It's still too early to call Marvel's Disney+ shows a raging success, though the positive response to WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier may be early indicators the MCU has done it again. Audiences have another medium now in which to enjoy the shared universe's heroes, and as a bonus, get a little more time with more minor characters than they would in the average Marvel movie. However, with Phase Four in progress and Phase Five impending, this connected universe leads to one question I have about the future.
The advantages to these Disney+ shows is clear for the company and for the fans, but there may be one problem with giving heroes like Wanda Maximoff, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes such a large spotlight, especially as Phase Four gets going with new heroes and Phase Five ramps up adventures yet again with the familiar faces we already know. That being that, there are certain heroes who have had less of a spotlight and may have to compete for interest in future ensemble movies.
Could Side Characters Get More Screentime Than Main Heroes?
What do Carol Danvers and Stephen Strange currently have in common? Well, they're two of the MCU's biggest rising stars currently in Phase 4 and presumably in Phase 5, and yet, by the end of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we'll have seen both of them far less than we've seen Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. Assuming the Disney+ series is a one-and-done show though, they'll eventually catch up. Even so, there's a whole lot more story that can be told in a 5-6 hour series than the standard Marvel movie, so do these shows put the rising stars at a disadvantage?
As these more minor characters increase in popularity through their respective shows, it's only natural to assume audiences will want to see more of them. This might be by design, of course, especially with the real possibility Sam Wilson may become the new Captain America by the time his currently airing series is over. Again though, this puts all of the Captain Marvels and Doctor Stranges of the world at a disadvantage, as it doesn't seem these shows are meant for their characters.
Then when ensemble films come around, will Marvel fans be upset if they see less of Wanda Maximoff than they do of Peter Quill in Phase 4 and beyond? Will they just have to accept that the reason these characters got a series is because they won't get the spotlight in the movies? Again though, if audiences want more of a character and it's proven to be popular, doesn't it only make sense for Marvel to give these characters larger roles?
Not Every Marvel Hero Can Get A Series
One obvious solution to this potential problem is that every hero gets a series. It's a lofty ambition, and in a world where obstacles and contractual obligations don't exist, I believe Marvel Studios is that well-oiled of a machine to make it happen. Of course, the reality is there's no actual way that would happen, and there are just some heroes who most likely won't ever have a series on Disney+.
I would imagine that, for most, the issue would come down to scheduling. Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana are in-demand talent, so locking them down for a television appearance is a lofty goal, let alone a series. That's not to say it's impossible, of course, but it's certainly easier to grab someone like Sebastian Stan for a series than any of the aforementioned people. If it weren't, we'd have a couple more seasons of Sherlock by now!
Then there are licensing issues, which prevent everyone's favorite green goliath, The Hulk, from getting an epic miniseries that would kick all sorts of ass. As many know, though, the character is tied up in complicated rights with Universal, and as such, the best fans will probably get is a cameo of Bruce Banner in the She-Hulk series. By the way, how crazy is it that She-Hulk could have more screen time by the end of a season than Mark Ruffalo's Hulk?
So while the answer may seem as easy as "every hero gets a series," it's just not a feasible thing. Some heroes, more minor than main ones, may get more screen time than others and could even surpass bigger heroes in popularity. Or not, though I think we could look to the scores of people who wouldn't let Charlie Cox's Daredevil go after cancellation as evidence of the staying power of heroes with a television show.
Is This Even A Problem?
The big question is whether it would even matter if more minor heroes in the MCU overshadow larger ones in popularity in Phase Four and Five, and it's a great question. After all, the shows are set within the MCU, so any interest in Marvel television would potentially only help interest grow with Marvel movies. It's the beauty of a connected universe and how Marvel has been so successful to this point.
At the same time, Marvel's major theaters are saved for big-budget feature adventures for a reason. Sure, I highly doubt any amount of screen time for any hero with a planned series will overshadow fan interest in Spider-Man, but can the same be said for Black Widow? In some ways, shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are amazing because they bring the action and intensity of a long Marvel movie. In other ways, they could undermine the features planned for lesser-known Marvel characters being introduced in Phase 4 like Shang-Chi, and maybe make their theatrical debut feel less than in comparison.
At the end of the day, only time will tell how MCU shows on Disney+ will impact the shared universe in the long run and how it may strengthen and potentially complicate the franchise's ecosystem in ways Marvel didn't have to worry about in the past decade. Ultimately, change is the only constant, and for better or worse, Disney has changed, and the ride so far has been spectacular. Sure, it could one day make for a problem, but ultimately that's for the Marvel fans of the future to reckon with.