that they have a story worth telling.
Where to Next?
I have spoken at considerable length about what is important to know about these series, what makes them good and what challenges face them next so it’s about time to look forward to 2022. Disney+ shows no signs of slowing down with their series and this week we got the trailer for Moon Knight (below) as well as confirmation that this will be with us in March.
Who Is Moon Knight?
A quick side bar here to talk a bit more about Moon Knight or Marc Spectre. You can read more on the link there but essentially Marc is an ex-mercenary who struggles with a multiple personality disorder which is why in the trailer you can see people calling him Marc despite him believing himself to be called Stephen. He is also aided by an Egyptian deity called Khonshu that influences him to do his bidding although how that manifests in the Disney+ Series remains to be properly seen. Essentially, Moon Knight uses his various aliases & personalities to fight crime and has fought alongside the likes of Spider-Man and the Avengers in the comics.
Moon Knight looks to delve into that area between magic and science, similar to where Thor sits, while also tackling mental health issues so this has certainly piqued my interest. I have always been a fan of Moon Knight and I think the comparisons to Batman end at the cape and cowl. I must admit though, that British accent is questionable and has made me laugh a few times and I am not sure that’s the angle they were going for.
Following Moon Knight we will have She-Hulk and I am actually very excited for this. It’s great to have the opportunity to delve into ‘the hulks’ a bit more and Tatiana Maslany was great in Orphan Black so I am hoping she does Jennifer Walters justice (pun intended). I am hoping this series also deals with the legal challenges around superheroes and vigilantes and it’s also prime real estate for Daredevil to make a return. A bit of courtroom drama mixed with some Hulk Smashes could be an entertaining watch.
After She-Hulk we get Ms Marvel which I am also intrigued about for many reasons, one being that she is actually an Inhuman. The Inhumans show was not well received and has largely been side-lined in the MCU so it will be interesting to see if this serves as a soft reboot for this race of humans. It also allows Marvel to develop their first Muslim superhero which is incredibly important as Ms Marvel has done a great job in the comics at demonstrating the balance between her culture and her powers. She was under utilised and not well presented in the Avengers video game in my opinion so I think this will be an amazing opportunity to bring this great hero and Young Avenger into Live Action.
Closing out the series for the 2022 is Secret Invasion and this one has me really excited. One of the great things about Captain America and the Winter Solider was the espionage and subterfuge that ran as part of the story and it is what started off the dual genre aspect of some Marvel films. Secret Invasion has the same possibility where the Skrulls have integrated themselves into society and you never really know who to trust and who is who they say they are. It allows for guessing and theorising until the end which sounds like a lot of fun. Plus we get Nick Fury back which is always great. This story has been building since Captain Marvel and is likely to have some interesting reveals that potentially retcon various events in MCU history as well.
There is a lot to be excited for with these series but they need to keep it original and ensure that people stay invested in at least some of these shows. There is a huge benefit when it comes to these series that they can be turned around quicker than the feature films but they need to make sure they are walking that fine line which allows people to follow the ever growing web of stories but are also able to enjoy the show they are watching at that moment. Each series should serve to develop the world yes but it shouldn’t exist solely for that purpose.
I won’t lie, this is one of, if not the longest blog post I have written. It was during writing this that I actually thought of record me reading the posts too so with any luck you there will be the option to listen rather than read. This piece is so long because of two reasons, the first being that I had so much to cover but the second was that I thoroughly enjoyed it. There is a lot more for me to say on this topic and theres a lot more to be gleaned from these series but for now, I think this will do.
Hopefully you enjoyed it and if you got to the end, I am very impressed. In the future I will need to be stricter with the length but that day is not today. Let me know what you think, leave me a like, follow and let me know if you agree or disagree with any, all or none of what I have said! Until next time, stay safe!