After a decade or more of prestige TV revolutionizing the medium by making television more cinematic, the Marvel movie universe is doing something just as extraordinary: they're making movies more like TV. Yes, each of their connected films have their own identity and largely manage to stand alone as rollicking action flicks. But what's unsettling, and undeniably daring, about what Marvel is doing, flies in the face of movie conventions. The films generally attract decent reviews, but grumbling has grown with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, coupled with producer Kevin Feige telling Bloomberg Businessweek that he's planned out the Marvel Universe through 2028.
Manohla Dargis, reviewing The Winter Soldier for the New York Times, decried it as "less a stand-alone work than a part of an ever-expanding multimedia enterprise." Indeed, The Winter Soldier features all the Marvel Cinematic Universe tricks that are now becoming routine. Along with Cap, it pulls in members of the Marvel ensemble we've seen in other movies (Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill, and most importantly Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow). It includes a mid-credits tag, written and directed by Joss Whedon, that has little to nothing to do with the film you just watched and everything to do with setting up Avengers: Age of Ultron, which comes out more than a year from now. Another tag, likely relating to a direct Captain America threequel (due in 2016), is relegated to the very end of the credits.
This is the exact same approach we saw in 2013's Thor: The Dark World, and the success of Marvel's approach means that other studios are trying the same tricks—Fox had The Wolverine end with a jarring set-up for X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Sony is also desperately trying to turn its Spider-Man franchise into a linked universe, today hiring Drew Goddard to make a Sinister Six movie composed only of villains.