In Captain America: Civil War, there is a wonderful scene between Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany). Throughout the brief exchange, Vision seems nervous, trying to make a cooped-up Wanda feel at home during her house arrest. It’s rich with fantastic acting by two marvelous (nailed it) performers who are sinking their teeth into the subtext at hand. However, that all comes crashing down when Wanda says, “Vision, are you not letting me leave?”
I think about that moment a lot in regards to Marvel movies. It is, I believe, reflective of the MCU as a whole. In those films, there is a tendency to explain everything to the audience. Instead of allowing moments to breathe and nuance to be key, characters often just … say exactly what they’re thinking and what they want. To the letter.
This type of storytelling can be traced back to the formula that most Marvel movies follow. It usually goes like this:
— Character is not their best self
— Character gains some sort of superpower
— Character uses said superpower to defeat bad guy who is
reflection of their worst self, and saves the day
— Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
This isn’t always the case. Immediately, Spider-Man: Homecoming comes to mind. It’s a fun, high school movie with a superhero twist. It also includes, I think, the best scene in the whole MCU. Tom Holland and Michael Keaton, in a car, talking. It’s riveting.
There are also some occasional, albeit slight, variations on the formula. For instance, Thor has a habit of losing his powers to propel him on his journey. Black Panther features a villain who is more layered and relatable instead of just a bad version of Black Panther. But, even with these variations, you have movies like Doctor Strange and Ant-Man, which are both, basically, Iron Man in a cape and… small, respectively. Even Black Panther leads to a “boss fight” between two guys in the same suit.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy most of the MCU movies. I’m not alone. They make, collectively, BILLIONS of dollars worldwide. However, that’s also why I wasn’t surprised to see some responses to the MCU’s newest venture: WandaVision.
The series, which sees Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprising their roles, is Marvel’s first foray into TV storytelling that will connect directly to their films. I love Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Netflix shows, but they’re as connected to the larger MCU as I am. WandaVision is weird, quirky, and mysterious, and I absolutely love it. Critics have been enjoying it as well, as it currently sits pretty with a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The response from audiences has been interesting. While the series certainly has its fans among noncritics, I’ve seen quite a few people express this sentiment: “I don’t understand it, but we’ll see where it goes.” There seems to be a willingness to play along, but also confusion as to why we don’t know exactly what’s going on yet. This is reflected in interviews with the stars as well.
During a press junket (I’ll be pulling from Digital Spy specifically) Elizabeth Olsen had this to say:
“In superhero movies you usually know who the villain is. Or you know when they’re coming into the timing of the film; you know when they’re going to show themselves,” began Olsen.
“In WandaVision, you don’t know who the villain is or if there is a villain, so I think the real drama and tension is the constant tug and pull between the sitcom universe and the Marvel universe - and what was fun… what was really fun was uncovering how much we peel back in every episode.”
There is an air of “wait and see” to what she’s saying that I’m not sure would be necessary with other franchises. People are used to the comfort of formula when it comes to Marvel. Heck, the triumphant return of “deceased” heroes in Avengers: Endgame isn’t even as shocking as it is comforting. If you walked out of Avengers: Infinity War expecting anything less than the heroes’ inevitable return then, well, I envy you. It’s not to say the big moment isn’t incredibly exciting, but I would argue that it is because it is what was wanted and expected.
Marvel doesn’t take a lot of risks. There’s an argument to be made that they don’t need to. However, my hope is that WandaVision will be the first of many. A break from the formula we’re used to that leads to more and more and, eventually, leaves us with an increasingly diverse array of storytelling. The question now is: are audiences willing to follow along?
Header Image Source: Disney