It is undeniable that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is the largest movie franchise of all time. It’s the highest-grossing franchise of all time, having raked in over $22 billion over its 23 film run. “Avengers: Endgame” is the highest-grossing movie of all time, grossing $2.79 billion at the box office. Marvel went from a one-off superhero film about a billionaire playboy to a box office juggernaut.
But one thing eluded the Marvel Cinematic Universe: television. Disney had attempted shows before on ABC, in the form of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” and “Agent Carter,” but both lacked the large-scale budgets of their film counterparts. Then they began creating shows for Netflix, which started out strong with the critically acclaimed “Daredevil,” but it eventually fizzled out. (“Iron Fist” has a 37% on Rotten Tomatoes.) But the biggest issue the ABC and Netflix shows had was their connection to the MCU; it was minimal at best. Aside from occasional vague references, such as calling Loki’s attack on New York “The Incident” (which makes no sense; if aliens destroyed Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto wouldn’t go on the news and call it “The Incident”) or featuring the Hulk on newspaper covers (the images of which are clearly stills from previous movies), they were relatively self-contained.
But with the launch of the Disney+ streaming service, Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel Studios have finally brought the MCU into the form of proper prestige television. Conceived as a way to develop characters that wouldn’t be likely to receive feature films, the shows (of which there will be a lot, there are currently 12 announced) will all tie into the overarching narrative of the MCU. “WandaVision” is the first of these shows.
Initially conceived as the second show, which would have followed “The Falcon” and the “Winter Soldier,” “WandaVision” is supposed to be the “subversive” Marvel show. Six of the first seven episodes stylize themselves after various eras of sitcoms, from “The Honeymooners” all the way to “Modern Family.” This all happens because of Wanda Maximoff’s reality-changing powers, which have a long history in the comic book lore, (most predominantly in the House of M storyline, which features Wanda rewriting the entire world) but are introduced to the MCU here for the first time.
The reality-bending element of the show leads to some very unique filming styles. The show utilizes a wide variety of aspect ratios to reflect the changing of the eras, as well as to distinguish the cinematic outside world of the “true” MCU from the interior sitcom world. We get unique storylines, and overall the entire thing feels incredibly fresh. Unfortunately, by the end the neat cinematography and clever aspect ratios disappear for a bit, and we get a CGI battle. There’s nothing wrong with a CGI battle, and I still enjoyed it, but the quality level goes down a bit. I still very much enjoyed watching the smashy CGI battle, but it just felt like the weakest part of the show.
The one thing that all of the best MCU properties have in common is that the directors were given creative control. The best example of this is “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” where, following the massive success of the first movie, Disney gave director James Gunn almost full creative control. What resulted was an absolutely brilliant film that is universally regarded as one of the best, if not the best, of the entire 23-film franchise.
Likewise, with “WandaVision,” showrunner Jac Schaeffer was given permission by Disney to do more or less whatever she wanted. They were willing to allow her creative freedom, and what results is one of the strongest entries in the entire franchise.
My fear is that Disney will let “WandaVision” be “the subversive show” and will have every other Disney+ show follow a strictly algorithmically generated formula to maximize social media buzz topic discussion of the show and to tell a milquetoast story filled with nothing but quips and emptiness. My hope is that Disney will continue to learn from what is successful and continue to tell a fun and enthralling narrative. At this point, I am incredibly attached to this world and these characters, and I have been watching them since I was eight. I’ve accepted the fact that I will continue to watch anything that they make, regardless of whether it’s good or not. I’d just prefer that it be good.