There have been a lot of revisions to Marvel’s Phase 4 plan throughout its years of development and production. Most of them, at least the ones that have been revealed publicly, have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, while some happened well before it even began (Remember when Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 was supposed to kick off Phase 4?).
Since most cinemas around the world are still closed Phase 4 is starting off on Disney+, specifically it’s starting with WandaVision, the MCU’s first foray into the world of sitcoms and - even just two episodes in - it is already by far the deepest they have dove into any genre other than their signature superhero stories. Movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Ant-Man played around with mixing heroics with different genres, but WandaVision is going all-out, right out of the gate.
It’s already looking like WandaVision as a project stands out from the rest of the MCU and is a potential critical darling; but despite how well-crafted the series is, it already seems to have suffered a bit from the way it’s being rolled out.
DAWN OF A NEW ERA
For starters, this probably wasn’t the best way for Marvel to kick off a new phase, much less one coming after a year-and-a-half content drought which was shortly preceded by their biggest (and the biggest) movie of all time. People have been eager to jump back into the action they expect from Marvel, so to start things off with a series that is so heavy on sitcom hijinks and light on the supernatural and over the top heroics, has been a letdown for some of the more casual viewers of the MCU.
On top of this, no context is given as WandaVision begins, we're just dropped into the world of Westview and given no reason as to why these two characters - one of whom was last seen as he was being killed at the hands of Thanos - are there. We aren't given any hints towards the show's overall story (or that there even is one) until near the end of the first episode, which might be a little too slow for some people.
The thing is, after 18 months with no new content, people are hungry for an MCU all-you-can-eat buffet, and the nature of WandaVision is to slowly roll out each course of the meal, at this point in the series, we're still finishing the appetizers. That doesn't make it a bad show, but it's probably not the most fitting way to end the MCU's longest break in a decade.
We can’t really fault Marvel Studios for WandaVision’s ultimate placement in the release slate; theaters are closed, and Marvel’s intended first Disney+ series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, still isn’t quite ready for prime time; however, WandaVision's first two episodes didn't come out with an obvious "roar" the way something more fast-paced would.
Those in charge of the Disney+ release schedule though, did make the right call launching two episodes on premiere day instead of just the 1950's inspired premier. The 1960's centered episode two contains many more clues to the show's overall mystery and ended on more of a buzz-worthy note than the first.
So WandaVision is obviously going to be a slow burn, at least for a few more weeks. The next few episodes are going to be exploring more eras throughout sitcom history, and the bulk of the action is said to take place towards the end of the series. This requirement of patience isn’t something people are used to with Marvel Studios. Though some MCU films have ended on massive cliffhangers, they always provided plenty of twists, turns, and thrills beforehand, leaving the viewer satisfied. Now with WandaVision we have to wait week to week discover little bits of the greater plot at play.
A lot of hardcore Marvel fans (especially those who read the comics) are more than fine with this...but general audiences may be another story. While I normally champion the week-to-week episode release format for streaming series (and shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki seem like excellent fits for that format), I not only think that releasing the first two episodes of WandaVision at the same time was a good idea, but that the series as a whole seems like the type that should be releasing multiple episodes at once throughout its run.
I hesitate to say the whole series should have been released on the same day, because the week-to-week buzz is definitely valuable, especially for a streaming service like Disney+ which largely relies on these “event releases” to attract and retain subscribers; however we still have several weeks of episodes largely based in the sitcom world before we get to the more typical Marvel fare, and I’m wondering whether audiences who aren’t necessarily super-invested in all things Marvel will stick around to get to that point.
WORTH THE BURN
As it stands, WandaVision is going to run for a total of eight weeks on Disney+, and the total runtime will be about six hours. A five or six-week event with approximately 60 or 90 minutes of content released each Friday would have probably worked in the show’s favor, especially with it taking the highly-anticipated Phase 4 opening slot. This setup would have the initial two or three sitcom episodes premiere the first week, followed by two more weeks of two episodes or one more week of three episodes, and then the last three episodes weekly as planned. Two or three weeks of heavy genre-bending before the typical superhero fare begins rather than five would allow viewers to see the method behind Marvel’s madness without potentially losing them along the way.
This release format would give viewers enough time to get accustomed to the show without growing too impatient with it, all while helping to prepare them for future departures from the typical Marvel style of storytelling down the line. A slower burn than usual combined with an entirely new style for Marvel may be a turn-off to some fans at the moment (especially as the tone-setter for Phase 4), but a strategic release plan for WandaVision could have possibly helped viewers to the point where they would be more welcoming to future "offbeat" MCU content.
As a hardcore Marvel and sitcom fan, I’m loving WandaVision so far, and am more than happy to go along for the ride for the next seven weeks; but Marvel is the biggest movie franchise in the world for a reason: their ability to hook fans of all levels, from the casual to the hardcore. At this point, I’m honestly unsure of how well WandaVision will play to those somewhat skeptical about the series going in. Hopefully viewers of all kinds take a lesson from Captain America and have the patience to stick with the series through its buildup to what is sure to be an incredible payoff.