While Marvel's feature films garner the most attention from the masses, the small screen has built up a substantial catalog of its own; ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" is the leader of the pack, followed by the collection of Netflix original series like "Daredevil," "Jessica Jones" and "Luke Cage." With the upcoming additions of Freeform's "Cloak and Dagger" and Hulu's "Runaways," the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand into the arena of live-action television.
As more and more projects are given the green light for development, a trend has begun to develop; namely, the leading actors are getting younger and younger. Instead of more shows with adults at the helm, teenagers are taking center stage in the MCU like never before. It begs the question of whether this is simply a temporary anomaly, or the beginning of a new trend that will continue in the movies and TV? On closer inspection, we suspect it may be the latter, and if this is the case, Marvel's current youth movement could spearhead the next evolution of its cinematic growth.
The Youth Shall Inherit The Earth
The majority of Marvel Television has focused on the world revolving around the government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and the street-level heroes found on Netflix. "Cloak and Dagger" and "Runaways" will likely buck this trend of adult programming by focusing on the interpersonal relationships of their ensemble casts of teenagers coping with developing with superpowers.
Though Freeform and ABC are both part of the Disney family of channels, the former is specifically geared towards a younger audience, and young women in particular. Marvel's strategy for "Cloak and Dagger" appears to cater to this demographic, with the description calling it a "superhero love story."
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"Runaways" will take Marvel onto another subscription streaming service in Hulu, a competitor to Netflix. Hulu has original and network content, so the decision to partner with it is likely a result of Marvel deciding to diversify its content across multiple platforms. Much like Netflix, there are no ratings or standards boards to appease, so "Runaways" offers Marvel the opportunity to delve honestly into the psychology of gifted individuals dealing with complicated family dynamics, something we've never seen before in the studio's live-action product.
If "Cloak and Dagger" and "Runaways" are successful, it opens up the MCU to introduce any number of properties to television sets. Marvel has long been interested in adapting the young heroes of "Power Pack" to TV, for example, even getting so far as developing a pilot for NBC in 1991. While it's never managed to get the project off the ground, in the new television landscape, Marvel may soon find itself with an answer to the Fantastic Four, whose live-action movie rights currently sit with Fox. The New Warriors could make for an interesting TV series as well, particularly if Marvel adapted the version from the comics where the team became reality TV stars.
The Beginning Of Phase 4
Sony reaching an agreement to share Spider-Man with Marvel Studios was a pivotal moment for fans of the wall-crawler. It meant audiences were finally going to see the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man stand side-by-side with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and the rest of the Avengers. After Spider-Man's scene-stealing appearance in "Captain America: Civil War," Sony and Marvel Studios announced "Spider-Man: Homecoming," a back-to-basics approach to a solo Spidey flick. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the fact that the film will mark the first time a teenager is presented a main attraction in the MCU.
While "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is officially a part of Marvel's third phase of films, it may give us a glimpse of what we can expect in Phase 4. Everything up to this point has been building to a showdown between our heroes and the Mad Titan Thanos in "Avengers: Infinity War" and its untitled sequel. Between contract negotiations and potentials deaths, the landscape of the MCU could look vastly different in the no-so-distant future. Marvel appears to be preparing for such an upheaval with the introductions of Spider-Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Captain Marvel. While adults will still be a very large part of the upcoming landscape, Spider-Man is the most popular name of the new bunch of characters. What if he helps to lead the charge for a younger generation of heroes?
There's also the possibility that the majority of the Avengers end up off-planet between "Infinity War" and its 2019 sequel. Someone will have to safeguard Earth while the Avengers are gone. Cue up the Young Avengers, who made a similar debut in the comics after the game-changing event "Avengers Disassembled." In fact, a Young Avenger already exists in the MCU: Cassie Lang, the daughter of Scott Lang, also known as Ant-Man. Though a bit on the young side, with a little bit of creative aging, she could come into possession of her father's Pym Particles and take up the superhero name Stature
From there, it would be easy to introduce the remaining members of the Young Avengers by claiming they became inspired by Earth's Mightiest Heroes, uniting to stand in for the grown-ups in their absence. Between now and "Infinity War," the teased romance between Scarlet Witch and Vision could result in the creation of Hulkling and Wiccan, Patriot could easily be linked to Captain America's super soldier program, and Kate Bishop can pick up a bow and arrow as the new Hawkeye. Iron Lad would be the only character that may be a bit tricky to include, considering his ties to the time-traveling villain Kang the Conqueror. However, the teen hero's origin can be easily reworked so he's a time-traveling younger version of Tony Stark. After all, the Time Stone already exists in the MCU as Doctor Strange's Eye of Agamotto.
Another advantage that would come with kickstarting a "Young Avengers" franchise is tapping into the genre of teen film. Marvel Studios has perfected the strategy of switching genres for their films to keep them all unique. "Captain America: The First Avenger" was a period period, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" was a political thriller, "Ant-Man" was a heist movie, and "Doctor Strange" introduced magic and mysticism. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" will undoubtedly feature the trappings that come with a teen film, from peer pressure to struggling with adolescence. But while Spider-Man deals with these issues in his supporting cast, a "Young Avengers" movie can navigate them in a group environment.
Beyond the Avengers, there are character related to any number of other Marvel franchises we'd love to see make their movie debuts. "Guardians of the Galaxy" could introduce Sam Alexander or a teenaged Richard Ryder as members of the intergalactic Nova Corps, and Kamala Khan would be a no-brainer to make her debut as Ms. Marvel once "Inhumans" lands in IMAX theaters and on ABC.
The sky is the limit when it comes to Marvel characters making the leap from the comics page to live-action, but if the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to continue to grow, a younger crop of heroes will have to play a significant part of that maturation.