In 2012, Marvel’s first phase of superhero movies culminated in the critical and commercial smash hit The Avengers, uniting Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor and Captain America from their solo movies into an unprecedented team-up. Of course, it was only a matter of time before an attempt to bridge the universe into television was attempted. After critical acclaim for the more adult-oriented Daredevil in 2015 and Jessica Jones later the same year, Marvel seemed to hold a promising future on Netflix. However, after three years; team-up show The Defenders received average reviews and has little likelihood of a continuation while over the last month, both Iron Fist and Luke Cage have been cancelled with no definite news on any Netflix Marvel shows after season 3 of Daredevil. Perhaps then, it is time to look at the fairly sudden derailment of the Netflix-Marvel universe and examine the possible reason behind this move.
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has raised many less well-known characters to household names, it has succeeded where other franchises fail because of a pragmatic approach to what can be turned into a success, particularly with television. For example, after a disastrous first season of Inhumans, the show was cancelled despite plans for a small-screen universe to rival the X-Men. On the surface, Netflix’s cancellation of Iron Fist and Luke Cage could be seen as a continuation of this policy, Iron Fist’s first season was generally poorly received and even the second (widely seen as an improvement) only reached 55% on Rotten Tomatoes. While Luke Cage was considerably better received critically, its entirely possible that the viewership and engagement simply wasn’t there.
How likely? Without solid viewer numbers it’s difficult to tell, but both Disney and Netflix have been more than willing to cancel shows with dedicated fanbases (Agent Carter and Marco Polo respectively) when the big numbers aren’t materialising.
However, a number of voices on the internet have suggested other possibilities behind the cancellations. On the more positive end, despite a luke-warm reception to The Defenders, the show was at its height when our heroes were on screen together, playing off one another and fighting as a team; Netflix may be moving towards a similar theme on a smaller scale. Luke Cage and Iron Fist have made for a consistently fun team in the comics, so a Heroes for Hire Netflix show seems the most obvious choice if there are any plans at all for the characters. It could even run alongside a Daughters of the Dragon team-up between Iron Fist’s Colleen Wing and Luke Cage’s Misty Knight.
How likely? While perhaps a bit optimistic, its notable that the many of the stars and writers that would be key for these new shows haven’t signed for any big new projects yet. Alternatively, these team-up shows could have less of a gritty focus, making them perfect for Marvel’s Hulu network or even Disney’s new streaming service.
Speaking of Disney’s upcoming streaming venture, the closest thing to an official reason behind the cancellations is the vague ‘creative differences’ line from Netflix and Disney. This could be the result of a general disagreement over the direction of the shows, it could also be because of uncertainty over how long they could remain on Netflix. Over the next year, Marvel films will begin to be phased out from Netflix and placed onto Disney’s streaming service when it launches. It would hardly make business sense for Netflix to build up a brand only for it to move over to a competitor.
How Likely? In the months since Disney announced the new service, Netflix has been acquiring the rights to a wider range of comic book properties such as Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy, suggesting that an eventual split may have been in the cards for some time.
The future for these characters that have received such unique outings on Netflix appears to be completely up in the air at the moment; while fan interest in seeing stories resolved is never a guarantee of actually having the resolution (*cough* Pushing Daisies *cough*), the unique background behind these ‘cancellations’ means that there’s a good chance that even if their home changes, we haven’t seen the last of Hell’s Kitchen’s greatest defenders.