Blame, blame is such an easy game. Why, with such an incredible universe to draw from, is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. such a bore? There is quite a lot of blame to go around but it lies rooted in Marvel’s financial woes in the 90s. There is a great article on Marvel’s trip from bankruptcy to billions here so I won’t go into too much depth.
Marvel had a big television hit with The Incredible Hulk. It was a wonderful formula: take a well liked actor (Bill Bixby), add a champion body builder (Lou Ferrigno), and simply retell The Fugitive, a popular television series from fifteen years earlier. It worked great. They then attempted to repeat this success with Captain America (painfully bad), Dr. Strange, and others. They didn’t pan out so Marvel tried to launch a few more from within The Incredible Hulk. The Incredible Hulk Returns featured Thor and The Trial of the Incredible Hulk featured Daredevil.
As part of the recovery from bankruptcy in the 90s, numerous licensing deals were made. It is great that Marvel was able to climb back out of the hole but many of the terms on the deals were ridiculous.
Twentieth Century Fox made a fantastic version of X-Men (2000) and the even better X-Men 2 (2003). Unfortunately, the deal allowed X-Men movies to be owned by Fox in perpetuity as long as the movies kept being made. That would be bad enough but the deal included all of the standard X-Men, their standard villains, and even extended to the term mutant.
Attempts had been made during the 90s to bring Spider-Man, Marvel’s most iconic character, to the big screen and while that failed, the rights were tied up for quite some time. Once the rights were untangled, Columbia (Sony) locked them up again, including a rogue’s gallery of Marvel’s best villains. Once again, a really good blockbuster was made, Spider-Man (2002) followed by an even better sequel, Spider-Man 2 (2004).
Apparently, it took a long time for Marvel to catch on that they were selling the cow instead of the milk. Essentially the same deal was made, again with Twentieth Century Fox, for Daredevil. Daredevil, Elektra, The Kingpin, and even Ben Urich were tied up. Ditto Lionsgate with The Punisher (2004) and The Punisher: War Zone (2008).
Finally, the Fantastic Four rights were locked up, again by Twentieth Century Fox. This wouldn’t be so bad as they were usually self-contained but it also included Doctor Doom and the Silver Surfer. Not just that but Fantastic Four (2005), Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and the reboot Fantastic Four (2015) have all been pretty dire.
Not only did Marvel practically give away their entire roster of characters but many others such as Iron Man were locked up in deals where the movie simply never came to fruition.