Defenders Assemble? Here's What The Marvel-Netflix Shows Joining Disney+ Could Mean For The MCU

Marvel fans were provided with a bit of interesting (if not altogether surprising) news yesterday when it was revealed that the former Marvel Netflix shows will indeed be making their way to Disney+ later this month. The contract that Netflix originally had in place with Marvel has fully run its course, with "Daredevil," "Jessica Jones," "Luke Cage," "Iron Fist," "The Defenders," "The Punisher," and ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." all leaving the streaming service as of March 1. Disney wasted no time in announcing the new home for these shows, putting even more key Marvel content under one roof.

This is convenient for Disney and Marvel Studios, certainly more convenient for fans who want all of their Marvel stuff in one place, and opens up some interesting conversations about the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general; in particular, what this means for these shows in terms of their overall place within the larger MCU. Up to this point, things have been a bit murky pretty much ever since "Daredevil" debuted in 2015. Only recently have things come into focus a bit, with Charlie Cox reprising his role as Matt Murdock in "Spider-Man: No Way Home." But the picture certainly isn't crystal clear and until someone at the top of the food chain at Marvel Studios, such as Kevin Feige, weighs in on the matter, this move from Netflix to Disney+ may only serve to muddy the waters a bit.

A brief history of these shows and the MCU

Once the rights to "Daredevil" and his associated characters reverted back to Marvel in 2013, plans were hatched to bring him into the MCU in some way, shape, or form. While a movie was pitched, it was ultimately decided that TV was a better fit for the street-level hero, and a package was put together for streaming services that would consist of four solo shows and a team-up series, ultimately taking the form of "The Defenders." Netflix won the day, as was revealed in late 2013, with "Daredevil" making its way to air in April of 2015.

The next couple of years saw multiple seasons of that show, as well as "Jessica Jones," "Luke Cage," "Iron Fist," and "The Punisher" arrive on the streaming service, whilst generating a great deal of buzz. However, the direct connections to the movies were tangential at best. Only vague references and whatnot ever made these shows feel like they were part of the larger universe. And, until Cox cameoed in "No Way Home," none of these characters had appeared in the movies at all. It was tough to know if they were even considered canon in the MCU. This is made all the more complicated with the fact that the MCU is now exploring the multiverse, meaning that multiple versions of these characters can exist in multiple realities.

With "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." it's even more complicated. The show was the first live-action Marvel show to be produced in the MCU era and was released more traditionally on ABC, with Clark Greg reprising his role as Agent Coulson after seemingly being killed off in "The Avengers." This show was inherently tied directly to the MCU and, especially in its first couple of seasons, did a decent job of acknowledging that. But, over time, the show's connection to what was happening on the big screen felt increasingly distant and these characters similarly never made the jump to the movies. All of this to say, there was a major dividing line in the sand between these shows and the movies.

Disney+ changes the game

When Marvel Television was closed down, Marvel Studios took full control over the TV side of things, coinciding largely with the advent of Disney+. This led to shows like "WandaVision" and "Loki," which were heavily tied to the MCU and made no bones about it. These shows were just as important as the movies and were treated as must-watch events for fans. We now have tons of MCU shows coming down the pipeline, with shows like "Ms. Marvel" already proving very important ahead of their release, as the titular character from that show will be a big part of "The Marvels," the sequel to "Captain Marvel." It's all connected.

To help make everything feel even more cohesive, virtually all of the MCU movies, save for a few stragglers, have been made available on Disney+ under a dedicated Marvel section on the streaming service that appears right on the homepage. These shows are folded in categorically where they belong within the overall MCU timeline, making them feel important and adding some context for more casual viewers.

While Disney has also added some older Marvel movies and animated shows, such as the Fox "X-Men" films or the '90s "Spider-Man: The Animated Series," they are labeled in ways that make it clear that they are not directly part of the MCU. This is key, as the dividing lines are being maintained on some level. It will be important to see how the former Netflix shows, in particular, are added to the Marvel section of Disney+. Will they be included in the MCU timeline? Or will they get their own section lacking clarity as to whether or not they are even part of the MCU? We won't know the answer to that question until March 16 but the way in which these shows are treated in terms of their placement alongside the other Marvel content on Disney+ will be telling.

The optimistic take

The most optimistic version of this move to Disney+ is that things are made crystal clear. The placement of the shows within the app leaves no room for debate as to where "The Defenders" exist within the larger Marvel multiverse. To appease a lot of fans, it would probably be a solid move to say that these characters exist in the MCU proper, which would be seemingly easy but also a big commitment, as Marvel Studios would be somewhat chained to these versions of the characters for the foreseeable future. This gets particularly messy when looking at "Iron Fist," which was easily the least-liked show of the bunch.

Marvel Studios might want another crack at that one, and the multiverse could allow for that.

The potentially discouraging angle

To that end, there is a messier version of this. The placement of the shows on Disney+ could lead to a continued lack of clarity by design. Yes, we know Matt Murdock/Daredevil exists in the MCU, as does Kingpin given his appearance in "Hawkeye," but that doesn't mean all of "The Defenders" have to come along for the ride. These could be written off as variants within the multiverse that closely mirror the characters we came to know on Netflix, but they may not actually be those characters.

That would provide Marvel Studios the opportunity to pick and choose what they want to take into the MCU, making the inclusion of these former Netflix shows on Disney+ more of a branding thing and less of a wholesale "welcome to the MCU" thing. They could take Daredevil but opt to cast a new Iron Fist. It's not hard to see why the multiverse is appealing for this very reason. It all counts when the powers that be want it to count, and it doesn't have to count when they would rather it not. "Luke Cage," for example, presents an interesting challenge as Mahershala Ali played Cottonmouth on this particular series, while he is now also set to take on the lead role in Marvel's "Blade" reboot. Granted, Gemma Chan played Minn-Erva in "Captain Marvel" as well as Sersi in "Eternals" so there is precedent here, but it's something to consider.

The other thing to consider is the Netflix shows were far more violent and at times full-on R-rated, which is something the MCU has never been. The MCU is PG-13 and firmly PG-13, which is a bit part of its strategy to reach such a wide global audience. Could "The Punisher" as portrayed by Jon Bernthal possibly exist as is in the MCU? That's tough to imagine. The other option here is that Marvel could edit these shows a bit on Disney+ to soften the blow. Tone down some of the violence and language to make them fit a bit better into the shared universe. This, of course, is its own box of worms that is quite problematic.

For now, we have a lot of questions with few definitive answers. It seems clear that we are inching towards those answers and these characters may well be in the MCU sooner rather than later, with Disney+ bringing us one step closer. It's just a matter of whether or not the answers we get are satisfying.