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‘WandaVision’ brings back the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Is it a mistake?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe will enter a new phase, rebooting the franchise yet again on Disney+. But do reboots like this work?

Paul Bettany is Vision and Elizabeth Olsen is Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ “WandaVision,” exclusively on Disney+. ‘WandaVision’ returns on Friday, Here’s how to watch.
Paul Bettany is Vision and Elizabeth Olsen is Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ “WandaVision,” exclusively on Disney+.
Marvel Studios

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is coming back and, in some ways, starting completely anew with the debut of “WandaVision.”

The show — which will be focused on Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) living in what appears to be an alternate reality — brings Marvel fans back into a massively new storyline that will begin the next phase of the franchise. Marvel had 23 films — stretching from “Iron Man” in 2008 to “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in 2019 — that created an entire saga and storyline based around the Infinity Stones, Thanos and Tony Stark.

“WandaVision” brings us back into the world, only with a slew of differences. There’s no Tony Stark. There’s no Thanos (that we know of) and there are few indications there will be a massive team up like the Avengers did in “Infinity War” or “Endgame.”

“WandaVision” is the beginning of the new era, which includes Disney+ shows centered around Marvel characters. “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” is coming, as too as is “Loki” and others. All the while, Marvel films are in the pipeline, too. We’ve got “Black Widow” and “The Eternals” coming in 2021.

Marvel is back — but it’s a new era, and it’s one that represents a reboot for the franchise. But is that a mistake for Marvel? Is Marvel rebooting or refreshing the franchise at the wrong time? Will “WandaVision” and future content alienate other viewers and fans? Or will the same love for the MCU thus far translate with the new content? Let’s take a look.

The shift to Disney+ presents a new era.

It’s no question Marvel’s biggest change is in the distribution. We know we’re still getting some movie theater films like “The Eternals” and “Black Widow” next year. But “WandaVision” represents the other side of the aisle — some shows will be debuting on Disney+ instead. And Marvel boss Kevin Feige has hinted that Disney+ shows will directly connect to the next phase of Marvel films.

For example, the upcoming Disney+ show “Loki” takes place after “Avengers: Endgame.” The show centers around the version of Loki who disappeared with the Tesseract in the “Endgame” scene that took place in 2012. There’s clearly a connection between the show and the movies, and you can expect this will be the case moving forward.

“WandaVision” can prove that the MCU can rely on television shows to carry the load of the broader MCU narrative arc,” said Kendall Phillips, a professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University. So far, Marvel’s television shows have added smaller, more intimate stories to the Marvel Universe, but not really been essential viewing.”

“WandaVision” is our first test of that. We know it takes place in some sort of an alternate reality since Vision died in “Avengers: Infinity War.” We know there’s some sort of sitcom vibe to it all with a laughing track, showing this isn’t the typical reality we’d often see. The idea of the multiverse has been hinted at with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which is set to come next (and have a direct connection to “WandaVision).

It’s unclear how events will play out in “WandaVision,” but it will be the first chance we have of seeing the Disney+ shows mix with the films. Surely there will be plenty of easter eggs and loose ends that will be explored down the road in future arrival products.

Elizabeth Olsen is Wanda Mixmoff and Paul Bettany is Vision in ‘WandaVision.’ ‘WandaVision’ will air its fourth episode on Disney+ tomorrow morning.
Elizabeth Olsen is Wanda Mixmoff and Paul Bettany is Vision in ‘WandaVision.’
Disney+

The arrival comes during the coronavirus pandemic. Disney has already pushed some content — like “Mulan” and “Soul” — directly to Disney+ instead of the movie theaters. Granted, Disney already planned to run these shows on Disney+. But there’s a bigger audience for the product, and all eyes have turned toward the streaming service as a primary source for Disney fans to watch shows and movies.

This is a new era for Marvel — where content on one platform (Disney+) mixes with another (movie theaters), while at the same time representing the first foray into a new dimension of reality, with streaming becoming more of a focus for video platforms. With “WandaVision,” we’re entering two doors at once — one where we see the next phase of the show and the next phase of how Americans watch content.

A reason to reboot the franchise.

“WandaVision” won’t be a tremendous reboot in the sense of bringing in new actors for old rolls. But it is, in a sense, rebooting the Marvel franchise into something outside the marathon of 22 films. This is a new era for Marvel, and “WandaVision” will kick it off.

It’s natural as a starting point because comic books have done this for years. Reboots aren’t anything new in the comic book world, nor are multiple universes and alternate timelines.

For comics, reboots come a lot more often. In many ways, comics are rebooted or refreshed to bring in new writers, artists and interpretations of characters. DC Comics, for example, brought in new writers for the “New 52” series, which rebooted the entire comic book history of DC Comics.

Marvel is doing something similar with “WandaVision.” It’s rebooting the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a new way, bringing in the concept of the multiverse and alternate realities, while keeping characters alive.

Refreshing a franchise like this has a purpose, Phillips said.

“So, no matter how many different iterations we’ve had of Batman or Spider-Man, the core elements of each remains essentially the same. Reboots have been a key part of balancing the need for consistency and innovation,” he said.

Reboots have, historically, served two purposes for comic book characters. First, the reboot brings a recognizable character to a new audience or generation. The other is to clean up any continuity issues within the story.

Some storylines have become so confusing that there’s no other way to clear up the mess than with a reboot. For example, Marvel intertwines storylines from one movie into another. Cliffhangers at the end of one film connect to plot twists in another movie. It’s hard to keep track.

“With characters who have been in more or less continuous publication for decades, their storylines can become impossibly complicated. So, a periodic reboot allows a new writer to come in and start fresh,” he said.

For example, writer Marv Wolfman looked at how complicated everything became with the DC Comics. So he crafted the idea of “Crisis on Infinite Earth” on the mid-1980s. The story focused on the idea of eliminating the other alternate realities to help give the DC Comics universe a completely fresh start.

This could be what we see with Marvel. The mix of universes seen in “WandaVision” may be a way for Disney to bring the Marvel franchise to a new audience and to clean up any confusion over the MCU.

Phillips said it’s unclear if Marvel will follow the path.

Is this a mistake to bring back the MCU?

In one sense, “WandaVision” appears a little confusing. It’s bringing in alternate realities, it’s muddying the timelines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it’s even reintroducing a dead character into the story.

That’s a lot of confusion for Marvel fans, and it can even be more confusing for new fans. People who haven’t watch the 23 Marvel films might be less interested in jumping into the MCU if they’re hearing about alternate realities, multiverses and dead characters. It just seems like A LOT, right?

But the show could be an essential piece of the process moving forward, Phillips said. It might not be a mistake to return to the universe that’s already been explored. Returning to the story of the MCU isn’t a problem.

“I think ‘WandaVision’ is as important to the future of the MCU as ‘Avengers’ was to its formation,” Phillips said.

Marvel has proven time and again that the studio can bring characters together in a succinct and easy way without ruining the ongoing storylines.

This show can do the same thing, Phillips said.

“With ‘WandaVision,’ Marvel seems to be making its Disney+ shows a core part of the broader narrative development,” he said. “If the show works, it could begin shifting the balance between the television series and the big cinematic spectacle.”