Marvel Offers 1st Look At Eternals And Upcoming Film Slate

What will it take to get moviegoers back into theaters? Hollywood has been asking themselves that question a lot recently: things were looking up for a moment with the success of Godzilla Vs Kong, but Mortal Kombat‘s limited mainstream appeal made it a poor successor to the Monsterverse epic. All eyes are turning towards Marvel’s Black Widow to make or break the box-office, and just this morning Marvel has released a teaser of their upcoming film slate that’s supposed to work as a little…incentive, to get people hyped up about their theatrical releases after a few months of Disney+ series’ (and streaming in general) dominating the conversation.

Marvel Eternals
The Eternals | comicbook.com

Granted, at least one of these movies will be available to purchase on Disney+ while it plays in theaters, and that happens to be Black Widow, so…we’ll see whether this ends up revitalizing the box-office like it’s supposed to, but either way this teaser gave me all the feels, and a first fleeting look at the upcoming film Eternals, my most-anticipated Marvel feature and the one best positioned to be a serious contender at next year’s Academy Awards race.

When I say fleeting, I’m not kidding – we only get a mere thirteen seconds to admire Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao’s stunning cinematography, and a range of what will presumably be outstanding performances from an all-star cast including Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie. But thirteen seconds is all it takes to sell me on the film’s premise, and Zhao’s stunning vision for her first MCU project, one to which she has committed herself with the same clear passion as her critically-acclaimed A24 drama, Nomadland.

Spanning time and space, Eternals follows a group of celestial beings (not to be confused with the literal Celestials, who created the Eternals) who have roamed the earth since prehistoric times, subtly guiding the forward flow of human civilization. Thirteen seconds isn’t much, but it allows us to see the Eternals in their ancient guise as godlike superheroes defending the city of Babylon outside the famous Gate of Ishtar (once considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World)…before showing them in their modern forms, revisiting the site of the Mesopotamian city as archaeologists.

We see a little bit of how they’ve each adapted to life coexisting alongside the human race; with some of them, like Salma Hayek’s Ajak, distancing themselves from civilization (Hayek appears to be riding on horseback through what could be the American Southwest or even the Pampas of Argentina), while others, like Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo, have become celebrities among the humans (I love that he’s brought his own personal camera crew along with him to meet the other Eternals). Angelina Jolie’s Thena is the only character we see fighting in the clip (and I could be wrong, but I think she’s only sparring with her fellow Eternal, Gilgamesh), but the choreography looks good and her golden sword is both beautiful and cool.

Marvel Eternals
Angelina Jolie as Thena | indiewire.com

Perhaps my biggest fear was that the Eternals’ costumes wouldn’t look great in live-action, since up until now all we’ve really seen of them is some concept art…which, with all due respect to the artist, wasn’t quite as visually striking as some fans had been hoping. But this clip lets us see a few of the suits in action (not all, though, and not the ones that looked worst in the concept art), and they seem practical, well-made, and simply gorgeous – with Jolie’s Thena making a particularly strong impression, dressed from head to toe in white with gold accents. Her regal, even haughty, stride indicates that she’s not going to allow any opponent to get a speck of dirt or blood on her pristine outfit – and I respect that power move.

While the rest of the teaser does feature some new footage from Black Widow and Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, the two major talking points besides the never-before-seen Eternals footage were both title reveals – Black Panther 2 officially receiving the emotional subtitle Wakanda Forever (that movie is gonna make me cry: I just know it), and Captain Marvel 2 rather unusually being retitled and rebranded entirely as The Marvels.

I’m a bit conflicted on how I feel about the latter title: firstly, because when I got the notification on my phone about this announcement, I honestly thought The Marvels was going to be an MCU sitcom. Of course, the title is supposed to reference the film’s holy trinity of heroines – Brie Larson as Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel, Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau (who also goes by Captain Marvel in the comics), and Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel – but it’s a bit too much of a cheeky pun on the company’s name, and slightly undermines what I feel should be more of an epic and awe-inspiring moment. Some fans are upset that the Captain Marvel solo franchise is now dropping Captain Marvel’s name, and I get that – though I also understand and appreciate that the new title celebrates more inclusivity, and puts the three women on equal status, rather than elevating Carol above her costars.

The teaser is very focused on release dates, some of which we already knew, some of which are a bit of a surprise. Black Widow and Eternals are both set in stone and unlikely to shift around on the calendar – the former is comfortably anchored by a Disney+ simultaneous release, and the latter is being positioned for awards season. Shang-Chi will still release in September, between the two films, while Spider-Man: No Way Home will close out the year on a bang, by all accounts setting up a Multiverse saga that will escalate in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, arriving March 25th, 2022. Thor: Love And Thunder and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will be the big summer event-movies of that year, and The Marvels will premiere on November 11th.

Captain Marvel 2
The Marvels | marvelcinematicuniverse.fandom.com

So far, only Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 are confirmed for 2023 (the former in February, the latter in May) but Mahershala Ali’s Blade will likely end up there too, along with Fantastic Four – the electric-blue logo for which pops up again in the final moments of this teaser, as if to remind us that we never know the full extent of Marvel’s plans for the future. Remember, these are just the upcoming movies.

But how do you feel about the studio’s slate of films, and which is your most anticipated? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“WandaVision” Post-Credits Scenes Review!

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

The finale of Marvel’s WandaVision – the studio’s first official foray into streaming television – left many fans conflicted over how to view the entire series in retrospect. Thanks to weeks of intense speculation and theorizing (and, to be fair, some unnecessary trolling from WandaVision‘s own cast and crew), the slim fifty-minute finale was hyped up in audiences’ imaginations to the point where a cameo from Patrick Stewart or Dick Van Dyke didn’t seem out of the question, and Wanda ripping open the Marvel Multiverse felt like a done deal. So there were a lot of fans left unsatisfied by what was, instead, the inevitable conclusion to a much smaller and more intimate saga of love and grief.

WandaVision
WandaVision | tvline.com

Personally, I found it quite satisfying for that very reason: but let’s play devil’s advocate (too soon? Sorry, Mephisto fans). Did the WandaVision finale really contribute nothing to the overall jigsaw-puzzle that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is that even necessarily a bad thing? It’s true that WandaVision was far more introspective than expected, and didn’t deliver some of the paradigm-altering surprises certain fans decided they were owed. But I don’t think I’m being biased when I say that WandaVision‘s mid-credits and post-credits scenes actually did plenty to set up future MCU storylines, allowing the episode itself to wrap up Wanda and Vision’s tragic romance without distraction.

Minutes after Wanda took flight and vanished over the rooftops of Westview (escaping any and all consequences for her actions, because the status of the Sokovia Accords in the MCU post-Endgame is unclear at best), a mid-credits scene allowed us to catch up with Captain Monica Rambeau and Jimmy Woo, both of whom were slightly underutilized in the episode proper. Woo, tasked with leading the clean-up of Westview and the arrests of villainous S.W.O.R.D. agents like Tyler Hayward, strikes up a conversation with Rambeau – which probably would have been the perfect moment for Monica to acknowledge her superpowers, since she missed her chance to ask Wanda about what to do now that she can turn into light and even phase through things like Wanda’s husband, Vision. The two chat, but are swiftly interrupted by a detective who directs Wanda to the movie theater in the town square. There, in the dimly-lit interior, the detective reveals herself to be an unnamed shapeshifting Skrull alien with her own mission that has nothing to do with Westview.

Now, we don’t know if or when Monica has interacted with Skrulls since her eventful childhood in Captain Marvel, but her cool demeanor in this scene (combined with her veiled reference to “allies” in space, back in episode four) implies a degree of familiarity with the aliens – which is interesting, given that her relationship with Captain Marvel herself seems to have had hit a rough patch, based on other clues throughout WandaVision. This particular Skrull doesn’t work for Carol Danvers, but for a male friend of Monica’s late mother, Maria Rambeau; someone who’s heard about Monica’s recent exploits and wants to meet with her, probably about a job opportunity. This friend’s identity isn’t explicitly confirmed, but the Skrull reveals that he’s somewhere in space – which means “he” is almost definitely Maria and Carol’s friend, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, and the job opportunity probably involves working on Fury’s top-secret space-station, where he was last seen enjoying a beach-holiday simulation in Spider-Man: Far From Home alongside a small army of Skrull and human agents.

The thing I find most interesting about the entire exchange, which beautifully sets up Monica’s important role going forward, is the backstory still being hidden from us about Nick Fury and Maria Rambeau’s partnership, how and why S.W.O.R.D. got started, and whether the space-station is linked to S.W.O.R.D. or not. After Far From Home, the prevailing theory was that Fury had founded S.W.O.R.D. (which in the comics stands for Sentient Worlds Observation and Response Department) to protect Earth against future alien threats: but WandaVision revealed that Maria Rambeau founded the organization, and that its core purpose is to observe and respond to “Sentient Weapons”, implying a more grounded role in the MCU and bringing into question their affiliation with Fury’s space-station. S.W.O.R.D. did have a pioneering space-division, but it was dialed back in the years following Thanos’ Snap, attention being redirected towards AI and nanotech under the leadership of Tyler Hayward. So did Hayward know about Fury’s role in S.W.O.R.D. and the space-station? Or was Fury pulling a reverse-HYDRA?

Those questions will likely be answered in the upcoming Secret Invasion series, which seems like the most logical place for Monica Rambeau to appear next, alongside Nick Fury and the Skrull leader Talos in an adaptation of one of Marvel’s most ambitious comics crossover events. My belief is that, throughout Phase 4, the MCU will expand outward in three major directions – with earth-based stories, cosmic stories, and mystical stories. WandaVision, fittingly, weaves all three together and lays the groundwork for Monica to continue along a cosmic path, culminating in a major role in Captain Marvel 2.

WandaVision
Monica Rambeau | comicbook.com

And the mystical stories will continue to follow Wanda Maximoff, who is now established to be more goddess than human, with the ability to redesign or simply destroy the universe as she sees fit. The post-credits scene gives us a quick look at what the Scarlet Witch has been up to since leaving Westview: isolated in a charming yet lonely cabin by a lake in the wilderness (and within the shadow of a breathtaking mountain some fans think is Wundagore, Wanda’s fictional birthplace, where she was cursed by the primordial deity Chthon), the sorceress appears to be taking that quarantine-style staycation she promised herself back in episode seven. She’s dressed in casual clothes, and seems almost content. But the camera’s long tacking-shot moves past her, proceeding into a darkly lit room where we discover – another Wanda.

The MCU’s sorcerers have long practiced the art of “astral projection”, a technique by which a person’s soul can leave their unconscious or sleeping body and do pretty much anything that their body can do, except with the added benefit of flying and moving through walls. Thus far, Wanda is the only person we’ve seen achieve this while her body is still conscious, which effectively means she’s mastered “bilocation” – being in two places at once. But while her conscious body is just going about her daily routine, her soul is dressed up in the full Scarlet Witch costume and is levitating in the lotus-position, reading Agatha Harkness’ ancient book of magic, the terrifying Darkhold.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans would warn her this is a phenomenally bad idea, since the Darkhold has previously displayed a tendency to drive its readers mad with power-lust. Being in possession of it at all is a risk – particularly if Wanda is currently residing in the vicinity of Wundagore, where Chthon actually wrote the Darkhold and imbued it with all manner of horrors, nightmares, and demonic powers waiting to be unleashed. And yet here comes Wanda, not merely tempting fate by reading the book of the damned, but seeming to use it as a textbook. When she told Monica she would learn how to use her Chaos Magic, I thought we might see her seek out a magical mentor like Doctor Strange or even Karl Mordo – but Wanda’s instead opted for a masterclass in dark magic and demonology.

A dark take on Doctor Strange’s theme music plays as the camera zooms in on Wanda’s concentrated face, before the voice of Billy Maximoff suddenly cuts through the sound – screaming for help, and begging his mother to find him. The screen flashes red, then slams to black: and until Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness rolls around, we probably won’t know for certain what Wanda’s next move will be – or even how Billy (and presumably Tommy) is back from the dead. Remember, both of Wanda’s twins disappeared when she pulled the Hex back into herself: the episode made it explicitly clear that the twins were her creation and thus subject to the same rules as everything else she’d created in Westview, from her dream home to her perfect husband to her fleeting illusion of happiness. All of it had to go.

But there’s always been something strange about the children. They may have been part of The Hex, but they never obeyed Wanda’s ground-rules – and not in the usual way that children disobey their parents; I mean Wanda literally couldn’t control them, even when she exhausted the full extent of her magic on trying to do so. They appeared seemingly out of nowhere, proved impervious to her spells, and were able to age themselves up whenever they wanted – and, of course, they soon revealed their own superpowers, including Billy’s telepathy and Tommy’s enhanced speed. By the end of the series, Wanda seemed to have come to terms with this unexpected development, telling the children before she left that she was thankful to them for choosing her to be their mother. I think by then she must have realized what I now suspect, that Billy and Tommy are beings from another dimension or alternate universe who ended up in her reality but were never really hers.

And that means that the real Billy and Tommy are somewhere out in the Multiverse – of that I’m sure, because both need to return to the MCU so they can join the Young Avengers team, which is currently being assembled. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re really the ones calling out to Wanda for help. It could be an elaborate trap meant to lure the Scarlet Witch into the vast expanse of the Multiverse, where she’ll be at her most vulnerable. Some fans are already jumping back on the Mephisto bandwagon, though to be honest I’m more inclined to suspect Chthon is behind this latest shenanigan – and the more I learn about the Elder God, the more I think he’d be a truly terrifying villain: perfect for Multiverse Of Madness. But even if the twins actually are in danger, that still means someone must be threatening them – and that could also be Chthon, or any number of other dark forces from the pages of Marvel Comics.

WandaVision
The Darkhold | thrillist.com

And depending on the nature of the threat, Wanda might need to call on multiple allies – including Doctor Strange, and Agatha Harkness, who’s being kept alive and imprisoned in Westview for a reason. Agatha’s knowledge of Chaos Magic and long ownership of the Darkhold would make her a valuable (and delightfully untrustworthy) guide through the Multiverse. Any excuse for more Kathryn Hahn in the MCU is a good enough excuse for me.

But what did you think of WandaVision‘s mid-credits and post-credits scenes, and how would you like to see Wanda and Monica’s journeys continue? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“WandaVision” Episode 9 – The Finale Aims High And Hits Hard

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

In eight weeks, Marvel’s WandaVision took us on a wild and occasionally bizarre journey for which I will forever be thankful – there was something about the experience of waking up at three o’-clock in the morning to watch episodes as they aired on Disney+ (or, in the case of the WandaVision finale, having to resist the temptation to do so because I’d promised my family to watch it with them for the first time) that felt truly special, and which I can’t wait to repeat in two weeks once The Falcon And The Winter Soldier gets going. Along the way, I and other fans contributed to the experience by crafting complex fan-theories, and losing ourselves in elaborate worlds of our own creation, not unlike the series’ grief-stricken heroine.

WandaVision
The Scarlet Witch | indianexpress.com

But in the end (and much to the shock and dismay of fans who got too invested in their theories), WandaVision was never a story about Multiverse shenanigans, or the enigmatic aerospace engineer’s true identity, or Mephisto. Did that revelation blindside me too, to some extent? For sure. I was rooting for Dick Van Dyke to show up as Marvel’s Satan until the very end. But the true plot twist was that WandaVision was always a deeply personal and excruciatingly intimate story about one woman (well, witch) processing overwhelming grief; one man (well, android) trapped in an existential crisis; one unusual couple who now stand alongside Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s FitzSimmons as the MCU’s best-developed and most romantic duo. And the finale, while it could certainly have better served other characters and subplots, never once lost its focus on Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, turning in Emmy-award deserving work) and The Vision (Paul Bettany), nor diminished the painful love that binds them together – and that’s what truly matters, at least to me.

That painful love nearly gets Wanda killed just a few minutes into the episode, as the White Vision (also Bettany, a cameo he blew way out of proportion) lands in Westview. Wanda, who hasn’t seen her husband since the morning of the Halloween episode, is slightly perturbed by the android’s unfamiliar appearance, but ultimately accepts his proffered embrace and gentle caress – which quickly turns into a death-grip. The White Vision is close to popping Wanda’s head open (he may have no emotions, but his voice certainly sounds gleeful as he mocks Wanda: “And they said you’d be powerful) when the real Vision suddenly arrives, punching his alabaster counterpart down the street and into a gas-tank. But even as White Vision is rising from the flames and Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn) is recovering from an earlier fight with Wanda (which left her lace-up boots trapped under a car in a clever nod to The Wizard Of Oz), Wanda still finds time to apologize to Vision, and fill him in on their situation – because their love and concern for each other’s feelings precedes all else.

But to save Westview, they have to divide and conquer their opponents. Vision takes to the skies, battling the White Vision in an evenly-matched fistfight that makes good use of their respective laser beams and phasing abilities. But Wanda is up against an experienced sorceress who effortlessly absorbs every one of her hexes and sporadic outbursts of Chaos Magic, slowly leeching Wanda’s strength and stamina in the process: the distinction between Agatha and Wanda, which Agatha exploits, is the latter’s lack of knowledge about either her supernatural powers or her destiny as the heiress to the legacy of the mythical Scarlet Witch, whom Agatha claims is “forged” rather than born, possessed of no coven yet stronger than the Sorcerer Supreme himself, the subject of an entire chapter in the mysterious Darkhold, Agatha’s book of dark magic – which was previously seen on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., albeit in a slightly different form.

But all of Agatha’s cat-and-mouse games only serve to enrage Wanda, until the sorceress hits her where it hurts, by releasing all of the inhabitants of Westview from their enchantments and watching them turn on Wanda: forcing her to confront the pain and trauma that she’s caused her neighbors, random strangers whose lives she’s completely upended. It’s clear that Wanda never meant to hurt any of the people she absorbed into The Hex, and that she convinced herself she was actually doing them all a favor by giving them new identities and storylines of their own, but that’s not how it feels to people like Dottie (Emma Caulfield), who’s revealed as a frightened mom named Sarah, or Mrs. Hart (Debra Jo Rupp), who literally begs for death. And Wanda, in one desperate selfless act, listens to their pleas and opens the boundaries of The Hex – giving the townsfolk an escape-route, and allowing in a handful of armored vehicles from S.W.O.R.D.

But when faced with the choice of saving Westview or her family, who begin to crumble away before her eyes as The Hex’s walls come down, Wanda wastes no time re-establishing the barrier: trapping everyone inside for a final confrontation that splits the family up still further, with Billy and Tommy going after the S.W.O.R.D. intruders (neither using their powers very impressively, I’m sorry to say), Vision and White Vision wrecking the public library, and Wanda chasing down Agatha. Meanwhile, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) is still trapped in Agatha’s house across town, being held captive by…well, I suppose it’s time we talked about that. Despite wearing the face of the Fox X-Men universe’s Peter Maximoff, the character played by Evan Peters on WandaVision is revealed to be a random guy named Ralph Bohner, with no role to play in the finale, no relation to the Maximoffs, and only a vague association to Agatha despite being the “Ralph” she’s referenced since episode one. And then Monica overpowers him and leaves, and we never see him again. So, uh…yeah.

WandaVision
Ralph | thewrap.com

As for Monica, however, she arrives in the town square just in time to save Billy and Tommy, whom S.W.O.R.D. Director Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg) tries to gun down. Monica throws herself in front of the children, and her body absorbs the bullets. The CGI in this sequence is a bit weak, and honestly Monica deserved an action scene involving flight or photon-blasts, or just…I don’t know, anything but essentially turning into glowing jelly. It doesn’t help that Hayward is also a pathetic villain, who runs from Monica like a coward before Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) totals his armored vehicle with her funnel-cake truck.

In the library, a completely different kind of battle rages between Vision and White Vision – a quiet, yet strangely intense intellectual debate over the ancient “Ship of Theseus” puzzle, which trended on Twitter today. Vision pulls out the philosophical thought experiment to convincingly persuade White Vision that neither of them is the true Vision, and that both are, meaning that White Vision’s orders to “destroy the Vision” cannot be fulfilled. A tender moment ensues as Vision restores White Vision’s memories, ultimately resulting in him abandoning his mission and flying away. Whether he’ll return is hardly in question: it’s only a matter of where and when.

But of course the climax revolves around Wanda and Agatha, who engage in an arguably more traditional duel. Wanda even revisits tricks from her early days in the MCU, plunging Agatha into a hallucination from which the sorceress easily breaks free. The pair twirl dangerously through the skies above Westview, as Wanda’s attacks seem to grow more frantic and her spells miss Agatha, hitting the sides of The Hex instead. But the clever twist here is that Wanda’s been purposefully missing – so that when Agatha prepares to end Wanda, she finds she can’t cast a single spell: because Wanda’s been painting the walls of The Hex red with glowing runes. And as we all know from Agatha herself, “only the witch who cast the runes can use her magic in a given space”. Wanda might not have received formal training, but she’s a good listener.

And what better moment is there for her to finally embrace her role as the MCU’s Scarlet Witch? Reabsorbing all the energy Agatha stole from her, Wanda bursts into magical flames, which weave around her to form a sleek, upgraded version of her comics-accurate costume – including long gloves, a cape, and the iconic tiara! The MCU’s slow-burn approach once again pays off, as Wanda’s transformation feels fully earned after years of wearing designer jackets, high-heeled boots, and perfectly-styled hair: all of which worked at the time, but wouldn’t have felt appropriate going into Wanda’s primordial goddess era.

Descending to earth in her new look, Wanda’s first order of business is to imprison – not kill – Agatha, whom she reverts back to her identity as Agnes the nosy neighbor and leaves in Westview. Although we don’t know of any plans for Agatha in the future, I’m sure there’ll be reason to revisit her at some point: Agatha even tells Wanda as much, and Wanda assures her that, if that’s ever the case, she’ll know where to find her.

But as for Wanda herself, she can’t stay in Westview (certainly not with the neighbors giving her death-stares everywhere she goes). She also can’t keep WandaVision going, and that means it’s time for the “incredibly sad” ending Teyonah Parris warned us was coming…as the magical boundaries of WandaVision quietly close in on Wanda’s home, giving her a chance to spend a few more moments with her family before they must inevitably disintegrate. Outside The Hex, it’s broad daylight. Inside, it’s twilight time: Wanda and Vision put the kids to bed, with Wanda thanking the twins for choosing her to be their mom – an intriguing line. But while she chooses to let Billy and Tommy go peacefully in their sleep, Wanda shares one final scene with Vision downstairs in the living room: and it’s the most beautiful scene in the series.

WandaVision
WandaVision | cinemablend.com

As the room revolves gently around them, changing backwards into black-and-white and bursting into vivid golden light, Wanda and Vision say their goodbyes – and Vision finally gets an answer to the question that has long plagued him: “What am I?” As Wanda explains it, he’s the piece of the Mind Stone that still lives inside her, but he’s more than that: he’s her sadness, her hope, her grief and thus her love. He’s her every emotion and memory made real, and because of that he is deeply, intrinsically human. It’s a beautiful conclusion to Vision’s journey: at least for the present. He tells Wanda in his last moments that he’s been so many impossible things, there’s no knowing what form he might take next.

And as Wanda leaves Westview, taking to the skies on a new journey of her own, I feel certain that someday, somehow, this unusual couple will find each other again. At the very least, the post-credits scene promises a reunion between Wanda and her twins somewhere down the line (we’ll talk about that in a separate, later, post).

WandaVision quietly did what everyone wanted Marvel to start doing in Phase 4, which is to craft more unique, artistic, character-driven stories in multiple new genres. That the biggest complaint being weighed against it now is that it didn’t have enough of the plot twists and action we’ve come to expect from the MCU is a testament to just how exciting this show really was, that it didn’t need to rely on those elements to tell a compelling and beautiful story about grief, love, and the fullness of the human experience.

Episode Rating: 9/10

“WandaVision” Episode 7 Debuts The Big Bad (Or So We Think)

SPOILERS FOR WANDAVISION AHEAD!

Yes, I know I’m late. The Marvel fandom has had their fun with WandaVision‘s seventh episode already, bopped to dozens of “Agatha All Along” remixes over the weekend, speculated endlessly about the Nexus and the Multiverse and the hexagons, and yet here I am, rushing out this review on the eve of a new episode…and you know what, I don’t care. I’ve been out of action for the past few weeks following an emergency appendectomy, I’ve missed my window to properly review two episodes of WandaVision, and I’m not letting this last opportunity to review episode seven slip away!

WandaVision
Agatha Harkness | filmschoolrejects.com

Now it’s your turn to say “I don’t care”.

The fourth wall isn’t the only thing that gets shattered into a million pieces in WandaVision episode seven, a brisk and tightly-edited installment that sees Wanda’s cozy suburban utopia begin its inevitable descent into surrealist calamity. As the dark forces swirling around Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) close in on her, her control over the volatile situation – which once seemed almost absolute – is ebbing away…because, surprise, she was never really in control at all. But it takes a whole musical montage to finally wake Wanda up to this realization, after spending decades (well, days, actually, but whatever; time moves differently in “The Hex”) under the impression that all of Westview’s brainwashed citizens answered solely to her.

Of course, it seemed far too easy for Wanda to have complete creative control over The Hex, a world that seemed so tailor-made to her specific needs and wants that it almost had to be the product of some nefarious scheme. That being said, it’s still slightly too early to say for certain if my assumption was correct all along, that The Hex was built by someone else to trap Wanda within, and that she was given a false sense of power to lull her into complacency. That’s one working theory, as Dr. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) would say: the other, which I still don’t entirely buy, is that Wanda did create The Hex, but her control over it has slowly been leeched into the hands of another entity over the course of the series. There’s evidence for both theories, but either way, we now know the identity of WandaVision‘s antagonist (or, well, one antagonist: there’s a slew of other baddies who could still show up, including but not limited to Mephisto, Ultron, Nightmare, the Grim Reaper, and HYDRA).

But I’m jumping ahead. The episode picks up the morning after the previous week’s events, both in the real world – where the scattered remnants of S.W.O.R.D., headed by Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg), have regrouped eight miles outside of Westview’s glowing boundaries and are prepping another assault: the lack of brain-cells is truly staggering – and in Westview, where Wanda wakes up with a magical hangover, still wearing her Halloween costume from the night before (sans half-moon tiara, the only element of that costume I genuinely wish she’d keep), and reeling from the mental and physical strain of having to expand the boundaries of The Hex to absorb S.W.O.R.D.’s initial base camp. Luckily, an invisible film crew has taken up residence in the Vision residence, allowing Wanda a safe outlet to express her grief, disillusionment, and burgeoning sense of self-awareness, all while breaking down the fourth wall in a spoof of 2000’s sitcoms like Modern Family and The Office, which employed the “mockumentary” format.

The hustle and bustle of a chaotic morning routine provides the perfect backdrop to Wanda’s entire world coming untethered from space and time. Vision (Paul Bettany) still hasn’t returned from his late-night escape attempt; the con-artist-formerly-known-as-Pietro Maximoff (Evan Peters) is missing; and all of Wanda’s furniture and household appliances are erratically changing shape. Just as the stress of trying to parent twin boys in the midst of all this chaos becomes too much for Wanda, overly-friendly neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) arrives to escort the kids back to her own house, leaving mom to a self-inflicted quarantine-style staycation…as “punishment” for her reckless behavior. As always, Olsen’s brilliant performance keeps Wanda firmly relatable and sympathetic even as everything else is beginning to spiral down the drain.

Several miles away, Vision wakes up in a field full of clowns – alive and fully-functioning again, but deeply confused about life, the universe, and everything. Thankfully for his sanity, it takes him no time at all to reconnect with Darcy Lewis, who was last seen being unwillingly absorbed into The Hex alongside him, and who has now been recontextualized into a carnival escape-artist. Vision has questions, Darcy has answers, and the duo escape in a funnel-cake truck (did you notice the potential Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. callback in the set dressing?) to get back to Wanda, while Darcy gives Vision a rundown on his MCU backstory: including a partial account of his multiple deaths, two of which Wanda was unlucky enough to witness first-hand, and one of which she caused. Darcy’s poor storytelling and tendency to leave out vital context doesn’t seem to help the paranoid android process his own confused emotions (yes, I squeezed two Douglas Adams references into this paragraph: I don’t know what that’s about, either).

WandaVision
Monica Rambeau | menshealth.com

Back in the real world, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) head to the boundaries of The Hex to meet Monica’s aerospace-engineer friend, who…doesn’t actually show up, leaving us with more unanswered questions about their identity. But whoever they are, they dropped off a nifty little armored vehicle that Monica hopes will be able to break through Wanda’s magical TV-static barrier. It doesn’t, making that entire subplot slightly pointless (at least until the engineer shows up in-person and turns out to be massively important), but it allows for an ultimately more epic sequence in which Monica, rather than admitting defeat, chooses to run headfirst into the barrier in a desperate attempt at re-entry. Despite her apparent beef with Carol Danvers, she’s certainly inherited a lot of the captain’s recklessness.

Monica’s body begins disassembling in psychedelic slow-motion, while voices from her past rush through her head – but she pushes forward, mustering the strength to literally pull herself back together and step through the barrier, as her eyes glow electric-blue. Although WandaVision audiences have now heard plenty of references to how Monica’s frequent passages through The Hex have rewritten her DNA on a molecular level, this would seem to mark the precise moment at which Monica officially becomes a superhuman: fulfilling her destiny from Marvel Comics, where she goes by the name Spectrum. As in the comics, her powers appear to be light-based, and include the ability to see Westview as it really is: an abstract alien landscape with vivid purple skies stained by lazy splashes of neon light and humming with extradimensional energy. Donning a version of her comics-accurate black-and-white costume, Monica sprints off into Westview, unfazed by her superpower epiphany.

The episode deftly balances all these converging plotlines, bouncing back and forth from Vision (who abandons Darcy and takes to the skies after a series of contrived obstacles initially keep the duo stuck on the outskirts of Westview: obstacles that Vision mistakenly believes were put in place by Wanda to keep him away) to Monica, who breaks Wanda’s quarantine, barging through the front door with an offer of help – which Wanda rejects out-of-hand, telekinetically dragging Monica onto the front lawn and levitating her there for the whole neighborhood to see. Monica uses her own powers to avoid being crushed on the sidewalk, leading to a tense confrontation as Wanda’s forced to back up and listen to what she has to say. Monica is empathetic; she warns Wanda to not let her grief overcome her, and not to let Tyler Hayward make her the villain of the story. And despite Wanda’s eagerness to claim villain status, Monica does seem to be getting through to her.

Which is why Agnes shows up a split second later to extricate Wanda from this potentially paradigm-altering experience and lead her back to her own house (which cleverly borrows its façade from the actual Bewitched house). There, it seems no amount of magic or sitcom silliness can hide the truth about Agnes’ evil intentions: the house is dark, eerily quiet, and inhabited by cicadas – but there’s no sign of Agnes’ husband, Ralph…or Wanda’s twins, whose half-eaten sandwiches are still sitting on the coffee table while Yo Gabba Gabba! plays threateningly on the TV. Wanda’s search for her kids leads her to the basement, which extends far below the house and connects to a network of overgrown tunnels and a temple complex decorated with hexagonal emblems, ram skulls, Satanic artwork…and a small black book spewing fiery energy, which could be the Darkhold of Marvel lore. No stranger to live-action adaptations, the Darkhold was used in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to help design an alternate reality in which HYDRA conquered the world, and could serve a similar purpose in WandaVision.

But before Wanda gets a chance to do any sleuthing, Agnes joins her in the basement, wearing a quirky grin and her familiar pendant. “You didn’t think you were the only magical girl in town, did you?,” she taunts Wanda, while showing off her own supernatural powers. Whether she’s been orchestrating Wanda’s movements and actions pre-Westview or first had to infiltrate The Hex to do so, Agnes is the series’ antagonist heading into the penultimate episode (which means she’s at risk of dying, and that….terrifies me). And, to nobody’s surprise, “Agnes” was only ever an alias in the same vein as every other Westview resident’s adopted identity: a clever one, to be sure, but not too clever to outwit Marvel fans, who long ago guessed that Agnes would turn out to be Agatha Harkness, a sorceress from the comics whose relationship with Wanda involves mentoring her in the art of chaos magic, babysitting and occasionally kidnapping her children, and walking a fine line between protecting her and manipulating her trust. And sure enough, last week’s episode confirms what we all suspected, with the help of a musical montage that deserves to be ranked alongside the best Disney Villain songs.

Inspired by The Munsters‘ intro, “Agatha All Along” elevates the villain reveal from boringly predictable to delightfully campy. Through Wanda’s eyes, we watch past events with a new twist – Agatha gliding into Westview in a quickly-glimpsed witchy costume (before turning to the camera with a gasp of faux-astonishment), gleefully messing with the talent show in episode two, manipulating Herb’s mind in episode three, and puppeteering Pietro’s unexpected arrival. Her encounter with Vision on Halloween? That was all an act. Even the cameraman interviewing Wanda this very episode was Agatha in disguise. But you don’t need me to tell you that: just listen to the song, and/or its multitude of remixes and covers.

WandaVision
WandaVision | insider.com

The episode features WandaVision‘s first mid-credits scene, a quick stinger showing Monica breaking into Agnes’ basement only to get caught by Pietro – whose line, “Snoopers gonna snoop”, is delivered totally deadpan. Agatha having summoned Pietro to Westview and controlled his every movement, it would make sense that he’s still obeying her – but lift the spell, and he’s probably not a bad guy. He’s also definitely not Pietro, but he probably is Peter Maximoff from the X-Men cinematic universe, because there’s literally no other reason why this version of the character would be here. Further proof of that lies in the episode’s commercial, which (a) hilariously parodies overly-optimistic real-life drug commercials, and (b) directly references the Nexus of All Realities: the crossroads at the heart of the Multiverse, where universes collide. With the “real” version of Pietro dead in the MCU’s main timeline, Agatha would have reached into the Multiverse to find another – and ripped Peter Maximoff out of his timeline, given him Pietro’s memories, and installed him in Westview to play along with her game.

So was it really Agatha all along? Or is she too a minion? We still don’t know, but what I do know is I’ve been watching WandaVision for the past week (the fact that that’s a direct quote from the show speaks to how meta things are getting), and I’m certain that killing off Agatha in the series finale would be a waste of Kathryn Hahn (not to mention Agatha’s clear talent for producing quality music). So Marvel, please, pay attention to what the fandom is telling you and stop killing your villains before you’ve had a chance to use them properly: I don’t want to have to revisit this subject in two weeks time.

Episode Rating: 9.5/10