2008: a significant year in America’s history, from the disastrous economic recession to the historic election of President Barack Obama. Comic fans and culture aficionados alike remember 2008 for the premiere of Marvel’s blockbuster, "Iron Man". Directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr., this film took many risks and set the tone for all future Marvel movies. "Iron Man" left fans humming the tune of ACDC’s "Back in Black" and revering Downey’s performance, successfully launching Marvel's reputation as a respectable film studio. 13 years and 22 movies later, the franchise carries immense cultural recognition and dominates the action film industry.
Marvel sets the standard for any superhero film, with their use of advanced special effects, entertaining fight sequences, and unique heroes while also distinguishing itself from other action franchises. Specifically, audiences are captivated by Marvel’s complex story-telling, which weaves plots and character arcs together to connect movies across the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Although original comic-book lovers and regular movie-goers grew to love and support MCU properties, Marvel and its parent company, Disney, still face a threat greater than any villain yet: superhero fatigue.
As outlined in an article by Rolling Stone, “superhero fatigue” represents the fading popular interest in the superhero movie industry. Whether people tire of the capes and tights, repetitive visual style, or the played out plotlines, their attention ultimately shifts away from MCU properties to other genres of television and film. For years, superhero fatigue has been a constant pressure on popular entertainment companies like DC, Sony, and Fox. While Marvel has perfected its consistent production of movies, the release of "Avengers: Endgame" in 2019 closed an important chapter of the MCU and opened the possibility for superhero fatigue.
In 2020, numerous non-MCU television series fell ill to the growing plague of superhero fatigue. Last Sept., the HBO series, "The Boys", showed symptoms of this illness after the premiere of its second season. Following a group of super-powered vigilantes in a world divided between heroes and humans, the series received poor reviews from both critics and former fans. These critiques observed that "The Boys" failed to make a meaningful comment on the fictional society it presents, and its bold story-telling techniques struggled to obtain understanding or general interest in the plot. Unfortunately, "The Boys" is just one example of increasing disregard for superhero action.
Even Marvel has dealt with superhero fatigue. While the studio is known for engaging and high budget films, it has a poor history with television. Marvel consistently struggles to produce series of the same quality and viewership as many of its blockbuster movies. Failure to captivate audiences resulted in the cancellation of many Marvel shows, including "Luke Cage", "Agent Carter", and "Daredevil". As Marvel begins a new phase within its franchise, the fight against superhero fatigue is especially important in its first project. This initial production creates the path for following films or series and can renew excitement for the MCU overall.
Enter "WandaVision", a potential solution to diminishing engagement in the superhero film industry. The show revolves around the domestic life of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), a telekinetic super-being also known as the Scarlet Witch, and Vision (Paul Bettany), a superpowered android. Premiering on Jan. 15, the show will be comprised of nine episodes that follow the lives of this heroic couple as they adjust to life in Westview, New Jersey.
Unlike past Marvel shows, "WandaVision" is not directly driven by action. Instead, it combines the unassuming aspects of classic sitcoms with the supernatural elements of the MCU and comic book genre. The first episodes begin in black and white, mirroring vintage sitcoms like "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "I Love Lucy". Wanda and Vision enter a new decade of television with each subsequent episode, utilizing the vibrant colors of "The Brady Bunch" in the 70s, and the fun fashion of "Full House" in the 80s and 90s. Although the bulk of the show centers around this growing and wholesome family of superheroes, Marvel also drops in peculiar and off putting details, hinting that there’s something more menacing behind this suburban life.
Critics and viewers note Marvel’s interesting choice to introduce Phase 4 of the MCU with a streaming series instead of on the big screen. Although some productions feel forced into the television format to compete in the market of upcoming streaming services, "WandaVision" specifically works as a show. During a recent Marvel press conference Marvel creative head Kevin Feige explained the purposeful choice to make "WandaVision" a series, as the television form perfectly captures the show’s complex theme and message.
Marvel set "WandaVision" from its past shows and utilized particular elements of television to make the series intriguing to viewers. While it still faces the pitfalls of superhero fatigue, as well as its restricted streaming on Disney+, "WandaVision" presents a unique adaptation to television that perfectly sets the stage for the next era of the MCU. Phase 4 includes an assortment of new and traditional films, including "Black Widow", "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings", "The Eternals", along with Marvel’s first horror movie in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness". Starting with a genre-bending nine-episode series like "WandaVision" promises to drive out the plague of superhero fatigue, as Marvel introduces a new and diverse lineup of heroes, stories, and themes into its cinematic universe.