Falcon and the Winter Soldier just completed its debut season following on the heels of Wandavision. The two shows couldn’t have been more different. The latter was a deep dive into a disturbed, and powerful, mind that’s trying to come to grips with the loss of a loved one. The show used classic sitcoms as the frame for Wanda’s torment. Falcon and the Winter Soldier, on the other hand, decided to tackle racism and social inequities head on with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face. These two shows deviated from the Marvel norm, happy movies with lots of laughs and over the top action sequences, in every possible way and the world is a better place for it. Don’t misunderstand, the Marvel Cinematic Universe a/k/a MCU, is a lot of fun. Even their darker fare, like Endgame, had upbeat moments and family friendly treacle. They made kazillions of dollars with this formula, so it’s not to be easily discounted.
Marvel TV has been a radically different animal since Daredevil exploded on the scene in 2015. The blind, brooding, Matt Murdoch stood up for the little people, confessed regularly to a priest, tried to reconcile his Catholic faith with his world of hyperviolence, all while trying to ruin the most powerful mobster in Hell’s Kitchen. The conflict was both personal and public. The fight scene in episode two is one of the most brutal, and realistic, fights ever filmed. It set a high bar and each following episode aimed for that level of realism in every scene. The fact they mostly achieved it, say ninety percent of he time, is why fans flocked to this show.
Later the same year they followed up with Jessica Jones. This happy story about an alcoholic superpowered hero who likes rough sex hewed tightly to many dark paths. The underlying plot of how she was raped by The Purple Man didn’t exactly make audiences want to by the toys. The interpersonal relationships she tries, sometimes in vain, to maintain show how even powerful people can be weak inside.
In 2016 the world was introduced to Luke Cage. By modernizing the Tuskegee experiments, and using those experiments to grant him his powers, all while displaying a racist prison system, made for gripping shows that, as a bonus, taught you something.
Then came Iron Fist. Well, they all can’t be winners. The original comic book was a racist jab at Bruce Lee and the TV show didn’t distance itself well at all. They managed to miss the “no ticky, no washy” trope. But not by much. Which is a shame since the character in the comics grew into a force for good, became best friends with Luke Cage, and was a fascinating read in his own right.
Then they tied all these shows together as The Defenders. This was a traditional superhero story and, as such, hit all your favorite tropes but not much else. That said, it had the advantage of being a joy to watch, as long as you ignored Iron Fist, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The Marvel TV universe takes advantage of longer show lengths to delve into more personal aspects of each character. What does it mean that the Falcon’s sister owns a shrimp boat? In the movies, nothing, but in the show it allows them to point out how redlining works, how blacks get shivved by banks, all while still telling the story of a hero coming into his own.
in other words, go ahead and pound down the popcorn and enjoy the MCU. But if you want something a little more mentally nutritious, make sure to take in their TV universe.
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