Beware of spoilers for a TV series about a fictional TV series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the comics, Avenger and mutant Wanda Maximoff is best known for her role in altering reality, to get what she wants, and it looks like the same thing is happening in the Marvel Studios version of the fan favourite, played by Elizabeth Olsen since Avengers: Age of Ultron.
No, we’re not even talking about the bizarre premise of the upcoming WandaVision TV series, set to premiere on Disney+ on 15 January 2021 and in Singapore on 23 February, which is also the day the service makes its debut in the country.
Movie Wanda went from being a supporting villain in her debut, to a key character in subsequent movies, most notably in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the two main movies that ended Phase 3 and 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Yes, we know about Spider-Man: Homecoming as the epilogue).
Phase 4 of the MCU was set to premiere with Black Widow in the cinemas, and with The Falcon and Winter Soldier on Disney+ last year, as Marvel Studios and Disney were tapping on name characters and stars to drive traction for Disney’s streaming service. COVID-19 put a stop to that though, as both those titles were delayed, leaving the way for WandaVision, then slated to be the second Disney+ MCU show to hit the streamer, to now be the first title to launch Phase 4 of the MCU, and the first MCU title to make its debut on Disney+.
Clearly, only someone with reality altering powers can perform such an impossible feat, but MCU head honcho, Kevin Feige won’t have it any other way. In fact, the President of Marvel Studios is happy that WandaVision is the show that will introduce Phase 4 of the MCU.
“The idea was to do something that could not be done as a feature, that plays with the format. It plays with the medium and there were a lot of meetings before people actually sort of understood what we are trying to go for,” says Feige at the recent global press conference for Wandavision that Geek Culture attended.
“This show being our first one. I love how bold it is. I love how different it is and I love as I said before, it is something you could only see on Disney+. We have things that you will only be able to see initially in theatres, we have things that could end and are made for that. And this is very much made to be seen week after week on television, which is very different for us. It was very fun and it is as bold as it comes thanks to everyone you’re looking at here today.”
With Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprising their roles as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch and the Vision, WandaVision is a sitcom-style series focusing on the two loved up superheroes. The series traverses a world of satire, specifically that of 1950s-80s sitcoms like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Family Ties and The Brady Bunch – a complete 180 from the Marvel movie content we saw in the past couple of years.
Whilst Marvel Studios has had a number of Netflix episodic TV series in the past, starring heroes including Iron Fist, The Punisher, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Defenders and Daredevil, WandaVision is notably the first streaming series to employ lead superhero characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe as protagonists on the small screen after 10 whole years of movie making. (Yes, we know, Phil Coulson was in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D but he’s not a superhero).
Wait. Didn’t the Vision die in Infinity War? Well that mystery, and how WandaVision took on this unique format of a sitcom, is something viewers will have to watch and eventually find out. And Bettany isn’t spilling, even if he’s happy to be back in the MCU.
“He’s always been becoming something else. He’s JARVIS, he’s part Ultron, he’s part Tony Stark. He’s omnipotent,” Bettany says. “I think what Vision is, is just decent and honorable and exists for Wanda.”
Having viewed the first three episodes of the series, we can’t share our review just yet but we can say that in WandaVision, the duo are all smily and giggly, carrying out daily domesticated activities and mishaps with a little wink-wink here and there. It’s a departure from the couple we see in Age of Ultron and later in Infinity War, where they were previously depicted as a tragic love story filled with complications, death, grief and despair.
“We get to see them doing dishes and in the kitchen and being cute and just all the sort of like homebody stuff that you would never get to see a superhero participate in,” said head writer Jac Schaeffer.
“So we really go from these enormous sort of dramatic moments in the MCU and then in WandaVision, it’s a lot of cute, cute until it’s not.”
Despite the successes of previous Marvel films, launching Phase 4 still holds a lot of pressure for the actors returning to their characters.
As part of preparation, the actors had to learn different mannerisms and dialects of the different time periods, whether the 50s or 60s, and head writer Schaeffer even compiled a list of sayings from the era before leaving the actors to their own devices and adjustments when on set.
Apart from changing the way they speak, the cast had to learn different ways of moving their bodies to match the way people moved back then. To stay with the theme of sitcoms through the eras, the first episode was even filmed before a live studio audience, much like how sitcoms in the 50s were shot.
Director Matt Shakman and Feige even met TV sitcom legend Dick Van Dyke, whose feedback provided the direction for the series.
“I remember Kevin and I had this amazing lunch with Dick Van Dyke that remains one of the great afternoons of my life. And we asked him, ‘What was the governing principle behind ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’? Why did it work so well?’ And he said, ‘If it couldn’t happen in real life, it can’t happen on the show,” explained Shakman.
For Olsen, it was about playing to tropes from those eras, and still fitting it within the MCU. “The way women move throughout the decades, changes so much when it comes to what society wants from them. And so Jac did write in quite a few nods to how those were evolving throughout the decades. In the 60s, she (Wanda) gets to wear some pants and that would adjust how someone moves through space.”
“Not only are we trying to live within each decade, but we kind of present this kind of ideal – the structure of a sitcom – which is the setup, the misunderstanding and then the resolution,” added Kathryn Hahn, who plays the mysterious Agnes, and whom fans are surmising to be Agatha Harkness from the comic books.
Described as a nosy neighbour, Hahn and Marvel Studios have not commented on the character, but the actress assures audiences that there is more to Agnes, though viewers have to wait in order to learn about her backstory and who she is as a person. The actress herself was unfamiliar with the character but embraced what was given to her.
“In all those classic sitcoms, there’s always that person that bursts through the doors and sits on the couch, but you never know their personal life. You never get to know anything about them. They’re there. So in that classic way, I was able to walk into it as Agnes with all those beautiful tropes set up behind me to just fit, to just build on,” said Hahn.
WandaVision will also see the return of other MCU supporting characters, including Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis from the first two Thor movies, and the return of Monica Rambeau, last seen as a young girl in Captain Marvel, and now a full grown woman played by Teyonah Parris. Parris is set to reprise her role in the upcoming Captain Marvel sequel and WandaVision will certainly bridge the narrative between then and now.
“I mean, we met Monica in Captain Marvel as a little girl and basically in WandaVision we picked up with who she is now as a grown woman and through the course of the show, we find out what she’s been up to, what’s happened for her between that gap in the years and how she’s grown and evolved…or not. We just follow her along,” shared Parris.
Whilst WandaVision still remains a mystery to many, one can be sure that the series has seized and successfully created a unique genre of their own. Taking inspiration from Full House and Twilight Zone, viewers will be in for a treat, as Wandavision is not meant as a satire for sitcoms, but more of a homage. And funnily enough, it has been decades since anyone has seen an Olsen sister in a Full House styled show, a fact that wasn’t apparent to even Feige.
“[Family sitcoms] meant a lot to us, dated and silly as they may seem, there’s a comfort factor there. That was the primary factor behind the comic inspiration versus what led us to putting these ideas together,” Feige said.
“Lizzie’s background with her sisters [Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen], didn’t even occur to me until I think we were standing in the writers room with pictures of ‘Full House’ on the wall and I went ‘Oh, right.’”
And as a bonus, Feige challenges attentive MCU fans to keep their eyes peeled to everything in the series, including the 1960s commercials in the series that have a strong link to events in the MCU.
“It’s just a strange version of the 1960s commercials that you have to keep watching. If you’ve watched all the movies, you’ll be able to connect what they mean,” says Feige.
WandaVision starring Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Teyonah Parris and Kathryn Hahn premieres on Disney+ on 15 January 2021.