Wandavision is the most comic book-y thing Marvel Studios has ever done
The eighth and penultimate episode ran a few days ago from the time of this writing, and like nearly every other, it had a doozy of an ending. I’ll try to avoid spoiling things for those that prefer to wait and binge, or are can’t afford Disney+. Still, it might be good to just come back and read this after you’re done.
That’s because what I want to talk about for this show is that somehow after 23 feature films and 29 “seasons” of television (your mileage may vary but it’s a ton), Wandavision is by far the most “comic book” thing Marvel studios has ever done.
Comic Book Movie Realism
Marvel Studios started this wild ride we’re all still on somehow with Iron Man back in 2008. They took what was then considered a B-list character, a company killing loan, and some quality, but unappreciated talent and made a movie that blew the collective scalps off of comic book heads and non-heads alike.
Watching the journey of Tony Stark literally getting his heart back in the mountains of REDACTED looked and felt like a it was truly happening somewhere in the world. Seeing Iron Man fly, shoot, and fight was done with great care, adding the walking tank element that even the comics struggle to showcase. It felt real in a the same way Nolan’s Batman films did, but without being overly grim or unsatisfying by the end. Though in Iron Man’s case, that probably had more to do with Black Nick Fury showing up after the credits and completely opening up the whole Marvel grab bag in less than a minute.
While it was a spectacular movie that revitalized numerous careers and helped usher comic book films in as the dominant form of media, there was nothing about it that was particularly comic book-y. In fact, you could say its sleek realist take is one reason it was so successful. Sure, it had a high tech suit of armor, but it really wasn’t all that different from what we’ve seen in Ripley Aliens, or Abyss or T2 (hm… James Cameron really rocks some robots).
Tony Stark doesn’t have any superpower other than extreme wealth. The kind of billions that he doesn’t feel bad about using to make weapons, one up himself, and be the worlds most notorious speed junkie. This is why Iron Man will always be better than Batman; Iron Man loves what he does most of the time. They had to give him PTSD later on to provide any character development at all (…and make the best Iron Man movie, Iron Man 3 because Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. conjure up a little chaos magic every time they work together)
Ultimately, Iron Man is just a guy with more money and guns than everybody else that decides he’d rather blow things up and not be accountable to anyone. He’s basically Eric Prince.
From there, it’s all new heroes that we’ve seen before with Anachronistic Flag Man, Smashy Green Homie, Point Break, and White Black Spy Lady. They’re all awesome and fun to watch, but typically use science and/or violence to solve problems. Even in Thor, they are sure to push the angle of “science so advanced our dumb Midgard minds think it’s magic.” From there, they mostly just beat up governments and robots while living at Tony Stark’s house. Things start getting more out there when Doctor Strange and Black Panther enters the picture and space madmen (finally) show up, but it’s still pretty “heroes journey” and “beat up the bad guy” for most of the time.
While those are fun elements of superhero comic books, there are also numerous stories that play with interesting character psychology, alternate universes, and really wacky and strange plot threads that even been known to upend the entire understanding of a shared universe. So far, the only asterisk here is Avengers: End Game. I literally thought I’d die before I saw something like that. Like my grandkids would come to meet me in heaven, and tell me about how they saw a movie with the Thanos Copter in it. That would be a grand finale.
But then there’s Wandavision. Wandavision is like like reading the Avengers comics from 1980s. That’s probably because it’s built form 80s comic book plots. Back then, the Avengers would just be hanging out at diners or going the movies before having to beat up Kang or the Count Nefaria or whomever. Hercules would followed Thor around all day to try to beat him up to prove who was the best god. A comic book existed called Howard the Duck and it was popular enough to get a George Lucas movie.
Superheroes felt almost pedestrian despite not being so in that era, which is why it was fun. This is a shared universe of characters where Luke Cage stole a rocket ship to go beat up Doctor Doom over $200 dollars, where Spider-Man got endorsed by a company that built him a dune buggy that could drive up walls, and where Deadpool is one had an afro and had beef with The White Man.
Superheroes aren’t pedestrian in movies and TV very often, so it’s hilarious when it happens. In the 2010s, every hero became an elite soldier. Superheros as soldiers is such a common idea they made it a movie plot line for like 3 movies. Even young-man Ant-Man (Scott Lang) got out of prison and became a soldier because the old-man Ant-Man (Hank Pym) was one in the past. And this was before Captain America asked young-man Ant Man to go fight the (other) Avengers so they wouldn’t have to sign their autonomy away to the government. They could just give their autonomy to a man that dresses like a government instead.
So with Wandavision, Marvel finally got the space and fearlessness to make one of the strangest things they could. Check the reciepts:
- It’s centered around a female character (Yeah I can’t believe I have to say it either).
- It drastically changes what that character has been capable of based on previous appearances.
- It plays it fast and loose with expectations.
- Baby, everybody getting super powers!
- What CAN’T you set up from this!?
- It’s really funny, then creepy, then funny again.
- It really was *REDACTED* all along.
- Ok… those guys were dead before this right?
With the exception of the “Bill and Ted-esque” time travel shenanigans of Avengers: Endgame (chef’s kiss), no one has ever come back to life, because Marvel hasn’t even been that weird. Any magical transmutations we might have seen before were parlor tricks in comparison to whatever’s happening on Wandavision. Moreover, nobody has ever been a black woman with superpowers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because Marvel couldn’t handle the realness.
That final reveal literally took me back to the 1991 video game Captain America and the Avengers. It was my introduction to the second half of the title of this show. Witnessing something and so 30 years ago rendered in live action really pulled my ass out of my seat. I didn’t think it could get any better after Avengers Endgame, but I see now that the Marvel era I really wanted was just beginning. Because this largely personal story involving a small town with a grief stricken woman dealing with her trauma and the danger her powers pose is by far the most comic book-y thing Marvel Studios has ever produced, and I’m glad to be witnessing it with an adult version of childlike wonder in my eyes.