Marvel’s Repetitive Storytelling Elements

Note: Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen any Netflix/Marvel shows or ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Ah Marvel…

While their movies are practically a cash grab, their TV shows are actually well done. Well, some of them anyway. After watching all their Netflix shows and their first TV series ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I noticed a pattern starting to emerge: does it seem like Marvel recycles the same methods of storytelling from their own shows?

They certainly recycle similar dynamics and storytelling elements for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or as I like to call it, “the show where Skye just can’t stay loyal to one side.” Ever since her introduction in the show’s pilot, her allegiances were somewhat always being brought into question. First, Skye was part of a hacker/free information group, later part of a secret society of mutants, and then was mind-controlled into working for mutants who wanted to destroy humanity…or something like that. I honestly had a hard time paying attention to what’s going on in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Especially when the show’s whole premise is built on repeating the same idea over and over again, while also trying to stay interconnected with the Marvel movie universe.

ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets some significant fire for their repetitively safe storylines.
ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets some significant fire for their repetitively safe storylines (Image courtesy of Marvel and ABC).

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also repeats the same “humans vs mutants” struggle during their second and third seasons. Now it seems obvious mutants should clearly win, right? Wrong. Because according to Agents, humans somehow find a way to win, despite battling forces that should have demolished them a long time ago.

Now let’s move on to the Netflix series. What I’m talking about isn’t too noticeable in the inaugural seasons of Daredevil or Jessica Jones. But from Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil’s 2nd season, it was like they found a storytelling formula they liked and kept going with it. The first half of the season focuses on a particular antagonist, who delivers the most memorable performance of the season. Then at the halfway mark, we lose that antagonist and the writers shift focus to a new antagonist. This performance ends up falling in line with that of a stereotypical bad guy, which is why I believe the second villain is typically less memorable than the previous antagonist. The first antagonist forces viewers to ask complex questions throughout his performance, something the second antagonist doesn’t successfully achieve.

Daredevil delivered an amazing enemy with Frank Castle, AKA the Punisher. He brought with him questions of morality and how everyone has their own definition of what they believe is right and wrong. Then, there’s a shift and we see the return of The Hand’s ninja, Nobu, the typical villain who has an evil plan to fulfill some ancient prophecy. It becomes predictable and makes his character not as interesting or as complex as it could have been.

Luke Cage, a show about a bulletproof African-American forced to save Harlem from organized crime, delivers another complex villain, Cornell Stokes, AKA Cottonmouth, in the first half of its season. Cottonmouth’s motivations and development were very intriguing to watch. But then he’s killed off and a new villain is introduced, whose motivations of revenge and power were just as predictable as the fact that he was crazy.

Marvel has had great storytelling on their Netflix bunch, but they are still repetitive elements (Image Courtesy Marvel / Netflix)
Marvel has had great storytelling on their Netflix bunch, but they are still repetitive elements (Image Courtesy Marvel / Netflix)

Now let’s be clear about Iron Fist: this show was very flawed and needed to be polished up a lot more before they released it. But they also had a good villain with Madame Gao, who was absolutely fun to watch, and made the show much more interesting. Then she gets replaced by a forgettable villain (at least, I’ve already forgotten) with predictable motivation. Then they replaced him as the villain for Meacham’s father, who actually wasn’t predictable. So at least they shifted the mold a little bit with his character. However, this shift shook up the mold in the worse way possible by spending too much time on characters nobody cared to, and not knowing what story they were wanting to tell in the first place. By the halfway mark, Iron Fist became a completely different show.

Now, while the Marvel shows fall victim to repetitive elements, I can be more forgiving of the Netflix shows. While they tell stories through a similar mold, they also take risks in storytelling. However, their counterparts at ABC studios don’t really do that, taking the safe path. They’d rather not take advantage of making risky choices in storytelling through that mold.

With fewer episodes and having four big name characters under one roof, we’ll see if The Defenders will shake up the mold.

Because I honestly don’t want repeat myself.

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