It started with WandaVision. The miniseries came out in early 2021, starring Elizabeth Olsen and her eyeliner as Wanda Maximoff, a witchy Avenger from a fictional Eastern European country who is inexplicably trapped in a time-traveling sitcom. As the mystery slowly unraveled, I found myself eagerly anticipating each week’s episode. WandaVision, I’m told, was designed for people like me — people who thought they were too smart to be duped by a corporate superhero franchise.
Eventually, the show moves beyond the bounds of a Marvel luddite’s knowledge, meaning you have to watch at least a few other Marvel movies to get your bearings on what’s going on past episode three. A lot of people were annoyed that WandaVision eventually dropped the sitcom conceit and devolved into a generic cloud of CGI-ed face-offs, but I ate it right up. And I didn’t stop there. Before I knew it, I was watching Chris Pratt break out of space jail with a tree alien who can only say one word. It was terrible, and also utter bliss.
If you are someone whose eyes glaze over at the mention of anything superhero-related, let me catch you up: The Avengers are a group of comic-book characters — some have superhuman abilities, others are normally powered people with fancy gear — who try to save the world together. Back in 2008, Disney started building these characters into a movie franchise, starting with Iron Man, a billionaire arms dealer who suddenly decides to use his powerful weapon-making company for good by making a metal suit that helps him fight bad guys. (I know.)
Since then, Disney has released 25 movies that feature the main rotation of Avengers characters, in addition to a spate of miniseries and side movies involving other characters pulled from the Marvel comic books who will potentially be united with the Avengers at some point.
If it sounds more like a blockbuster sausage factory than a film series, you’re right. It’s no secret that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a vaguely propagandist series of glorified action movies that refashioned the American flag into a spandex suit to showcase Chris Evans’s butt. The movies are filled with dumb little winks and quips, which are supposed to please Marvel’s very loud and constantly angry fan base, and they’re all designed to spawn even more spinoffs and sequels. But no matter how many times I rolled my eyes watching the endless parade of surprisingly serious actors put on silly costumes to participate in this megaconglomerate, I couldn’t quit the Avengers. It was all strangely soothing: the formulaic arcs of the movies, which always peaked with big action set pieces where the heroes came out alive; the little teaser after the credits rolled, assuring you another movie was coming. During the cold, pre-vaccine months when outdoor hangs were too chilly to bear, Marvel movies became my comfort food.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what about these movies turns down the usual five-alarm fire of distress in my brain, but it may be as simple as that it’s just one gargantuan distraction. The Avengers’ issues, while sometimes relatable, are incredibly far from ours. For example: WandaVision eventually reveals that Wanda is burying her head in sitcoms because she’s grieving her husband. Totally normal. Did I mention her husband was an AI program turned real-life robot whose forehead was ripped out so a murderous butt-chinned alien could zap away half the universe?
The Marvel universe offers a never-ending supply of things to think about that aren’t climate change or an interminable pandemic. Will Doctor Strange be able to mend the rift between universes? is a real question I found myself asking recently. And the more content you look for, the more you’ll find. There’s a reason Gwyneth Paltrow constantly forgets her own Marvel movies. Disney is slated to release eight new Marvel projects before the end of the year.
The newest cinematic Marvel installment, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, comes out Friday and will be Wanda’s first post-WandaVision appearance. I can’t wait to bury my head in it.