The epitome of interconnected storytelling and the "founding father" of the shared cinematic universe of franchises, MCU, an acronym for Marvel Cinematic Universe is no longer limited to feature films. So isn't it about time that Marvel Studios drop the MCU and give it a name change more inclusive of the overall universe at hand?
Ever since the success of The Avengers, Marvel Studios has expanded to a vast slate of television series. Even before then, Marvel Studios had already started connecting the films to numerous comic-book tie-ins and short films to widen the franchise's ambit and confines. Initially, the tie-ins were a way for the studio to set up a prelude for its film ventures or clear off some unanswered plot points covered in the films; for example, how S.H.I.E.L.D. lost The Scepter and how Strucker got his hands on it (Strucker later used Scepter's energy for experimentation on Wanda and Pietro, a plot-point covered in The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron).
Now, after Disney acquired Marvel Studios, which was completed in 2009, the franchise has grown bigger, slowly introducing new characters and storylines, acquiring new ones (through Fox Studios' acquisition), and the recent shift to streaming-focused content on Disney+. With 23 films and countless other ventures, Marvel Cinematic Universe has undergone major expansion throughout the years, and yet, it refers to itself as a solely cinematic experience.
After more than a decade of offering fans wholesome entertainment through an enviable representation, attractive visualization, and gripping narrative across all sorts of platforms, it's time MCU changes its name.
Inception of the Term Marvel Cinematic Universe
Marvel Studios, who had been licensing character rights and scouting production houses to make films based on the characters from Marvel Comics (films like Blade, Spider-Man Trilogy, and X-Men were the results of such deals), changed its course to make independent films of its own to increase the investment returns. In 2006, after Marvel Studios got back Iron Man's rights, Kevin Feige planned to kick-start this new venture of superheroes' origin stories that shall culminate with a crossover event in the future should the idea succeed. Taking into account only those characters of which Marvel didn't share any rights, the franchise was formed.
Taking on a modern approach to the character and inducing sub-plots connecting the character to several storylines from the comics (such that of Ten Rings, which will now come full circle with Shang-Chi), Iron Man registered a sleeper hit for the studios. The film's $500M+ gross was enough for the studio to proceed with its plans for the first phase and continue with more stories existing in the same timeline.
The same year, The Incredible Hulk, included a cameo from Robert Downey Jr. confirming all characters existing in the same universe, and indicating the potential crossover first hinted in the post-credits sequence of Iron Man (2008) via Samuel L. Jackson's appearance as Nick Fury. Interestingly, the earlier version of that cameo had references to X-Men and Spider-Man, whose rights Marvel didn't own at the time. With Downey's appearance in The Incredible Hulk, Feige first coined the term MCU in a future press conference.
Marvel "Cinema" Universe
The Incredible Hulk wasn't much of a financial blockbuster but acting as a direct follow-up to Iron Man, the film planted a seed among fans who were eager to watch Avengers in a live-action format. During the production of Iron Man 2, Feige first coined the term as Marvel "Cinema" Universe. Speaking on The Incredible Hulk's next appearance (a film that was made in association with Universal Pictures, who held some ownership to the character), Feige commented,
"[Hulk] can tie into and be a part of this Marvel Cinema Universe."
Later during the press promotions of Iron Man 2, Feige changed words and referred to the franchise as Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time. It was a time when Iron Man 2 was awaiting its 2010 release and Marvel Studios had already been acquired as a whole by Disney. So, Feige was probably sure of his vision's fulfillment now that Disney would have Marvel's back from then on, once its deal with Paramount expires. In that press conference, he was asked if he plans on including Spider-Man in the franchise since The Avengers was already on the line. But Sony was already gearing up for the relaunch of Spider-Man with The Amazing Spider-Man under the director Marc Webb. Though Feige never confirmed anything at that moment, he did emphasize his vision, saying,
"There's only one place for connective tissue within the Marvel Universe and within this new MCU, Marvel Cinematic Universe."
While coining the term, he, in a way, said how he sees all these characters under one roof, only in his franchise, the new line of interconnected tales from the comics he had created. And the history is proof of how he has managed to make it all come true over the years through creative tactics and of course, a lot of patience. That press round was probably the first hint towards the franchise's expansion.
Marvel's Early Expansion?
From the very first film, Marvel Studios had begun a planned and clever expansion. Now, after thirteen years, the new Disney+ originals have finally brought the studio's television productions and films much closer. On the other hand, the acquisition deal with FOX, and collaborations with Sony (over properties linked to Spider-Man) have further allowed Marvel to delve deeper into the comic-book lore and bring new stories to the front, eventually allowing them to progress through what started with Iron Man with all new and old characters.
Here's how the expansion of MCU onto different platforms and across multiple Marvel Comics properties calls for a new name since it's no longer just cinema that is keeping MCU's integrity intact.
Marvel Cinematic Universe: Comic-Book Tie-Ins
The Marvel comic-book tie-ins that began in the same years as the films did, were the first form of the franchise's expansion. The tie-ins weren't exactly something that represented MCU's progression but acted as side-sequels to the films. Joe Quesada, then Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Studios (now Executive Vice-President), said,
"[Comics] would explore something that happened off-screen."
The comic tie-ins added more comprehensibility to the events of the film and gave various secondary characters and subplots a proper place in the MCU. Throughout the films, several events just happened off-screen, such as the repair of Bifrost, the destruction of Xandar, and Captain America's investigation into Crossbones' whereabouts (which leads to the beginning of the Civil War). Through the tie-ins, the loops in the MCU film's storytelling were subtly fixed and the foundation for new stories was laid (especially through the several tied-in preludes to the films).
As of 2021, Marvel Studios had launched more than twenty tie-ins spanning more than seventy issues, giving MCU more integrity and its events some tactful sensibility and extended continuity. Given how the comic-book tie-ins always kept Marvel Cinematic Universe's films in the loop with one another, acting as a conjoining string between them and giving the franchise a stronger validation; these tie-ins have always been essential for MCU. Maybe, it wasn't solely a cinematic universe since its inception.
Marvel Television was founded in 2010, with the studio partnering with ABC to create television series sharing continuity with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first show was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which remarkably continued The Avengers and brought back Phil Coulson, Clark Gregg's character. The show also told of all the events unraveling behind the curtains of MCU movies and how S.H.I.E.L.D. It was a perfect way to convert the MCU into an actual universe, where events were happening and unraveling simultaneously, thus giving the forefront films a proper background as well as a supporting narrative. After Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel Television and ABC created Agent Carter, and Inhumans(which was canceled after one season).
Later, Marvel Television partnered with Netflix to bring Daredevil into the MCU along with Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage, which were all supposed to follow up with a crossover The Defenders. Meanwhile, the positive reception to John Bernthal's performance as Frank Castle in Daredevil S2, a spin-off of The Punisher was also produced. Currently, the Netflix division of the MCU series stands canceled probably given the formation of Disney+, a direct competitor of Netflix, which now has its own slate of originals set in the MCU.
All these series have further brought in new characters and stories, most significantly Daredevil and Ghost Rider, who has been a primary Marvel Comics character and an integral part of S.H.I.E.L.D. Plus, the television format allowed Marvel Studios to bring these characters, which weren't ready for feature film debut, and experiment with them without much await, with huge potential of a possible crossover event if ever possible. Netflix further allowed the studio to explore the Defenders storyline in somewhat of an R-Rated format, an approach that Marvel Studios has never taken up with the movies.
Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has ended, Marvel Television has been merged into Marvel Studios as the studio has taken up with an approach focusing on more integration between television and films of the MCU via Disney+.
Marvel has also created a series of shorts as well as two YouTube series of short videos to add up to the stories featured in the MCU. Marvel One-Shots are short films that have acted as companion direct-to-video shorts, which probably aims at making the universe of Marvel films much bigger and eventually giving fandom more content to talk about. These little videos have just allowed fans to communicate these films better with an added sense of understanding about them, as well as some secondary characters.
Besides, a YouTube series, WHIH: Newsfront, covers the events from the films from the perspective of a news channel. Starring Leslie Bibb as Christine Everhart, WHIH: Newsfront has acted like digital tie-ins such as comic books, as well as an in-universe press rounds for MCU films. Another series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Slingshot is a six-episode miniseries of shorts centered around the character Elena Rodriguez.
All these media formats besides cinema acted as a supporting beam for Marvel's films, and hence, shall be given a more prominent identification within the franchise's name.
Disney+: The Reason MCU Should Now Be Called Something Else
At San Diego Comic-Con 2019, Kevin Feige announced a slate of original series and miniseries set in the MCU for Disney+. But this time, the idea was different. Until Marvel Television, Marvel Studios has never made a direct connection between the television productions set in the MCU and the forefront slate of movies. It was always known that all the events in the films and the series were happening in the same timeline, sometimes, simultaneously. However, no character from the series ever crossed into the films (except James D'Arcy's cameo as Edwin Jarvis in Endgame). There might be references here and there, but to avoid adding complexity to the film's continuity and keep the narrative of all the stories, in both movies and television, neat and comprehensive, the two platforms were kept at bay. Until Disney+.
As a means of grabbing subscribers to Disney+, the platform which started the streaming wars, Marvel released a few series that would directly integrate with the films of the MCU. These new announcements gave characters like Wanda, Falcon, Bucky, Loki, etc., who until now were supporting sidekicks in movies, a mainstream progression through unique and centered stories. The number of episodes per series was kept at a bare minimum so that the audience doesn't have to consume that content over the long run. With WandaVision, this slate kick-started with success, paving way for a more interconnected Phase Four of the MCU, with several stories and characters tying in and crossing over the two platforms. Hence, the new MCU is now truly much more than a cinematic course of films.
Disney+ has finally given Marvel Studios complete control over almost all of the comic-books characters that are significant to the ongoing lore of the franchise. And since it establishes a new form of narrative that will bring the films and other forms of media within the MCU much closer, calling the universe as Marvel "Cinematic" Universe would probably be ignoring the role of the books and series in adding up to the eccentricity to the franchise, something no other studio attempting to create such a vast and broadened pool of stories has achieved yet.
The slate of Disney+ originals since then has further included more new announcements such as Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, Secret Invasion, and many more. The Disney+ originals are also helping Marvel to set course on a new journey that would have new superheroes and superheroines taking on the duties from the older ones while keeping that heritage intact. Combining appearances from actors already an active part of the MCU and creating stories that would feature new ones alongside them would eventually be a closely adjoined MCU.
With more than ten Disney+ originals in production and a confirmed connection of them with the films (during Disney's Investors Day Event 2020), Marvel Cinematic Universe is outgrowing the big screen. Moreover, the pandemic has further led audiences to settle well with the television screens that collaborated in WandaVision's and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier's success. In fact, Black Widow would be Marvel's first feature film to simultaneously release on Disney+ (on Premiere Access) along with the theaters.
It's probably time for Marvel Studios to either add a couple more words to its franchise's name or maybe rewrite it creatively to honor the content on other formats that have played a vital role in making this continuity a "Universe". What do you think of Marvel Cinematic Universe getting a new, renovated name.