With new series and films, the Marvel universe expands on screens big and small
Disney+As Disney+ starts to inch towards its two-year anniversary, it’s not just fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe who are overjoyed at the expansion of the superhero franchise to surprising new levels. With the success of WandaVision, which in July garnered 23 Emmy nominations, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which scored five nominations, and Loki, which recently concluded its first season to favourable reviews and the biggest debut in Disney+ history, Marvel producer Kevin Feige is likely doing a rain dance under a steady stream of champagne.
“Disney+ has been a burst of creative energy for me and all of us at Marvel Studios to enhance our universe, to deeply explore more characters in our universe and to do so in a very different and unique way,” says the president of Marvel Studios and chief creative officer for Marvel.
And there’s more in store. Premiering this August is What If...?, an animated series that explores how the MCU would be altered if certain events had occurred differently.
Disney+The show, which is already in production for a second season, stars Tony-, Golden Globe- and Emmy-winner Jeffrey Wright as Uatu/The Watcher, who has been assigned to observe Earth and its solar system, occasionally intervening in our mortal affairs. The list of guest stars is a virtual who’s who of the MCU, starting with Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, in an episode that explores what would happen if she had taken the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers.
What If...? is followed by Ms. Marvel, starring Canadian teen Iman Vellani as Marvel’s first Muslim superhero Kamala Khan. The six-episode series that premieres in late 2021 will also set the table for 2022 big-screen movie The Marvels.
Hot on the heels of his Avengers colleagues, Jeremy Renner is the next actor to reprise his role in a series set to premiere in November; Renner, who is back as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, is joined by Hailee Steinfeld as Barton’s badass protégé Kate Bishop, whom Hawkeye is grooming to take over as the MCU’s resident bow-and-arrow specialist.
The all-star casting news continued with Star Wars’ Oscar Isaac confirmed as the star of Moon Knight, which will premiere in 2022, and Saskatchewan-born Orphan Black Emmy-winner Tatiana Maslany as the She-Hulk, in a 10-episode series co-starring Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk. “It’s a very exciting time for the MCU, thanks to Disney+,” says Feige.
Disney+With the success of the three series currently available on the streamer, there’s already a high demand for more episodes. To date, Loki is the only series confirmed for a second season. As per usual, Feige remains vague about his shows’ serialization potential. “The fun of the MCU is all of the crossover that we can do between series and films,” he says. “It will always vary based on the story. Sometimes it will go into a season two. Sometimes it will go into a feature and then back into a series. We’ve announced that Ms. Marvel, after her debut on Disney+, will be going into the second Captain Marvel film. But sometimes, and yet to be announced, we are thinking of and planning second seasons for some of the upcoming series.”
When it comes to distinguishing the Cinematic Universe from the television universe, the short answer is that Feige doesn’t. “The bar is set high for the features and for the series, and we try to exceed that bar every time,” he says. “Obviously, the week-to-week unveiling gives us opportunities, but we’re building the shows to be experienced the way we build our features to be experienced—in a run. Sometimes they have tags that hint at the future and what’s to come.”
Feige counts his blessings that COVID-19 did not seriously affect the rollout of the MCU output in the past year-and-a-half. “We were lucky that if this had to happen, which we all wish it didn’t, this was the year that it could have happened and not interfered with our storytelling,” he says. “We had completed the Infinity saga. [Avengers:] Endgame and [Spider-Man:] Far From Home were released. A lot of what we are doing now was about reintroducing characters, like WandaVision, exploring a very specific period in time with Black Widow, or new characters like Shang-Chi or Eternals.”
Disney+While The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was intended to be the first show out of the Disney+ gate, it was WandaVision that became viewers’ introduction to this small-screen MCU. In the end, that may have been fortuitous. “When newcomers come to WandaVision because they love I Love Lucy or The Dick Van Dyke Show, they can go, ‘I wonder what all this other Marvel stuff they’re talking about is,’ and there’s Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3 right at their disposal,” says Feige. “I love having that arena for fans and particularly newcomers to explore as deep as they want to.”