“WandaVision” marks an ambitious new era for the MCU

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Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

Spoilers for parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and mild spoilers for “WandaVision” below:

After creating the longest and most successful franchise of films in history, with “Avengers: Endgame” accumulating the most revenue ever generated by a film, many were left wondering what on earth the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) would do next. 

We’re all pretty familiar with the superhero formula by now. Someone dealing with trauma gains superpowers and then learns how to vanquish evil while healing from their emotional wounds. It all culminates in a final, epic showdown where the hero must summon all of their strength to defeat an evil similar to, but stronger than, the one that harmed them initially. The hero wins the battle just as all hope appears to be lost, and then we all leave the theater feeling happy and exhilarated while the staff cleans up our spilled popcorn and candy.

The creators of “WandaVision” understood that this formula was becoming a bit too familiar, and sought to use a new medium, the TV show, to create something unprecedented in the MCU. 

“WandaVision” relies on one evident truth about superheroes that many other superhero films do not address adequately: it’s hard to be a hero. Being a hero often means sacrificing what you love most, and that can lead heroes to lose sight of what they fought for, plunging them into depression and hopelessness.

Prior to the events of “WandaVision,” Wanda Maximoff’s (Elizabeth Olsen) parents were killed in Sokovia when a “Stark” weapon was fired into their apartment building. She then joined a terrorist organization (HYDRA) that experimented on her, unlocking her telekinetic, psychokinetic and energy manipulation powers. 

She lived the traditional superhero formula in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Infinity War” and “Endgame,” in the process of losing her brother, Pietro, and her husband, the Vision (Paul Bettany), while temporarily moving past her trauma to help defeat both Ultron and Thanos.

After defeating Thanos, Wanda is lost and alone. In a world where she has nearly unlimited power, but no friends, no parents, no brother and no husband, she begins to lose control. Her depression, empty rage and hopelessness take over, and, eventually, Wanda’s inner emptiness explodes. 

Ground zero of this explosion is the town of Westview, New Jersey. She remakes this entire town with her ability to manipulate energy and matter in the image of classic sitcoms like “The Dick van Dyke Show” and “Bewitched” that she had always binge-watched to escape her depression in her youth.

Just as sitcoms were an escape from a depressing reality for Wanda in the past (and for many of us in the present), Wanda escapes her current reality by creating an illusory one, living the life of a sitcom character rather than dealing with her emptiness.

As the show goes on, Wanda slips further and further away from sanity. As she unravels, so too does the illusion that she created. 

This is no show about heroes and villains, but rather about what happens to a hero who falls to despair when they no longer have anything to hope for or anything to love. 

The first three episodes of “WandaVision” play out as if they were traditional sitcoms, with clues as to what’s really going on peppered throughout each episode. “House of M” Marvel Comics fans will surely scour each frame for numerous references and “Easter eggs” that are hidden throughout the series. 

After the fourth episode, the series becomes less coy and comedic and much more raw and direct regarding Wanda’s trauma.

Olsen is at the top of her game in “WandaVision,” playing a fictional character who is playing other fictional characters from different eras of television history in each episode. Olsen displays incredible range and prowess in “WandaVision.” Whether she is imitating Mrs. Petrie from “The Dick van Dyke Show” or Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched,” Olsen is also doing so as a broken and desperate Wanda Maximoff. 

Alongside Olsen in terms of acting prowess is Bettany as a Vision who remembers nothing of his past, yet still comes to suspect that something in Westview is gravely wrong. 

The high attention to detail in the physical production of “WandaVision” and the show’s intentional cinematography, always shifting to mirror new timeframes and eras in television history, deserves high praise. Those who pay attention to such things as cinematography and physical production design will be greatly rewarded in watching “WandaVision,” as its true story is often told more through these elements of the show’s creation than through its dialogue. 

However, what should be praised above all else in “WandaVision” is the quality and ambition of its script. “WandaVision” is treading new ground in the superhero film genre, and it does so with a high level of skill, creating an intriguing story that continues to perplex, excite and compel audiences.

Though “WandaVision” is indeed compelling, ambitious and skillfully executed, it is not a perfect production. This show might bore audiences that were expecting more traditional superhero fare, and it focuses so much on creating an intriguing mystery for audiences to solve that some characters’ development feels rushed. 

Despite its flaws, “WandaVision” is certainly a bold new step for the MCU that signals to us all that the most successful and popular franchise in history isn’t afraid to go in new directions and take risks. 

Unlike most major productions today, “WandaVision” is a show that feels fresh and will not fail to provoke the mind of the intentional viewer, which makes it well worth the watch.

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