After a long layoff full of production delays and pandemic-induced schedule shuffling, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is finally ready for its big reboot. In July 2019, Spider-Man: Far From Home concluded the MCU’s so-called “Phase 3,” and served as a send-off to Marvel’s decade-long dynasty that culminated in Iron Man’s world-saving snap in Avengers: Endgame and as a bridge to its next era of films and TV shows. Though it may not be according to the original schedule—pre-COVID-19, Black Widow was set to kick things off—Phase 4 begins this Friday with the series premiere of WandaVision.
WandaVision will be the MCU’s first foray into the world of television, after the mixed success of Marvel’s ABC shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, and Inhumans, and Netflix shows like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and beyond. (Here’s hoping Marvel Studios has a higher batting average with its upcoming shows; if only I could cleanse my memory of watching Inhumans and Iron Fist.) Now, under the direction of Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, the studio is attempting to replicate its big-screen success on Disney’s flagship streaming service, weaving in the characters and story lines amassed in nearly 50 hours of films into a new format. Marvel will boldly begin this mission with WandaVision, a sitcom featuring a witch and a robot who died several movies ago.
Since it’s been so long since we last visited the world of the MCU—and since WandaVision promises to be a weird endeavor, to say the least—a refresher is in order. Ahead of WandaVision’s reportedly black-and-white premiere on Friday—which, in true sitcom fashion, was filmed in front of a live-studio audience—here are a few things to know and remember.
The Journey to the Spotlight
Let’s begin where we last saw our heroes at the conclusion of the Infinity Saga. First and foremost: Vision is dead. The pink synthezoid played by Paul Bettany met his demise near the end of Infinity War, when the reality-bending Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) destroyed the Mind Stone, the Infinity Stone lodged in Vision’s forehead that served as the source of his powers and life. The sacrifice was an effort to prevent Thanos from obtaining the sixth and final Infinity Stone he needed to wipe out half the universe. To Wanda’s horror, though, it ultimately proved to be futile, as the big, purple villain immediately reversed time to pluck out the orange stone from Vision’s head to kill him yet again.
After being snapped to dust alongside many of the other Avengers, Wanda made a triumphant return in Endgame in the climactic battle against the Mad Titan (even if Thanos had no idea who she was). In one of the last scenes of the film, she shared a moment with Hawkeye at Tony Stark’s funeral, as the two heroes reflect on the losses of Black Widow and Vision. “I wish there was a way that I could let her know that we won, we did it,” Hawkeye tells Wanda.
“She knows,” Wanda responds. “They both do.”
Vision and Wanda have mostly remained on the sidelines in the MCU’s massive 23-film catalogue. Vision was once the artificial intelligence program that helped run Tony Stark’s life and superhero persona in early films like Iron Man and The Avengers. He eventually became a walking life-form capable of tossing pinches of paprika into home-cooked meals for his human girlfriend, and one of the few beings worthy enough to wield the hammer of Thor. As for Wanda, the Scarlet Witch was properly introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron alongside her speedy brother Pietro, as the Sokovian natives teamed up with Ultron to take down Stark and the Avengers before eventually becoming Avengers themselves. She lost her brother (as well as her thick Russian accent), accidentally triggered an international incident, fell in love with a robot, and established herself as one of the most powerful heroes in the MCU. Wanda and Vision have grown as characters in their rare moments in the spotlight through Marvel’s first three phases—they do have one scene walking through a romantically lit street in Scotland—but now with WandaVision, the world’s strangest couple will be the main act for the very first time.
In order to prepare for the series, the most important films to watch for both characters are Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, and Infinity War. If you don’t have time for, uh, seven-plus hours of Marvel films this week, you could check out Binge Mode’s episode on Age of Ultron, in which hosts Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion dive deep into the film and Vision’s and Wanda’s histories in the comics. Disney+ has also graciously started rolling out their own character refreshers with Legends, a series of quick episodes that revisit characters’ biggest moments throughout Marvel’s films, beginning with our odd, interspecies couple.
Westview, USA (?)
WandaVision is set after the events of Endgame and takes place in a suburban town called Westview, but as the eerie trailers seem to suggest, things are not as they appear. As WandaVision head writer Jac Schaeffer told Entertainment Weekly last November, “We find Wanda and Vision living a blissful suburban existence, trying to keep their powers under wraps.”
The trailers reveal that Wanda is reunited with Vision, and the newly wed couple lives like they’re in a 1950s sitcom, far away from the world-saving responsibilities of the Avengers. Maximoff seems to be reshaping reality, reimagining her life to be one in which Vision is still alive; in other parts of the trailers, they’re happily married with kids. But, as the trailer continues, cracks begin to show, with Vision having no recollection of his past and characters appearing trapped in Wanda’s new reality.
In the same EW cover story, Schaeffer explained: “The show is a love letter to the golden age of television. We’re paying tribute and honoring all of these incredible shows and people who came before us, [but] we’re also trying to blaze new territory.” Wanda’s reality-altering abilities are a vehicle for the MCU to deliver an ode to television as the Scarlet Witch cycles through years of TV history.
How Wanda’s new television reality actually comes to exist is still a mystery for now, as it could be a coping mechanism for her grief (this is essentially what happened in 2005’s House of M story line in the comics, and things did not go well then). It could also be someone else messing with her head. But regardless of who may be ultimately responsible, the Scarlet Witch is altering the fabric of reality and messing with the natural order of life, and ripple effects may be felt across the MCU—just as the House of M crossover shook up the entire Marvel Universe. The Mind Stone, for one, features heavily in the second trailer, and if Wanda messes around and somehow brings back another Infinity Stone, it could trigger a dangerous chain of events (and potentially 20 more movies). It all might call for the master of mystical arts, the good Doctor Strange, to eventually step in and pick up the pieces—but we’ll get back to that later.
Meet the Neighbors
Along with Wanda and Vision, the show will feature a few minor characters who appeared in past MCU films. Though the leads have never shared any screen time with either of them, Ant-Man and the Wasp’s Jimmy Woo and Thor’s Darcy Lewis are returning, played by sitcom vets Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat) and Kat Dennings (2 Broke Girls). Jimmy Woo is a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who joined the FBI. Darcy was previously an assistant to Natalie Portman’s Dr. Jane Foster, but she hasn’t shown up in a film since Thor: The Dark World in 2013. It’s hard to tell how either of them will fit into the suburban lives of Wanda and Vision, but they’re definitely looking stressed in the trailers.
Teyonah Parris (Mad Men, If Beale Street Could Talk) will make her MCU debut in WandaVision as the adult version of Monica Rambeau, who last appeared in Captain Marvel in 2019. Though she played only a small role as the young daughter of Carol Danvers’s best friend, Marvel hinted that there was more to come for her character in the future. Near the end of the film, shortly after Monica casually wraps up her game of Uno with a shape-shifting alien, she tells Nick Fury that one day she’ll build a spaceship, and she looks up at the stars in awe as Captain Marvel flies off into the night. Rambeau has a long, complicated history in the comics—she was the first female Black Avenger and one of several characters to hold the Captain Marvel moniker, later appearing under aliases like Photon and Spectrum. Decades have now passed for Rambeau since the events of Captain Marvel in the 1990s, so by now she might be building spaceships. She could even be a superhero herself.
Woo, Darcy, and Rambeau seem to be the only returning characters, but like all Marvel projects, the details surrounding WandaVision are sparse. Kathryn Hahn will appear as a “nosy neighbor” named Agnes, sparking speculation among Marvel fans that she may have a connection to a character named Agatha Harkness, a witch who serves as a mentor to Wanda in the comics. Little else is known about other characters set to appear in the series, but I’d be surprised if we don’t get a few MCU cameos along the way.
Marvel’s Bigger Picture
After pandemic-induced delays pushed Black Widow’s theatrical release from May 2020 to May 2021, WandaVision (after experiencing a delay itself) will now mark the beginning of Marvel’s next phase. Disney+, which is dominating the streaming wars, has a massive slate of Marvel shows coming up in the next few years; The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki are expected to be up next. But despite Disney going all in on its streaming service, Marvel still has plans for theatrical releases, including Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in March 2022.
As Feige has previously explained, the events of WandaVision will tie directly into Multiverse of Madness, with Olsen reprising her role as Wanda Maximoff. The Sam Raimi–directed Doctor Strange sequel will piece together the events of the upcoming Spider-Man film as well, which is rumored to feature past Peter Parkers in Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, in addition to Tom Holland as the lead Spider-Man. (The very thought of all of this multiverse madness is hurting my brain already, but if it means we’ll get to see Tobey strut his way back into the MCU, I guess I’m here for it?)
All of this is to say: The MCU is about to start jumping into alternate realities and dimensions a lot more, and it begins this week with WandaVision. Wanda and her poor, unsuspecting (and still deceased) husband Vision are leading us into a new era of television for Marvel Studios. By the end of the week, we’ll finally see what that looks like.
An earlier version of this piece misstated Rambeau’s history.