Marvel lifts its TV game to higher power for Disney+

Streaming wars scorecard: What to watch and how much it will cost
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Marvel is about to unleash what could be its biggest movie ever with “Avengers: Endgame,” which, given the studio’s track record, is no small feat. But after some hits and misfires, the upcoming launch of Disney+ suggests the company is about to lift its TV game to a higher power as well.

At Disney’s recent presentation for the streaming service, Marvel confirmed a number of planned live-action series, each featuring characters — and actors — popularized in its theatrical blockbusters.

The roster includes “WandaVision,” with Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen as the Vision and Scarlet Witch; “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” with Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan; and a show about Thor villain Loki, starring Tom Hiddleston. There are also reports of a planned “Hawkeye” limited series, starring Jeremy Renner.

“We’re extremely enthusiastic about the opportunities that Disney+ supplies,” Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige stated at the investor event. “These are new long-form stories in ways we’ve never done before.”

Disney has clearly sought to put its best feet forward on behalf of the streaming venture, including the first live-action “Star Wars” series, “The Mandalorian.” But Marvel appears to have adopted a new strategy in this space — one that casts a not-very-flattering light on its previous output — after having largely devoted its TV efforts to second-tier characters more peripherally connected to its vaunted “cinematic universe.”

An early flagship of that, “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” could at best be described as “Avengers-adjacent.” Similarly, the company’s Netflix series, including “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones,” operated in their own grittier zone, distinguished in part by more permissive levels of violence and sex than in the big-screen Marvel titles.

The question is whether Marvel can sustain that level of TV production without diluting options for its ambitious movie plans. In addition, given how pallid some of those earlier series look compared to the Disney+ projects, will there still be an appetite for lesser fare like “Cloak & Dagger,” which Marvel produced for Freeform, a Disney-owned cable network.

Notably, a big part of Marvel’s plans have turned to animation, including four new series for Hulu — one devoted to Howard the Duck — as well as a “What If?” series for Disney+.

The company’s current push, however, promises to up the TV superhero ante. That could also have implications for Marvel rival DC, which is using its roster of heroes to service the CW network, DC Universe streaming site, Warner Bros.’s movie arm and parent WarnerMedia’s own streaming service.

To its credit, Marvel has demonstrated the ability to explore the outer reaches of its universe and find theatrical hits, as evidenced by “Ant-Man” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

TV has generally required more creativity to work around the conspicuous absence of key characters. The result has been not only shows like “Agents of SHIELD” and “Agent Carter,” but DC’s “Gotham,” a Batman show set during the years before Bruce Wayne became the Dark Knight, which finishes its run on Fox later this month.

Marvel’s theatrical track record is second to none, but its Disney+ lineup has blurred the line between movies and TV, and in the process, potentially raised expectations for the next generation of superhero shows.

Where that leads is a journey into the unknown. But it looks like it’s going to take more power — beginning with the star variety — to match that orbit.