03 February 2021

An invitation to WandaVision

WandaVision is turning out to be very interesting on several levels. It is marshaling astonishing cinematic storytelling craft in service of something that is effectively “just” a very entertaining trifle. If you have any interest in the craft of television, the cultural politics of pop entertainments, old sitcoms, or contemporary surrealism, it is worth checking out. (On that last, astute genre entertainment commentator “Moviebob” Chipman calls WandaVision “Baby’s First David Lynch”.)

There is a lot of Marvel movie and comics lore threaded into the show, 90% of which is not necessary to enjoy it, but it helps to know a few key things. So this is a backgrounder with a few movie spoilers for folks who are curious about WV who have not seen many or any of the Marvel movies. Brace for some comic bookly goofiness.

Wanda

Main character Wanda is Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch, a very powerful superheroine who has served with the movies’ super-team the Avengers together with Iron Man, Captain America, and others. She has vaguely-defined psychic and “reality manipulation” superpowers. Significantly, she has exhibited a form of telepathy in which she can deeply read people’s minds and send them into a reverie of real-feeling hallucinations which draw on people’s deepest fears.

Wanda, and her twin brother Pietro, grew up in the fictional eastern European country of Sokovia. In their childhood, Sokovia suffered in a nasty civil war. She and Pietro nearly died in a harrowing bombing which killed their parents; they came to hold Tony “Iron Man” Stark to blame as the face of the US military industrial complex which fed the war with weapons. This made them ripe for recruitment by Hydra, a secret evil organization intent on world conquest with roots in Nazi Germany. Hydra had stolen a super-technology scepter used by the supervillain Loki; the scepter was powered by a powerful cosmic artifact called the Mind Stone. The Hydra mad scientists used the power of the scepter to give Wanda & Pietro superpowers, intending to use them to combat the Avengers, the good-guy superhero team at the center of the story told by the movies.

The Avengers defeated Hydra and reclaimed Loki’s scepter. Tony Stark (with the aid of fellow mad scientist Bruce “The Hulk” Banner) used the scepter for his own super-technology project: a powerful, intelligent android called Ultron. Alas, Ultron hated Tony, as Frankenstein monsters are wont to do, and escaped. Ultron recruited the Maximoffs to help him fight Stark and the Avengers, stole the scepter, extracted the Mind Stone from it, and used it to power an ideal, super-powered “syntheziod” android body for itself. Wanda & Pietro discovered that Ultron was evil and crazy, plotting to exterminate the human race, so they turned against him and joined forces with the Avengers.

In the ensuing battle with the Avengers, Ultron killed Wanda’s brother Pietro and destroyed most of their home country of Sokovia.

Nerdy sidebar:

When Marvel Studios started making these movies, they did not hold the movie rights to many of their most popular characters. Sony had Spider-Man, 20th Century Fox had the Fantastic Four and the X-Men and thus all the mutants. The Marvel Cinematic Universe Pietro is the only comics character portrayed in the Fox’s X-Men movies whom Marvel have been able to also use in thier own movies. The legal wrangling between the studios meant the two versions of him have similar superpowers but are played by different actors, in incompatible stories. I cannot resist encouraging you to check out two truly delicious short scenes with 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movie version.

Marvel Studios have worked out a sharing arrangement with Sony for Spider-Man, and Disney now owns both Marvel and Fox, so fans hope that future Marvel movies will take advantage of finally having legal access to all of the comics characters. Wanda has not appeared in the Fox X-Men movies but in the comics she is a mutant and has been a member of the X-Men, so she might play a role in a story which brings the mutants into the ongoing Marvel Studios storyline.

During the course of things, the Avengers stole the synthezoid body Ultron had made for himself before Ultron could decant his consciousness into it. Stark & Banner took a second bite at the apple of making a Super Android For Good, and this time it worked; the resulting extremely powerful and almost saintly superhero joined them in the fight against Ultron, and took the name …

Vision

The other main character of WandaVision, Vision is also a superhero, as “synthezoid” robot essentially with the powers of Superman, plus the ability to “phase” through walls like a ghost. He is reflective, soulful, even saintly. Over the course of several movies, he and Wanda fell in love.

Because Vision is powered by the amber Mind Stone which rests on his forehead, the mad and immensely powerful cosmic supervillain Thanos sought to kill him to get the stone, as part of his plan to collect the six Infinity Stones and use their primordial energies to create his weapon the Infinity Gauntlet, which he wanted to use to murder half the living beings in the entire universe. Thanos’ plan succeeded. He killed Vision and gruesomely tore the stone from Vision’s forehead; Wanda barely survived standing between Vision and Thanos in her failed attempt to save her lover.

Vision’s Mind Stone was in fact the last element of the gauntlet which Thanos needed to enact his plan. With a snap of his fingers in the Gauntlet, he dissolved half of the living beings in the world into black dust; this horrifying event came to be known as The Snap. The Avengers spent years working to undo this calamity, and after a titanic effort, finally succeeded; they reconstructed the Gauntlet, used it to restore everyone who had been lost to the Snap — leaving them with a few years of lost time — and killed Thanos.

Alas, since Vision did not die in the Snap but rather in battle against Thanos, Vision remained dead in the wake of this happy ending. Other characters were reunited with their fallen friends, lovers, and comrades, but Wanda remained in mourning.


Oh, and if this show inspires you to want to get into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I have a guide to help you watch them all, or skip through just the best of them, for the first time.

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