We’ve entered the age of total, inescapable cultural immersion
With last Friday’s premiere of WandaVision, Marvel finally entered phase four of its cinematic universe — and fans who want to keep up will need to buy movie tickets as well as a Disney+ subscription.
Disney has been building toward this moment for years, first with its acquisition of 20th Century Fox and the controlling shares of Hulu, and then with the debut of Disney+ in 2019. Late in 2020, the company announced a shift in focus to content distribution, ad sales and Disney+, meaning it would be using its streaming service to leverage more market share. Finally, Disney used its Investors Day event in December to announce a ton of new Marvel and Star Wars projects, most of which will be on Disney+.
Which leads us to WandaVision. MCU czar Kevin Feige’s plan is to incorporate TV and film interchangeably in Marvel’s phase four. This dual-medium strategy has always been baked into the plan. But previously, fans didn’t have to watch Marvel’s Agent Carter of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to understand what was happening in the latest Avengers movie. Feige has said his new goal is to completely align Marvel’s TV series with its film properties for the first time, with plotlines from TV series leading into movies and vice versa.
Much like the season two finale of The Mandalorian, Marvel’s future properties on Disney+ are also intended to function as jumping-off points for more movies and shows. Ms. Marvel will debut on the streaming service and then supposedly play a part in the Captain Marvel sequel; the Hawkeye show is ready to set the table for Hailee Steinfeld to play Kate Bishop, Hawkeye’s successor from the comics.
WandaVision is purported to have ramifications for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, scheduled for 2022. Marvel’s other scheduled 2021 properties also fall under this plan, including:
- The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, premiering March 19 on Disney+
- Black Widow, now slated for a May 7 theatrical release date, or possibly later.
- Loki, premiering in May on Disney+
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, set for a July theatrical release date.
- Eternals, set for a November theatrical release date.
- Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel shows, which may hit Disney+ by the end of 2021
- Sony’s multi-Peter-Parkered third Spider-Man movie, now planned for a December theatrical release date
It’s not just the Marvel properties that are embracing this multimedia, shared-universe business model. At its Investors Day presentation, Disney announced no less than 10 new Star Wars movies and TV shows, most of which will interconnect with already existing Star Wars properties. The Mandalorian season two finale revealed that the whole show DOES actually connect back to Luke Skywalker. Disney’s publishing arm just released The High Republic, a “multimedia initiative” featuring books and comics and will probably figure into a future movie or Disney+ show, most likely “The Acolyte.” That’s not to mention the upcoming video games that could dovetail into the existing movies and shows.
DC is also starting to embrace the multimedia cinematic universe model. DC Films president Walter Hamada recently told the New York Times that DC will have not one, but two cinematic universes—one with Wonder Woman, Superman, Ben Affleck’s Batman, and another one with Joker and Matt Reeves’ upcoming Batman movie starring Robert Pattinson. The Flash (now without Ray Fisher’s Cyborg) will link the two universes. HBO Max tie-in shows are also in the works.
Frankly, this all sounds exhausting. Marvel’s first three phases already felt like a huge TV show. Now fans will actually have to watch TV shows in addition to movies to keep up with their favorite superheroes. The hardcore fans probably won’t mind — the first three phases of the MCU made more than $8.5 billion worldwide — but it’s becoming more and more convoluted to keep up with these characters, even though 2021 marks Marvel’s return to theaters after not releasing anything new for the first time in more than a decade. Soon, they’ll add Fox characters like Deadpool, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four to its arsenal.
After releasing the highest-grossing film of all time, Marvel sets its sights on dominating the small screen. It looks as if its competition will follow.