It’s been a week now since the world watched the finale to the critically-acclaimed WandaVision – the exploration of Wanda Maximoff’s grief and loss through escaping into sitcoms. No doubt, this is the most experimental the MCU has ever gotten, throwing us into homages to Dick van Dyke and Bewitched right off the bat. Mixed in is inspiration from Vision and the Scarlet Witch (1985 – 1986), House of M (2005), and Tom King’s The Vision (2015), WandaVision presents a reinterpretation of the superhero genre for the MCU’s first Disney+ series.
Only as the series progresses do we piece together what’s happened since the events of Avengers: Endgame, and who (or what) Wanda Maximoff is. Not only that, but we get returning characters from across the MCU. Monica Rambeau (who first appeared in Captain Marvel as a kid) appears as a S.W.O.R.D. Captain. Darcey Thor: The Dark World – now a qualified doctor, and FBI agent Jimmy Woo’s even perfected his magic tricks from Ant-Man and the Wasp. All this makes the universe feel more coherent as a whole.
As a series, it’s a phenomenal character study of some of the MCU’s more side-lined characters and feels like a new direction for Hollywood, and the first step in a streaming-first approach to media.
I’d even argue it’s the perfect watch for a quarantine – given how closed off the people of Westview are and how Wanda wishes to escape purely into sitcom shenanigans instead of facing the struggles of the real world.
Of course, WandaVision isn’t the MCU’s first foray into television – most overtly with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter; both of which directly reference events in the movies. Then there are the Netflix series: Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the Defenders, as well as the infamous Inhumans – which they’ve buried in the darkest depths of Disney+.
But WandaVision feels more integral to phase four than any of those spin-off series; furthering Wanda’s character growth, reintroducing Vision, the debut of Monica Rambeau’s “Photon” powers, Agatha Harkness, and even a hint at the Nexus of all Realities.
So naturally, there’s a lot to talk about …
WHO ARE WANDA AND VISION?
In many ways, WandaVision was a risk. Not a huge financial risk mind you, given the nature of streaming services, but certainly an experiment. Neither character has the adoring fanbase Loki has, nor have they had a comparable movie like Falcon and Winter Soldier – which looks to strike the same tone as 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It was certainly a bold move, but one that I think paid off, seeing just how experimental a series can be whilst still being Marvel.
As characters, Wanda and Vision have never been greatly explored in the films. We always knew they were there, but they were mostly vague supporting characters. Vision was granted life by the Mind Stone, Ultron, and Tony Stark, and Wanda and her brother (Pietro) got powers from a Hydra facility. But that was honestly about it.
Pietro is killed off somewhat unceremoniously, and Vision gets brutally killed by Thanos. For the longest time they felt more like plot points in much larger narratives. In fact, WandaVision is the first time Pietro was even brought up since 2015’s Age of Ultron!
Thankfully, this series gave us that much needed space to explore Wanda’s character and see how she dealt with his death – confiding in Vision and watching old sitcoms.
Their relationship is believable, and even makes it more fascinating to go back and re-watch some of the prior MCU films. Knowing that before Captain America: Civil War, Wanda and Vision were getting to know each other watching Malcolm in the Middle (of all things) both humanises them and better develops their relationship.
Seeing a young Wanda and Pietro grow up watching Dick van Dyke with their family – just before Stark’s bomb hits – makes them infinitely more compelling when you revisit Age of Ultron.
That’s a great strength of transmedia storytelling, the ability to breathe new life into otherwise stale films. Similarly, I’m confident that Monica’s presence will revitalise the somewhat underwhelming Captain Marvel going forwards.
WHAT’S BEEN MESSING UP EVERYTHING? IT WAS COPYRIGHT ALL ALONG!
I’d be remised if I didn’t explain the legal issues with Wanda and Pietro – better known as “The Scarlet Witch” and “Quicksilver” in the comics. As mutants AND Avengers. they came under the rights of two different studios – namely, Fox and Disney.
Fox owned the rights to the Fantastic Four, X-Men and all-things “Mutant” (a term Disney couldn’t legally use in the MCU) and Disney owned the bulk of the Avengers. Even though they could have Wanda and Pietro, they couldn’t have their full origin – being mutant children of Magneto, their comic book names, etc.
It’s no surprise then that their introduction in Age of Ultron felt so underwhelming for fans. There were no solo films introducing them beforehand and Wanda being more-or-less a supporting character in the team-ups.
But with Fox’s acquisition by Disney, these legal issues were no longer relevant and so we could have a more fleshed out story – Wanda becoming the Scarlet Witch.
It may not be important now, but it’s certainly something that needs addressing.
Moreover, this made the Evan Peters inclusion and reveal somewhat frustrating. Evan Peters (seemingly reprising his role as Quicksilver from the X-Men movies) left a lot of fans speculating about if this would be the introduction to the multiverse – linking Fox’s X-Men to the MCU. The internet went mad theorising about this!
If I could give this show one criticism, it’s that they didn’t make the most of their Evan Peters – I don’t think we needed any X-Men to show up, but a hint to a larger multiverse would have been nice (similar to how DC did it in “Crisis on Infinite Earths perhaps).
Cool to have him included, but he deserved more than a “Bohner” joke – especially given his great chemistry with Elizabeth Olsen.
A NEW ERA?
WandaVision marketed itself effectively with the “New Era of Television” tagline, and it certainly feels appropriate. Most importantly, it feels like the end of the traditional media hierarchy. It embraced a transmedia story format in a way that captivated audiences weekly, and feels less like a spinoff nobody asked for, and something totally integral to the MCU as a whole.
Television feels more and more like an equal footing with film. Just look at what audiences are gravitating towards – shows like The Mandalorian and WandaVision are now leading the way for these franchises and paving the way for the future of their respective franchises.
Compare this to just a few years ago, where no movie even acknowledged the existence of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In hindsight, that series feels strangely isolated from what was going on at the time. They don’t even get a mention in Captain America: Winter Soldier where the focus is predominantly on S.H.I.E.L.D.
I believe this has to do with how film and television operated for the longest time. Film was the main medium for franchises. You’d have the film, then maybe a TV spinoff series – you have Back to the Future, you have the animated spinoff for kids. It was very much a trickle-down effect; a way to squeeze the most out of an IP.
But we’re now in a streaming age. On Disney+ you can watch every MCU film, every TV series, all on phone, TV, or computer at your convenience. The Mandalorian is practically essential Star Wars viewing, up there with the original trilogy – something that would have been unheard of in the 80s. With Kevin Feige presently emphasising on Disney+ over traditional blockbusters, I reckon we can expect more interaction between the small screen and silver screen.
Moreover, I think we may even be returning to a more experience-driven media age. When Netflix was introduced, many started “binge-watching” – we had TV when we wanted, how we wanted. But as with The Mandalorian weekly installment
Moreover, I think we may even be returning to a more experience-driven media age. When Netflix was introduced, many started “binge-watching” – we had TV when we wanted, how we wanted. But as with The Mandalorian weekly instalments built up regular hype and audiences theorising. Watching this all unfold, I was reminded what Starlight Runner CEO Jeff Gomez had to say about theatres – “Whether it’s a rock concert, a dance club, or a movie theatre, there’s something psychologically where we like to be physically together. Some of it I think is psychosexual.“
I certainly agree with him, but I find that collective engagement can be similarly replicated through a weekly release schedule – ironically, something many considered dated. Moreover, it proves that television can have just as big an impact as film in a post-theatre world. Not only with fans actively engaging and speculating, but having it almost become a social event – to the point where Agatha All Along reached No. 1 on iTunes!
Far more risks can be taken by streaming. Theatrical distribution felt like it had to cater to a four-quadrant audience to make it big at the box office. For the longest time, the only things showing were guaranteed to make a return – remakes, low-budget horror, and superhero stuff with a hungry fanbase.
But in the future, I believe Marvel will want to make even bolder moves on streaming. There were talks of WandaVision introducing Reed Richards of the Fantastic 4 and the X-Men … but I can see why they only wanted a nod and wink through Evan Peter’s casting. If the series tanked, that would be not one, but TWO major properties tied to it. It was smart to handle it the way they did.
WandaVision certainly feels like it broke new ground in how stories can be told, and how characterisation could occur in future – using the small screen to flesh out the characters, and the big screen for epic action. It’s a strategy I think other studios should look to employ – most notably the DCEU which is doing what they can to keep their universe as disconnected and disintegrated as possible.
All in all, I’m optimistic about the future of Marvel and hope to see other slide-lined characters receive the Wanda treatment.
It’s a new era not just for Marvel, but media as a whole.