by Jason McCullum
Mild Spoilers Ahead
By no means do I need to tell you that WandaVision has been an early bright spot in a concerningly dark 2021. Once moving past the early frustration that came with a lack of clarity in episodes one through three, each subsequent chapter of Wanda’s story continued to up the emotional impact and overall creativity. While some may be disappointed by the finale, that is doing the series a major disservice. Wanda and Vision’s story arc was written so beautifully that the finale did not need any major reveals to make the series satisfying. Though the story at hand is an ambitious one, the palpable sadness that radiates through the screen into the hearts of viewers was more than enough to make the case for this being one of Marvel’s strongest releases yet.
However, WandaVision has one major issue… it’s too good. It’s so good in fact that it may have just destroyed the classic MCU formula.
Despite being a longtime fan of the MCU, I found myself fearing that Phase Four would see my enthusiasm drop off significantly. While I remain deeply invested in the stories of a couple key characters, namely Peter Parker, the pitch-perfect conclusion that Endgame brought to the table made creating new stories with old characters feel utterly unnecessary, WandaVision being one of my biggest fears. Luckily, I was wrong with our first taste of the Phase Four story. What made this series a special experience was backtracking in Marvel canon to ignite emotions for characters that I had never gotten fully invested in. In the end, my main fear for the series proved to be one of its biggest strengths. Still, Marvel is not entirely out of the weeds yet.
Their next two releases, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Black Widow, will be revisiting characters that have been featured prevalently in previous movies. While Falcon appears to be moving the overall arc of the MCU forward, Black Widow is taking viewers back many years, before the events of Endgame or Infinity War. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it does not spark the same thrill in me that WandaVision has, a sentiment I am confident I am not alone with. Although I’m sure both releases will have plenty of admirable qualities, immediately returning to a stereotypical position for Marvel is certainly a head-scratching move.
Through speaking to my circle of friends and family, and staying informed on public opinion of WandaVision through social media, this series has universally appeared to reignite enthusiasm for viewers. More importantly, however, it has managed to rope in individuals that have typically been lukewarm toward Marvel properties. So how will the general public respond if things revert to a more familiar format that lacks the forward-thinking approach WandaVision has taken? Despite its big-budget and cinematic characteristics, the environment presented brought on an intimate story that is relentlessly unnerving. Moments from Episode 5, such as Norm begging Vision to stop Wanda, and the face of absolute terror that Vision withholds upon not understanding who he is are perfect examples of just how creepy the series was. While these were by no means horror-driven sequences, I certainly did not sleep as soundly as usual after burning them into my memory. In a similar vein, the entire first three episodes had this overwhelming tension that the world at large was not what it seemed.
These were not decisions that seemed likely for Marvel after watching recent releases Ant-Man and the Wasp or Spider-Man: Far From Home (despite my deep affection for those movies). The positive response to Marvel’s sudden change of pace argues that fans may be scratching heads in less than two weeks if Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes merely crack jokes and fight crime for six episodes. Maybe confusion will set in as hard rock music drives fans into the credits rather than the unsettling strings that Michael Paraskevas has established. Even if the quality of episodes is high for Falcon, the strong legs that WandaVision has established to usher in a new era of Marvel may be taken with less excitement than it currently is.
Ultimately, now is the ideal time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to look forward, not backward. This does not necessarily mean that they should not use past characters, as the talented Marvel staff has proven that there is a slew of compelling stories yet to be told. But tonally, the landscape of the MCU should continue to evolve in the way that WandaVision has painted for viewers. Not only have changes to the formula helped garnered attention from newer fans but it has also kept longtime fans around. Nothing about this series was unsuitable for children or overly terrifying to the point where non-horror enthusiasts would need to turn away; it simply focused on minor changes in character development and the overall tone of the setting to provide the freshest Marvel property yet.
Luckily for those who have been triggered by this write-up, I do believe Marvel is heading in the right direction. Future titles such as Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness seem to be bringing in fan-favorite characters to continue working with the mood that WandaVision has so wonderfully established. The bigger argument at hand is that Marvel should attempt to operate with this much creativity for the entirety of Phase Four and potentially beyond. This is especially important to take into consideration as the pandemic draws to a close (hopefully this year). Due to our quarantined reality, Endgame feels so far behind us that riding the hype of that film may no longer be a viable option. Therefore, presenting fans with something fresh should become the primary objective. Fortunately for Marvel, they need to look no further than WandaVision to understand the direction to take.
Concerns for the future aside, I still plan to watch Falcon and Black Widow as soon as possible with the hopes that all my analysis is wrong and that those releases present fans with the same level of originality that WandaVision did. All things considered, while their filmography has plenty of duds and total stinkers, Marvel always seems to bounce back in the most impressive way. So, lucky for me, even if my fears prove to be true, I’m sure they will tell me a story that is as immersive, perfectly stressful, and consistently excellent as WandaVision in due time.
All episodes of WandaVision are currently streaming on Disney+, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premieres on March 19th.