HEAT VISION

How 'WandaVision' Unlocks Marvel’s Storytelling Potential

Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau on 'WandaVision.'
Marvel Studios
The latest episode uses the time jump of 'Avengers: Endgame' in a way that suggests we've only scratched the surface.

[This story contains spoilers through episode four of Disney+'s WandaVision.]

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not as it was before. The fourth episode of WandaVision, “We Interrupt This Program” gave audiences a look at a post-Blip world, the first such look since Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). The Spidey sequel provided a humorous look at what the return of those erased from existence by Thanos’ snap looked like from a high school perspective, and also gave a glimpse at some of the problems faced upon their return, such as the housing crisis faced by Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). But with the exception of the Avengers’ absence, not much appears to have fundamentally changed in the five years between the end of Avengers: Infinity War and the end of Avengers: Endgame.

WandaVision offers a new perspective, one that ushers us into the full horror of what Thanos’ snap meant for those who returned and opens up myriad storytelling possibilities that give the MCU the advantage of unfamiliarity once again.

When Iron Man kicked off the MCU in 2008, there were a lot of questions about the nature of the world Marvel Studios was building. What was the history of it? What heroes had already made their mark? What was the Avengers Initiative leading to? Of course, comic fans had a certain amount of familiarity and insight, but given the nature of adaptations and the broad liberties taken previously in Marvel movies, there really was no telling what we were in store for back then. In 2008, the very idea of seeing Bucky (Sebastian Stan) gunning down Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) minions alongside Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) seemed beyond even a pipe dream. It wasn’t even on our minds. While we’re not in exactly the same scenario in 2021 as we were 13 years ago, the five-year time jump in Endgame has allowed questions about the future and the nature of the world Marvel Studios is continuing to build to arise yet again.

What’s the history of those five years? What heroes emerged in the Avengers’ absence? And what is this new world order building toward? By sticking to the time jump, rather than erasing it, Marvel Studios has set the stage for a new status quo, new agencies of power, new adversaries, and familiar supporting faces ready to emerge as more prominent heroes.

Much of the fourth episode uses Captain Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and Dr. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) as surrogates for the audience. They’re asking many of the same questions viewers have been asking over the previous three weeks about the goings on of Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision’s (Paul Bettany) TV land, while also offering up a few conspiracies of their own. But the purpose of the episode isn’t just to hold the viewers’ hands and assure them that explanations are coming. It’s to showcase how much the world has changed, from the perspective of humans who aren’t working with all the answers, rather than superheroes with boundless resources and cosmic awareness. WandaVision provides a ground-level look at the consequences brought on by Thanos’ actions. The Avengers won, but much was still lost in the process.

When it comes to Darcy and Jimmy, two characters who were largely comic relief in their previous appearances in Thor (2011), Thor: The Dark World (2013) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), respectively, both have emerged as competent guides, perhaps even serving as the Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) in this new era of Marvel storytelling. In a number of ways the five-year time jump, and death and/or disappearance of previous anchor characters, has allowed the MCU to achieve something comics have taken decades to achieve, and not without a fair share of retcons and reboots thrown in: character growth that comes with age. Sure, we’re only talking supporting characters for now, but there is something to the fact that Darcy and Jimmy have evolved to become more experienced versions of their former selves, rather than being stuck in a state of arrested development, simply because it was familiar and worked the first time around. It’s this kind of long-form storytelling, even when it’s as simple as Jimmy mastering Scott Lang’s card trick or Darcy emerging as a brilliant scientist in her own right, that makes the structure of the MCU rewarding. Rather than rebooting, it refreshes and gives the audiences and characters a new lens through which to see this world. And no lens is more exciting than that of Monica Rambeau.

Monica’s return from the Blip is particularly harrowing. The opening of episode four not only showcases the flurry and dysfunction resulting from Hulk’s (Mark Ruffalo) use of the Infinity Stones, as the hospital is filled with returning people, but also hits Monica with a sledgehammer of grief. Her mother, Maria (Lashana Lynch), whom audiences were introduced to in Captain Marvel (2019), has died of cancer while she was gone. Immediately, we’re made aware that the MCU as we knew it has been changed. Players have been taken off the board, and relationships shattered. Before Monica even has time to properly grieve and process that loss, a loss that to everyone around her is already old news, she’s also thrown back into a workplace that’s not only under new leadership but has new goals.

Based on the timeline, S.W.O.R.D. was created before the events of Avengers: Infinity War, but it seems like the organization really rose to prominence during the five-year time jump, effectively replacing SHIELD and focusing on impending cosmic threats. If the comics are any indication, S.W.O.R.D.’s mere existence sets up the potential for the Kree/Skrull War and the arrival of mutants, not to mention Monica Rambeau’s arrival as Photon, Pulsar or Spectrum (whichever name she ends up taking from comic book history). Much like SHIELD’s introduction in Iron Man, there are a lot of questions surrounding this new organization, not only in terms of its morals but what other Marvel characters may be among its ranks. The history of S.W.O.R.D. and how it will figure into the MCU going forward is almost as big a mystery as what’s going on with Wanda.

And while we’re on the subject of Wanda, her return from the Blip is also something that has larger storytelling implications than Endgame made audiences aware of. For the rest of the world, Vision has been gone for five years. For Wanda, it was mere minutes ago. So, as we’re theorizing about what would make Wanda take the turn she has in the series, the answer amounts to more than loss. Wanda has experienced loss without having the benefit of time offered to half of the world’s population. In some ways, her experience is not so different from Monica’s. But while Maria was a decorated hero, the head of an organization, Vision was always something of an outsider, undoubtedly viewed as more of a weapon than a man. And people don’t mourn weapons or tools, which makes Wanda’s return after five years all the more difficult. She grieves as the only one who saw Vision for who he was, and she can’t share that grief with anyone. Wanda’s actions can be seen as the darker side to Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) admission in Endgame, “Some people move on, but not us.”

There is a weight given to the process of returning from the Blip in WandaVision, one based in both character growth and emotional vulnerability. Endgame beautifully presented the return as something to celebrate, with heroes arriving to Cap’s defense through magic portals in triumph. But WandaVision is interested in what remains after those initial moments of triumph, and while not all of it is heroic, it is equally fascinating. And for those reasons, and ones that we’re not even aware of yet, the five-year time jump in Endgame may be the greatest storytelling decision in the MCU since Nick Fury first uttered the word Avengers.

“Five Years Later” is amounting to more than just words on the screen, but the chance to change the very foundations of the MCU.

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