WARNING: Contains spoilers for the WandaVision finale
It’s been clear for years that Marvel knows how to rewrite the game. Throughout the 2010s, it rewrote the blockbuster landscape, birthing the notion of the shared cinematic universe with the MCU while every other studio rushed to catch up. It rewrote its most off-the-wall characters – Thor, Ant-Man, the Guardians Of The Galaxy – into household names. And with Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, it rewrote the all-time worldwide box office, proving you could make a double-whammy of chart-smashing mega-hits entirely reliant on audiences having a deep knowledge of 20-odd previous Marvel movies. But as a new era – a new decade, a new Phase – begins, Marvel just pulled off its greatest trick yet. In WandaVision, Wanda Maximoff didn’t just rewrite her own reality – the MCU rewrote itself.
For one, it managed to adapt the biggest cinematic saga in recent history to the small screen in a way that never felt small. WandaVision wasn’t envisioned as the first Marvel show to arrive on Disney+ (The Falcon And The Winter Soldier was meant to be the big debut, before being delayed amid the pandemic), but it proved just as effective in showing exactly what an MCU story designed to be viewed at home in serialised form could look like. Across its run, WandaVision never felt less than a fully-fledged Marvel Studios story, even when devoting much of its early episodes to homaging the history of American sitcoms – a meta flourish that repeatedly demonstrated Disney+ as the perfect platform for weirder, wilder MCU stories, away from the pressures of box-office bean-counting. The Mandalorian had already shown how to blur the lines between the cinematic and the televisual – the scope and production values of the former, the hooky episodic narrative structure of the latter. WandaVision simply made it Marvellous.
WandaVision proved an unlikely but perfectly-pitched vehicle to establish full-on magic in the MCU.
The rewriting didn’t stop there. If the sitcom format phased out at the latter end of the series, it soon gave way to a different kind of MCU weirdness. Following the reveal that the show’s central mystery was tied to (cue the theme tune) Agatha all along, there came a total commitment to full-on, no-bones-about-it, Salem-witches-in-the-1600s magic. In the movies, Marvel had already done a miraculous job of placing all kinds of seemingly contradictory sci-fi and fantasy textures – futuristic tech, Norse mythology, extraterrestrial life, super-powered Nazis – alongside one another. But when it came to magic – most notably in Doctor Strange – it felt like the MCU was holding back a little. Sure, Stephen Strange is the Sorceror Supreme, but his powers always leaned more towards cosmic psychedelia and the harnessing of universal energies than old-fashioned abracadabra! magic. WandaVision, though, fully leaned into the witchiness of it all. Come the finale, Kathyrn Hahn’s Agatha Harkness was casting runes and shooting purple spells from her fingertips, her cackling face decked out in campy angular eyebrows, and Wanda was finally named as the Scarlet Witch, capable of spontaneous creation and casting skyscraping runes of her own. Since the show dovetails into next year’s big-screen sequel Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness – and with Wanda now in possession of the spell-packed Darkhold – Magic 2.0 seems here to stay. WandaVision proved an unlikely but perfectly-pitched vehicle to establish it in the MCU.
WandaVision’s most important rewrite, though, was the legacy of its two leads. In a universe so jam-packed with super-people, Wanda Maximoff and her robo-lover Vision were almost inevitably underserved on the big screen, fighting for time in incident-packed team-up movies – their relationship going from tentative paprikash–cookery to ‘We will deep fry your kebab!’ just like that. The benefit of the duo stepping into their own story has been immeasurable, hinging on two incredible performances – Elizabeth Olsen pushing Wanda through joy, fear, loss, love, and unimaginable grief across the nine-episode run, and Paul Bettany bringing beautifully human shades to a Vision whose domestic bliss was slowly eroding week by week, giving in to confusion, distrust, and existential anguish, all while hitting cheery sitcom beats. The pair have been astonishing, making audiences care more than ever for characters that they’ve been playing for years already – taking Wanda and Vision to fascinating new places, deepening their backstories, and promising even more tantalising futures for them too. Nine weeks ago, few would have counted Wanda or Vision in the upper echelon of MCU characters – now, there’s no question that Drunk Vision deserves to be #1. It all bodes well for Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes receiving similar room to grow in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier.
In a lot of ways, the phenomenon of Marvel fans all gathering for a fresh MCU story on Disney+ every week has been a new experience. But really, it’s not a reinvention at all. Just as characters crossing over between movies echoed the way they behaved on the page, the serialised storytelling of WandaVision brought Marvel back to its comic book roots. This is how it all began – superhero stories told in incremental instalments, keeping fans returning to see where it all goes next. The MCU has always trusted Marvel’s own legacy – its characters and delivery system has long been proven to resonate with people, and Phase 4 of the MCU shows a renewed commitment to that.
From start to finish, WandaVision succeeded on its own terms – but it also promises a bright future for the MCU. Post-Infinity War and Endgame, the question of how Marvel Studios could possible outdo itself loomed large. The answer proved endlessly surprising. In producing a nine-episode series that made headliners out of two bit-players, telling a witchy tale with perceptive ruminations on grief and PTSD, all set in a constructed sitcom reality, Feige’s crew showed the Marvel tank is far from dry – both in terms of its creativity and ambition, not to mention its ability to conjure small-screen streaming stories that feel entirely of a piece with their cinematic cousins. Week by week, episode by episode, twist by twist, the Marvel Cinematic Universe just rewrote itself – and 13 years into the story, we’re all still desperate for the next chapter. Now that is some Marvel magic.
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