WandaVision: Marvel’s Grand Introduction to a New Era
Adia Chaney looks back on the first season of "WandaVision" and what it portends for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the age of bingeing and fresh streaming content popping up on a daily basis, even a groundbreaking new series can quickly become old news before making its way onto late night television as a throwaway joke. Despite the daunting odds, Marvel’s “WandaVision” has emerged ahead of the pack to remind us why we love television and movies.
When Marvel first announced the release of “WandaVision,” which is shaping up to be the studio’s most successful attempt to expand their cinematic universe into a TV show, they were correct in dubbing it “a new era.” The series focuses on Wanda Maximoff and vibranium synthezoid Vision, two Avengers who have received relatively little focus on the big screen.
It quickly enthralled fans with a series of homages to classic American sitcoms starring the two titular characters living in the idyllic New Jersey town of Westview, consistently presenting new mysteries, starting with the perplexing return of Vision.
So why all the buzz over what initially appears to be a Marvel themed sitcom? Although this is not the first time Marvel has expanded its cinematic universe into the realm of streaming shows, no previous offering included major players from the films, instead choosing to focus on minor characters or creating new ones entirely.
“WandaVision” also expertly weaves the ongoing story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into both its premise and narrative arc, serving as a direct follow up to “Avengers: Endgame.” These qualities give the show a completely different tone than those struck by Marvel’s previous efforts. Each episode raises and answers questions regarding the events of the show, but also opens the door to new possibilities within the MCU.
“WandaVision” feels paradoxically like both a television show and a film, often in the same breath. It has undeniable cinematic qualities yet celebrates television by its very premise each week, presenting Wanda and Vision’s lives as an homage to a different classic sitcom—everything from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to “The Office.” These portions employ all of the devices and tropes used by the shows that inspired them, right down to the aspect ratios and camera angles that remain era-specific throughout.
Jess Hall, the cinematographer for the show, was aware these elements were a “bold choice,” but in an interview with Collider maintains the success of the show is proof that “if the content is good enough, audiences will accept 4:3 [aspect ratio] and they’ll accept black and white.”
Conversely, the scenes concerned with characters outside of Westview make use of far more cinematic writing and camera techniques, applying established marvel tropes such as quippy dialogue in times of planning or crisis, and are shot in the 2:40 aspect ratio that is most common in Marvel movies. According to Hall, these cinematic elements are necessary for viewers to “locate themselves quite concretely in the MCU.”
The ability to hold an audience’s rapt attention across multiple entries in a larger story has served Marvel admirably since Tony Stark first donned the Iron Man suit in 2008, and is the driving force behind the success of “WandaVision.” The synthesis of television and film that forms its structure allows Marvel to deeply explore its characters and their motivations, developing them in a way never before seen in the MCU.
Without spoiling anything, this show takes the audience on a complex journey with Wanda, and it never feels as though we are simply along for the ride. The show’s devotion to its iconic characters and the MCU legacy allows for hilarious, action packed moments to follow intense, character driven, and dramatic ones, with both being given time to breathe.
Rather than bouncing rapidly between expositional jokes and intense action sequences, as is often the case in the movies, “WandaVision” is structured in a measured way that allows time to deliver lines such as “What is grief if not love persevering?” — and the audience is granted time to appreciate their impact.
The show’s ability to earn its dramatic moments, shift organically between comedy and cinematic action, and consistently build suspense with each new episode was made even more effective by Marvel’s decision to stream it on a delayed release schedule; a risky move in today’s insta-entertainment landscape.
Prior to the recent surge of competitive new streaming services, TV shows were released on a weekly schedule, a practice necessitated by the nature of cable television. According to Forbes, “More Americans are now paying for streaming services than cable TV.” Although a few of these services initially attempted to provide new content each week, it became far more common for new seasons of the latest shows to debut all at once and generate all sorts of excitement that generally died down quickly.
Just as weekly release schedules were once the norm, full season releases have become the default modus operandi in the entertainment industry.
This is not the only recent successful show to buck this trend. One of the biggest hits of the last two years, ‘The Mandalorian’ is still consistently discussed at a higher pitch than even more recent streaming hits such as “Tiger King,” “The Queen’s Gambit,” and “Bridgerton.”
“WandaVision” is set up to be even more successful in 2021. The most recent data from Parrot Analytics state that demand for the show has increased by 90 percent in the last 30 days.
“WandaVision” has proven that just as audiences will embrace classic sitcom conventions appearing in a modern cinematic show provided the content is good, so too are they willing to eagerly await a weekly release schedule.
Not only is this format acceptable, each installment bolsters the overall effect of the show’s synthesis of TV and film tropes. By allowing audiences time to dwell on the most recent episode, Marvel has generated far more sustained excitement amongst fans than most streaming shows are able to achieve.
Online communities have been buzzing with theories and speculations since the first episode, with fans encouraged between episodes to discover or revisit the studio’s former films for a refresher course in the MCU. The risk has paid off in spades for Marvel.
Each of these aspects comes together in “WandaVision” to create a love letter from Marvel to its devoted fanbase, along with an open invitation to those taking their first steps into the MCU. Between the “previously on” segments that precede each episode and the use of clips from previous MCU films as exposition, it is easy to get caught up.
The show pays frequent homage to classic television — almost as though Marvel is deliberately recognizing and commemorating the medium into which they are properly stepping for the first time — while remaining an extremely cinematic experience, especially as the season progresses. Each episode feels like an installment in the longest ever Marvel film.
The same way fans waited months and years for the latest installments in the MCU, they now need only wait days. In the age of remakes, reboots, and general lack of creativity in both film and TV, “WandaVision” keeps the heart of Marvel alive by looking to the future — of the MCU, streaming, and entertainment as a whole — while simultaneously honoring all that came before.
And to this I say, “Excelsior!”