Marvel’s Latest Frontier? In ‘WandaVision,’ It’s the Suburbs


During the time they played Marvel heroes together, Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany felt very comfortable. Not even a little misdirected slime during the making of their new Disney + series “WandaVision” – an incident they lovingly refer to as “Snotgate” – has made them nervous for long.

It happened when their characters – a woman with psychic powers named Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) and a synthetic android named Vision (Bettany) – shared a kiss in particularly cold weather. And there is still some disagreement about the details of how it happened.

“Paul wasn’t in a good mood to make a joke about his snot,” Olsen said in a video interview with Bettany last month. “It was my first time seeing him really defensive in anything.”

Here Bettany leaned into his camera and replied sotto voce: “It was her snot. Anyway. “

They agreed that their differences were quickly resolved and now they can laugh about it. “It was over as quickly as it happened,” said Bettany.

These are the dangers of playing a troubled woman and a sophisticated robot who fell in love – characters who met in the 2015 Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, who have returned for multiple sequels, and now the Chance have to wear them their own television series when “WandaVision” debuts on January 15th.

Like its main characters, “WandaVision” is strange. It’s not exactly an action-packed spectacle in the style of hit movies like Avengers: Endgame – it’s a mix of drama and comedy that faithfully pays homage to vintage sitcoms like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, and Family Ties. “

Due to circumstances that cannot be influenced, “WandaVision” now has to have even more weight. When the pandemic caused Marvel to reshuffle its release calendar, “WandaVision” was the studio’s first attempt to put the superhero soap opera from the Marvel Cinematic Universe into an original Disney + series in the hopes that it would appeal to its cartoon characters will do what “The Mandalorian” worked for “Star Wars,” another fantasy franchise from Disney.

These are unexpectedly high stakes, but like the amorous outsiders who play them, the stars of “WandaVision” see them as reasons to get along better, snot and everything.

As Olsen explained, “It’s daunting to put these cinema characters on a small screen. There are a lot of premieres that are a little scary as an actor. “

Bettany agreed. “We have to feel safe,” he added, “to do what we do.”

Both actors entered the Marvel family in unusual ways. A star from films like “A Beautiful Mind” and “Margin Call”, Bettany was cast in the first MCU movie “Iron Man” with the voice of Tony Stark’s artificial intelligence system JARVIS

“I would show up for work for a day and solve any problems,” said Bettany. “I could go, ‘The bad guys are coming, sir!’ And then they gave me a bag of money and I went home. It was lovely. “

Bettany was upgraded to an onscreen role for Age of Ultron, which also featured Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) as Wanda. At the time, Olsen said: “I was typed as an emotionally struggling young woman in small genre films. They thought we should build her into a bigger genre film and turn her into the mentally unhealthy fighting heroine. “

Though co-stars like Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. were in the limelight, Bettany and Olsen bonded over the weirdness of their business, like a behind-the-scenes debate watching whether Vision should have Android genitals. (Thankfully the answer was no.)

When making films like Captain America: Civil War, they found they shared an appreciation for hard work and willingness, even on a hectic Marvel set.

At one point in the film, Olsen said, “I asked Paul if he’d like to get in touch with me for the next week. And he’d memorized his lines for next week. I thought this would be a great working relationship. “

But Vision was apparently killed in Avengers: Infinity War, and the following year Endgame closed the narrative arcs of great heroes like Iron Man and Captain America.

Marvel was exploring the storylines for its next wave of movies when Disney launched its Disney + streaming service with the expectation that Marvel would also provide original content for it.

Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, said a Disney + series is an opportunity to flesh out the relationship between Wanda and Vision that was only hinted at in the films.

“The entire love story between Wanda and Vision was basically one setting in ‘Age of Ultron’ where he dives in to save her. They make eye contact and fly away,” Feige said. “Then a little more in Civil War, a little more in Infinity War, but things go bad very quickly in this film.”

Across several decades of comics, Vision and Wanda shared a romance that was much more complicated: they dated, got married, had two sons, separated, and reconciled. (Also – and this is where it gets messy – Wanda discovered that her sons were indeed the missing parts of a demonic villain who took them back; then she lost the memory of her missing children and regained them vengefully, and then vengefully resettled hers Forces free rewrite reality itself.)

With “WandaVision” Feige said he wanted to pay tribute to the complexity of the title characters and Wanda’s reality warping skills, but also to animate the story with homages to the sitcom story.

“I feel like I justified all of the time I spent with action figures in my yard,” he said. “All the time I’ve been with Nick on Nite and old TV shows, I haven’t justified. This show helps me with that. “

In the series, Wanda and Vision live – now somehow alive – in suburban bliss. You’re not entirely sure why they’re cycling through different eras in television history and looking at seasoned Marvel cast members like Kat Dennings (as their “Thor” character, Darcy Lewis) and Randall Park (replaying his role as “Ant-Man and the Wasp “by Jimmy Woo) as well as newcomers to the roster, such as Teyonah Parris (as Monica Rambeau) and Kathryn Hahn (as the confusingly curious neighbor named Agnes).

As with many Marvel films, WandaVision has a central riddle that prompts viewers to reflect on the ever-changing reality that surrounds their romantic lead roles.

Jac Schaeffer, the series’ lead writer, said the show’s comic book exterior should entice audiences into its further layers of intrigue.

“You enter a sitcom episode with an understanding that you will feel fine and everything will be fine in the end,” said Schaeffer, who also worked on “Captain Marvel” and “Black Widow”.

What WandaVision adds to this formula is an element of “creepiness – the idea of ​​destroying that security in a calculated way”.

Matt Shakman, director of all nine episodes of “WandaVision,” said the show ultimately tells a story of “grief and trauma and how we hold onto our hope.”

“Wanda is probably the person who has suffered the most from everyone in the MCU,” he added. “And so the show is always based on that. Even if what you see is true to the original TV shows, there is a lot more going on than you think. “

Shakman has previously made shows such as Game of Thrones, Succession, and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and was a retired child actor on television sitcoms such as Diff’rent Strokes and Just the Ten of Us. Directing WandaVision, he said, was “a delightfully schizophrenic job,” which involved orchestrating action sequences on green screen sets on some days and shooting on the same sitcom stages on some days he once worked.

For these TV tribute sequences, Shakman and his team worked meticulously to reproduce the wardrobe and production design of shows such as “I Dream of Jeannie” and “The Partridge Family”. Vintage lighting and camera lenses were used and filmed in front of a live studio audience.

Although the “WandaVision” actors were given two weeks of sitcom bootcamp prior to filming, they didn’t need much training to get into the spirit of things.

Olsen is, of course, the younger sister of former “Full House” stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen; She appeared in some of her later projects and grew up a fan of shows like “Laverne & Shirley” and movies like “A Very Brady Sequel”.

Bettany said classic American shows were a staple of his television diet growing up in England. He speculated that some of the religious explorations his family made in his childhood may have occurred “because my mother was watching Little House on the Prairie – we had a dime, a pound.”

Had events developed according to Marvel’s earlier plans, the debut of “WandaVision” would have premiered on the theatrical releases of films such as “Black Widow”, “Eternals” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” as well as “WandaVision” from “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” an action-oriented Disney + series in a more popular “Avengers” -like mode.

The pandemic required Marvel to reorganize this rollout, but Feige said the studio’s carefully planned master narrative, which spanned its films and TV shows, hadn’t been materially affected.

“If the run we had in 2018 and 2019 had been disrupted in this way, there would have been a bigger headache ahead of ‘Endgame’,” he said. “It worked well with these projects,” he continued, adding that the debut dates for the TV shows have only been postponed “for a few weeks”.

The creation of “WandaVision” was also affected by the pandemic. The actors left an environment where they could freely converse with co-workers and returned a few months later to one where “you end your scene and get kidnapped into those hermetically sealed bubbles,” Bettany said.

“I had a hard time with it,” said Olsen, her voice hardening in exaggerated anger. “I said, ‘But I’m talking to the crew! This is for moral support! ‘”

With that in mind, the actors said, it might be appropriate for “WandaVision” to reach audiences at this moment when both its narrative message and its production process reflect the human desire to keep going no matter how unrecognizable the world becomes.

“We’re all experiencing this extreme version of life right now,” said Olsen. But for a while, while she and her colleagues finished their work on the series, “we created this microcosm of humanity in which we can communicate and solve problems,” she added. “It was great to come to work and experience that.”

What Marvel has consistently done for its characters, performers, and audiences is “to create a home for people who wouldn’t necessarily find each other,” said Bettany.

In the particular case of WandaVision, he added, “It’s about a group of people who find themselves in a situation where it’s okay to be really different.”