“I’ve got no strings on me.” – Ultron
It’s hard to remember Marvel before Kevin Feige but imagine a studio not even making its own films. Imagine a studio simply licensing its characters to other studios. Then all of that changed with his hiring as President of Production for Marvel Studios. It was at this moment, Feige became part of the team that pushed for the studio to take full creative control of its library of beloved characters, a risky move at the time that could bankrupt the studio if it backfired.
Dressed in his iconic black baseball cap, he took Marvel Studios from an underdog endeavor with a roster of meh characters to a cinematic empire. Feige’s refreshing, comic-book-based approach to blockbuster filmmaking—having heroes stand on their own then bleed into the next leading into one epic battle—has changed not only the way movies are made but also pop culture. Ever wonder why you’re sitting in the movie theater after the credits are over? That’s because of Feige.
Other studios have tried this formula, but they have failed by missing a key ingredient. Marvel has a Feige.
After 23 films and entering into Phase Four, it was time for Feige and Marvel Studios to take a different approach with their characters starting with Wanda Maximoff and Vision.
Now as the new Chief Creative Officer of Marvel whose duties, in addition to running Marvel Studios, now also includes television and publishing (comics), Feige is bringing the strange and the weird not just into your local theaters but now into your home with WandaVision. As vastly different as this might appear, television runs in the Feige blood.
“I watched too much TV as a kid and TV meant a lot to me and I found comfort in television families. The one thing we talked about early on is that these are not parodies. This is not a direct satire. We love these things and they meant a lot to us. Dated and silly as they may seem now, there is a comfort factor there,” Feige stated.
“My grandfather worked for Procter and Gamble and Procter and Gamble was both the back in the day, a sponsor and producer on mainly soap operas. But in the early 50s and 60s, I think they did some prime time.”
“I don’t know that he was actually on the show but he was on the company behind one of the sponsors and companies behind the show and that might have had a little to do with it. There’s something fun that has happened.”
The 30-minute 9 episode show is not just an ode to TV but it manages to break apart every stereotype of a superhero: strong, brave, admirable by simply being human. In the show, we see people with incredible powers, often admired by the world, now seen in domestic life, just trying to fit into a town literally written from a Leave It To Beaver episode.
Taking place somewhere after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Wanda has finally gotten her dream she briefly spoke about in Infinity War before the Black Order attacked her and Vision; to be together without fear of being hunted or known. Now a married couple in the quaint town of Westview, they try to fit in with the ‘normal’ people in their neighborhood, which makes for great situational comedy. However, as the story progresses, Vision and Wanda know something is just not right.
For Feige, expanding the storylines and their relationship between Wanda Maximoff and Vision offered its own challegenes while introducing new ideas and characters. Not only did Marvel Studios have to build upon the bond the characters had in the previous films but they also had to forge their own unique storyline that has direct ties to Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Captain Marvel 2.
“This was our test run. This was Marvel Studios. Marvel of course has had a lot of good successful TV in the past. This was Marvel Studios’ first foray directly with the cast and amazing characters that we’d seen in movies coming onto television. And the idea always was to do something that could not be done as a feature. That plays with the format and plays with the medium. And there were a lot of meetings before people actually sort of understood what we were trying to go for and we’re only sitting here because [creator] Jac [Schaeffer] and Matt [Shankman] did. And, we’re able to turn a whacky idea into a spectacular show,” said Feige.
“We’ve got lots of other things we’ve announced that is coming out, but as it all comes together, I’m actually very happy and it worked out perfectly that this is the debut on Disney Plus for the MCU,” Feige continued.
While much is not know about WandaVision and a lot is open for interpretation, what we do know is that the show is unique and is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before but with 23 movies behind them Marvel Studios has earned the right to be weird and fans know this. From wizards to “fat Thor” to falling in love with a baby tree to crying as Morgan Stark uttered the words “I love you, 3,000,” taking chances comes naturally to Feige.
“I hope [WandaVision] says, ‘get ready for the new and the different’ and I hope all of our movies have said that, one after the other over the years. But certainly with the Disney Plus opportunities, it has allowed us to expand creatively what we do. Yes, the original plan was Falcon and The Winter Soldier was gonna debut first last year, followed very soon behind with WandaVision. So creatively, it didn’t reshuffle. Part of having a long plan is that it gives you the ability and ideas on how to shuffle should the need arise. I’m not saying we were prepped for a global pandemic. We were not. But we’ve always over the past 12, 15 years of Marvel Studios been able to shuffle around,” Feige stated.
“This required no shuffling whatsoever in terms of the creative. Just in terms of production. And as is often the case when you’re thrown curveballs, this is a sports reference so I’ll stop right there ’cause I’ll blow it. But the unexpected has often served Marvel Studios well. And it has served us well in this case because this show being our first one, I love how bold it is. I love how different it is, and I love as I said before, it is something you could only see on Disney Plus. That we have things that you will only be able to see initially in theaters.”
“We have things that could end and are made for that, and this is very much made to be seen week after week on television which is very different for us and was very fun and it is as bold as it comes thanks to everyone,” Feige finished
Filmed in front of a live studio audience, WandaVision is a TV show for people who love TV. It’s comforting and nostalgic literally portraying the styles, language, and culture TV showcased from the ’50s to the present day. From Bewitched to Roseanne and more, it reflects the evolution of a family and the role women played in the household and the world.
However, there is more to the show than Happy Days and Step By Step. With the inclusion of Teyonah Parris as an adult Monica Rambeau (we last saw Monica as a kid in the 90s in Captain Marvel), she offers more insight into Wanda’s new world while guiding us through Marvel’s new Phase Four direction. Kathryn Hanh as Agnes also appears to know more than what’s letting on, the comedic best friend/neighbor playing her part until she no longer can.
For Fiege, the world of television was the perfect environment to explore and pay homage to the family dynamic while flipping the concept onto its head. Wanda was once a twin who watched her parents die during a bombing, while her twin brother, Pietro, died saving lives. Then the person/robot Wanda falls in love with (Vision) dies twice. In the show, Wanda masks her pain by putting on a happy face and taking on the role of a dutiful comedic wife much like the TV characters of the 50s. However, as the show progresses so does her mental state which shifts the dynamic of the household until we come to the modern-day era. The black and white of the ’50s and 60’s changes to color as more information is revealed. Throughout this entire time, strange things occur which is comparable to all three versions of The Twilight Zone.
“We often talked about, when we were in our period sitcoms, that when something shifted from say a Dick Van Dyke or an I Love Lucy style into something that was outside of that that it was going into kind of a Twilight Zone. We were thinking about what were the period shows that addressed, the odd and the strange, and how could we embrace that? So that’s a little bit about how we approached the shooting of it initially, and the look of it.
Then there are the commercials in-between WandaVision’s TV show that connect to the traumas of her past. Strucker watches for Baron Van Strucker, the scientist who gave her and Pietro powers. The Stark toaster oven blinks in red like the bomb that felt like it went on for days as Wanda and Pietro waited to die.
“A little insight. That was part of something early on. How the other truths of the show beginning to leak out? And commercials were an early idea for that and if this is the very first Marvel, MCU thing you’re watching, it’s just a strange version of a 50s commercial or 60s commercial that you’ll have to keep watching the series to understand. If you have been watching all the movies, you might be able to start connecting what those things mean to the past,” said Feige.
Disney always knew it would have to haul out the big guns for its initial salvo in the streaming wars, battling against Netflix, Apple TV+, HBO Max, and NBCUniversal’s Peacock. For Disney+ as a viewer the strategy was pretty simple “build on nostalgia” but make it last. In order to do this they would have to do away with the binge model by making viewers come back for more while not looking or feeling like a cheap rip off.
While Marvel Studios and the MCU overall has a unique way of universe sharing in constructing, The Mandalorian also provided some inspiration for the show and viewers will see how WandaVision will use the same technology seen in the space opera but more importantly it would follow the structure of releasing on a weekly basis in order to keep the conversation going on a weekly basis; instead of a one and done format.
“WandaVision [was] all underway long before we saw The Mandalorian. [However,] there is lots and lots of The Mandalorian that has inspired us at Marvel Studios, not the least of which is the stagecraft technology that they’re pioneered that we’re using on some upcoming project. I think though in terms of, it was wonderful to see the amazing job that Disney did and Disney marketing did in event-izing that. One of the things I was always concerned about was to say anything that we do we want to event-ize,” Feige stated.
“We want to make people understand these projects on Disney Plus are as important as the projects going into theaters, and we want to feel that same excitement and the Disney marketing team is best in the world, best of all time frankly. And they certainly showed they can do that spectacularly on Disney plus with The Mandalorian, and also the fun week-to-week discussion, which I guess happens on all week-to-week television. But sometimes series drop all at once on streaming services, and I think Disney was very smart to do the week-by-week format because that conversation that happens every week between episodes is very important.”
“And frankly just a lot of fun, and so each time I witness that and experience that and joined in that with The Mandalorian, it got me excited for the way WandaVision, had already been building to be unveiled.
WandaVision is currently streaming on Disney Plus.