In Spring of 2020, known colloquially as ‘lockdown one’, I set about correcting my woeful pop culture knowledge by watching all 23 Marvel Cinematic Universe films, most of them for the first time. With that joyous task well behind me, I am now over the moon that we finally have some new MCU releases coming our way. So My Marvel Diary will continue, reviewing each new chapter of the MCU as it arrives.
MCU Phase: Four
Creator: Jac Schaeffer
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kat Dennings, Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, Kathryn Hahn
May contain spoilers.
Well, they’ve only gone and bloody done it. As Chandler Bing said in Friends, “Can open. Worms everywhere.”
If you’re not sure what I’m getting all upset over, then let me explain. It’s the ending of this episode, number five, of WandaVision. Of course it’s the ending. You know, where Wanda’s dead brother Pietro turns up. Except, oh wait, that’s not fucking Pietro! But it is Quicksilver (Pietro’s superhero name), from the X-Men films. Like Darcy says, “they re-cast Pietro”. This isn’t a re-casting though, this is potentially the sign of cross-overs, multiverses and some very confusing plotting for the average viewer.
I had heard rumours of Evan Peters being in the show, but I don’t think I really believed he would be playing Pietro. Just to get you up to speed if you’re not as deep into studio tussles as I am: Marvel Studios (the MCU) is owned by Disney but until recently they did not actually have the rights to all the characters from the Marvel comics. With me so far? That’s why a lot of the most famous Marvel comic heroes were not in the MCU, at least to start with. The rights to make X-Men films were held by Fox, which is why those Hugh Jackman-propelled adventures are totally separate from the MCU. Now, some characters could crossover, in different forms. One of them was Quicksilver. They brought him into the MCU as Wanda’s brother Pietro Maximoff, cast Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the role, then killed him off straight away. Around the same time, ‘Peter’ appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past played by Evan Peters, and was hugely entertaining in a very good film.
So, the worlds were separate, and the actors different, with completely different backstories too. Then things started to get complicated. The first big shift was when the rights to Spider-Man switched and Disney and Sony came to some sort of joint agreement. This meant that Spider-Man films could still be made elsewhere, but Disney could put Spidey in the MCU if they so wished. Which they did, to great effect.
Then, the big one came. Disney bought Fox studios, and with it the rights to all of their films. That’s why you can watch some Fox-made films on Disney+. The key properties involved for Marvel here were the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, two huge comic-box series with enormous cultural power. They were, as of Disney’s acquisition of Fox in March 2019, available to be integrated into the MCU. Since then we’ve just been waiting.
So, the fact that Evan Peters, the X-Men version of Quicksilver, turns up in the MCU TV series WandaVision is massively significant. It could be the opening of the floodgates for mutants galore in the MCU. That said, this would be a very odd way to do it. You’d expect Marvel and head honcho Kevin Feige to make far more noise about the arrival of the X-Men. You would also expect a re-casting of most, if not all, of the roles. The recent X-Men films have not been met too warmly, several big stars will be out of contract, and some of the major players are apparently dead. It would also be most bizarre to start putting X-Men characters into the MCU starting with the only character who was a cross-over between the two worlds.
So, instead of bringing in the X-Men now (that will be done with a new cast and a big song and dance involving lots of post-credit stings and comic-cons I imagine), this is more likely a hint at the potential to use multiverses in the MCU. Let’s be clear, that is not Pietro. He doesn’t just not look the same, he doesn’t sound it, he doesn’t act the same and everyone (including Wanda on some level) is aware that this is not the same dude that died in Age of Ultron. It is a deliberate ruse, an indication of Wanda’s desperate but failing attempts to resurrect her brother, perhaps. More importantly, though, it is tapping into an audience awareness that different versions of superheroes exist on screen.
Now that Disney own just about everything, they seem to be making the extremely bold move to not just ignore and wipe clean any films outside of their own canon, but to embrace them, cherry-picking what they want from previous films and dropping them, somehow, in the MCU. A further, crucial, piece of information is that Jamie Foxx will be in the next MCU Spider-Man film as his villain Electro from the non-MCU movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Alfred Molina will also be reprising his role as Dr. Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus, from the much-loved and similarly non-MCU Spider-Man 2. This has added fuel to the nerd fire regarding cross-overs akin to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the possible appearance of Tobey Maguire and/or Andrew Garfield in the MCU.
It’s been announced that the upcoming Dr. Strange film is subtitled The Multiverse of Madness, and that Wanda is in it. The idea of a multiverse was also already opened up in Endgame. So we know that our beloved MCU characters hopping across the multiverse, where several realities exist side by side, is coming. We just didn’t know that Marvel would have the audacity to populate those alternate realities with previous incarnations of their own heroes. It’s a smart idea that could send people into a frenzy.
As to how I feel about this? I am not at all sure. The idea of seeing Doc Ock back excites me, and I liked Peters’ performance in Days of Future Past. I also trust the custodians of the MCU to do this thing right, given how well they handled the Infinity Saga. That said, there is an annoying feeling that it’s all too much. Endgame was the culmination of a great achievement, but it did feel like an ending. Topping it, the biggest film of all time, will take some doing. In fact, with franchise fatigue bound to set in at some point, I don’t think we will ever see the likes of Endgame from the MCU again.
All of this multiverse, alternate timeline stuff is very clever-clever but it risks alienating the casual viewer, and demands a thorough working knowledge of not just the MCU but now other comic book films too. It feels a little like being unwillingly roped into researching and watching more and more content just so you can go to the bloody pictures. That said, after getting great mileage crossing-over their own heroes before, it does give me a thrill to think of the MCU putting other Spider-Men up there next to Tom Holland. Especially if you factor in the currently unexplored (in live-action) Spider-Men like Miles Morales.
They might not be doing any of this, of course. Jamie Foxx’s castings could just be an attempt to give a good actor a second chance to play a character. Alfred Molina could be there because they want to bring in the Sinister Six (a Spider-Man related group of baddies) and they can’t think of anyone better to play Otto Octavius. And Peters popping up here could be both an elaborate in-joke and a way of playing with Wanda’s grief and wonky resurrection powers. This could even just be a one-film thing for Spider-Man, playing into the comedic side of the character and having a lot of fun with different versions of the web-slinger. The Dr. Strange multiverses could then be more to do with the existing MCU and a new direction for the plot. That I would be more on board with.
The rest of this WandaVision episode, which believe it or not did actually happen, was up to its usual standard of top-drawer acting and filmmaking. The sitcom world has now firmly been broken into, with Vision more and more aware of his place in something freaky. The detail and period recreations are still great, and for short stretches the performers are still in sitcom-mode, with Elizabeth Olsen in particular continuing to have a ball with that particular style of acting. The warmth and sweetness that the sitcom conceit initially brought has all-but entirely dissipated now, though. Instead there is a tone of unease, and the sense that more shocks and secrets hide just round the corner. There’s probably a lot more to say about the episode, but that final reveal is dominating my thoughts. It could be huge.
Or it could be nothing. A red herring. Maybe.