Is it all over for Marvel? That’s the tough question just about nobody is seriously asking: their movie franchises rumble onward with no sign of slowing, their future plans continue to stretch off far into the future, and their television department… actually yeah, there’s a bit of a problem there.
Marvel’s latest series for Netflix, Iron Fist, didn’t so much splash as fall flat upon release, as many critics and fans gave the thumbs down to a series with a premise – white guy goes to Asia, learns martial arts, is better at it than any Asian – that was pretty iffy back when it first appeared in comic form in the 70s. A better series than Iron Fist probably could have won people over despite the dodgy premise, but with Iron Fist it seemed as if a tipping point was reached: while critics had been pointing out that Marvel’s Netflix series were kind of bloated and drawn-out since the first series of Daredevil (a result of Netflix’s streaming model, where quantity is valued over quality – the idea is to keep you watching, not get you to come back), with Iron Fist it was like everyone finally started shouting “get on with it”. Again, a better series could have survived this (arguably, both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage did), but the perfect storm of suck that was Iron Fist meant that barely a week after its arrival it was already dead and buried.
Which is a problem for Marvel, as their business model both in movies and on television is built around creating a series of movies / TV series that audiences have to watch in order to get on board with the next one. When it works, it’s great: it funnels viewers from one show to the next without having to worry about coming up with all – new exciting ideas each time. But if one part of the system fails, then suddenly you’ve given audiences a jumping-off point. If Iron Fist is no good, why bother with Marvel’s upcoming The Defenders, in which Iron Fist will play a large role?
At least with their movies, Marvel has worked to broaden out their appeal of, switching between stand-alone-ish movies like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange with more core titles like Captain America: Civil War and the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. But even then, it’s a tricky balancing act: this month’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is probably safe, following up as it does a successful original, but at what stage do they start to tie it in tighter to the main Marvel Universe?
And what if it turns out that what people like about it is the way it’s not all about Iron Man? Again, while they’re punching out two (or three, counting the latest Spider-Man) movies a year Marvel can afford to mix things up a little; if one stinks, there’s another one coming along that just might turn it around. But on television, they can’t afford another screw-up like Iron Fist: it’s a whole lot easier to change the channel than it is to walk out of a movie you’ve just paid big bucks to see.