No, You Won’t Be Forced To Watch Marvel’s Disney+ TV Shows In Order To Enjoy The New MCU Movies – Forbes
Contrary to popular interpretations of a very specific statement that Marvel boss Kevin Feige made to Bloomberg, earlier this week, you’re not going to have to watch the upcoming Disney+ Marvel TV shows (WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, etc.) to understand the upcoming Marvel movies. His quote, to be specific, was that “If you want to understand everything in future Marvel movies, you’ll probably need a Disney+ subscription, because events from the new shows will factor into forthcoming films such as Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.” First, this isn’t new information, as we were told that Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) would be a supporting player in that May 2021 release since this past SDCC. Second, there is a difference between “understand everything” and “be able to follow the movie.”
As much as Disney wants Disney+ to succeed, they aren’t going to risk sabotaging their biggest theatrical IP. Contrary to popular belief, at least popular entertainment media belief, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is only as interconnected as your average longform television show. Think The X-Files, which had “monster-of-the-week” episodes along with, usually during Sweeps, periodic “mythology episodes” that added to the big overriding arcs (the disappearance of Mulder’s sister, the diabolical government conspiracy related to aliens, that black goo and those alien bounty hunters, etc.). Did you need to see those mythology episodes to get the big picture narrative? Yes. But could you also tune in to any one of those “stand-alone” episodes and have a grand old time? Yes to that as well.
Each Marvel movie has been careful to both deliver a singular stand-alone story and to make sure that audiences won’t be lost if they haven’t seen a given previous MCU flick. Yes, there are Easter Eggs, additional context and related tangential shared universe benefits for folks who watch every MCU movie. But you don’t need to see Thor: The Dark World to see Ant-Man and the Wasp. You don’t need to see Iron Man 3 to enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy. Heck, you don’t even need to see Avengers: Infinity War to enjoy Avengers: Endgame. I know this because I took my 12-year old to the Avengers: Endgame premiere despite her A) only having seen a few MCU flicks and B) never having seen Avengers: Infinity War.
There were a few moments where she asked about cameos or an apparent in-joke, but the movie itself made a point to establish what went down in Avengers: Infinity War, just as Avengers: Infinity War made a point to bring viewers up to speed with the rest of the MCU up to that point. When Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) showed up, he introduced himself for those who hadn’t seen Doctor Strange. Thanos got several “Here’s who Thanos is and what he wants” expositional beats for whose who didn’t see Guardians of the Galaxy and/or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) asked plenty of “What’s been going on since Avengers: Age of Ultron?” questions for folks who only show up for the actual Avengers movies.
One of the open secrets to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they are newbie friendly. They are closer to 24 (a season-long arc but with each episode containing a singular three-act story) than Arrested Development (one of the denser shows in network TV history). Moreover, they are closer to conventional comic books (where each issue gives you a single 24-page story) versus “paced for the graphic novel” storytelling or, in modern TV vocabulary, “paced for the binge.” Sure, some of the solo superhero flicks may contain references to the events of the big Avengers movies, but A) it’s a pretty good bet that anyone walking into Iron Man 3 probably saw The Avengers and B) the stand-alone movies still work on their own.
Generally speaking, the MCU solo superhero franchises operate unto themselves, while the big cross-over events (the Avengers films and arguably Captain America: Civil War) operate as sequels to themselves with plenty of “for those who came in late” exposition for relevant events from the solo MCU franchises. While the solo movies do reference the events of the big Avengers movies, the Avengers movies try not to leave viewers too lost if they haven’t been following each solo superhero franchise. Avengers: Age of Ultron barely references the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3, while Avengers: Infinity War picks up straight from Thor: Ragnarok but gives audiences two sequences where characters explain what happened at the end of the third Thor movie.
Does it help/improve the films to have seen everything that came before? Sure, but Marvel isn’t Saw where you better have seen each previous film at least twice while taking notes before diving into the next one. They are loosely interconnected while operating on their own planes. The massive grosses for the Avengers movies versus essentially everything else shows that plenty of audiences only show up for the Avengers movies, and the films are structured with that in mind. Do I believe that the events of WandaVision will set up Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness? Sure, but I also believe that folks showing up for Doctor Strange 2 will be more-than-able to follow along even if they’ve only seen Doctor Strange and/or Avengers: Endgame.
Feige isn’t foolish enough to sabotage one of the key aspects of Marvel’s popularity just to help Disney+ gain subscribers, especially not as they are entering a comparatively less-certain Phase Four/post-Endgame period with Captain America and Iron Man no longer at the helm. You don’t need to see Captain America: Civil War to understand Black Panther, which is part of why Black Panther earned 71% domestically than “Avengers 2.5.” That’s part of how they turned the likes of Captain Marvel, Black Panther and the Guardians of the Galaxy into A-level movie stars, and that’s an advantage they’ll need if they hope to do the same with Shang-Chi and the Eternals. At worst, Doctor Strange 2 will open with a cheeky “Previously, on WandaVision!” catch-up montage.
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