"WandaVision" concludes by giving Martin Scorsese the MCU film he always wanted

The Disney+ series ends with a ho-hum battle, but the real bang has always been in its intense cinematic moments

By Melanie McFarland
March 6, 2021 1:00PM (UTC)
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Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff and Paul Bettany as Vision in "WandaVision" (Disney+)

In 2019 Martin Scorsese described Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in a way that the "WandaVision" finale proved true. "The closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks," the filmmaker told Empire. "It isn't the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being."

The end of "WandaVision" illustrated much of Scorsese's summation – but not all of it. About 30 of the finale's 50 minutes was one of those rides. This diversion happened to star witches hurling balls of energy at each other while floating in the sky. Nosy neighbor Agnes, revealed to be centuries-old sorceress Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn), drops her glamour to take on Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) while Wanda's Vision (Paul Bettany) faces off with his tin man twin resurrected as a government weapon.

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Cars fly through houses; heroes are pounded through asphalt. A newly superpowered Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) defeated a possessed mystery man masquerading as Wanda's brother Pietro but who turns out to be some anonymous guy whose last name sounds like "boner." And, spoiler alert, Wanda prevails by losing everything. She created a sitcom version of Westview, and her most loving version of Vision, to escape facing her grief. The only way it could end was painfully – not the kind that physically bruises or draws blood. The kind that rips your heart out.

No matter. This being an MCU creation, everything eventually comes to blows . . .  and explosions, screams and flames. Amusement park thrills, just like the man said, and not an especially pulse-pounding version of such.

However, once the fighting ends, the finale bucks Scorsese's assumptions about superhero titles and returns to the attributes that make "WandaVision" such a wonder.  To save the people of Westview, she ends her perfect little world and locks Agatha in her supporting "nosy neighbor" role as Agnes. And in her final heartbreaking moments with Vision, Wanda does her best to convey the emotional, psychological experience of her humanity to the synthetic being she loves.

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"Wanda, I know we can't stay like this," Vision says softly as his demise creeps closer. "Before I go, I feel I must know: What am I?"

"You, Vision, are the piece of the Mind stone that lives in me. You are a body of wires and blood and bone that I created," she tells him. "You are my sadness and my hope. But mostly, you're my love."

He sheds a tear, kisses her hand and observes, "I have been a voice with no body. A body, but not human. And now, a memory made real. Who knows what I might be next?. . .  We have said goodbye before, so it stands to reason –"

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She finishes,"– we'll say hello again."

This was not simplistic roller coaster dialogue. This was romantic movie magic as Scorsese defines it in a subsequent piece that published in the New York Times. If, as he says, cinema expresses "the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves," then "WandaVision" is the first MCU title that meets Scorsese's qualification.

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And the only way it could do that was as a TV series.

"WandaVision" should not be dismissed for stepping away from the genre's standard violence canvas to work through its feelings creatively, not to mention in a way that fleshes out who Wanda is and, not only that, who Vision is and who Monica Rambeau has always been at heart.  

True, Wanda's excursion has the miserable effect of torturing a town full of innocent bystanders, leaving us with the sense that her despair has done lasting damage to their psyches and her reputation. None of the most interesting supers are entirely upright all the time. Comic book fans get this, as do people who love daytime and primetime soaps.

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This is why Marvel placed Wanda Maximoff's tale on TV, a medium whose larger networks have historically skewed female – certainly on ABC for the better part of recent history. Presumably Disney, a brand built upon princesses and brides, has forever.

Since "WandaVision" is a bridge between Disney+ and theaters, and between TV and movies, why not build that bridge with the story of a woman who is also a witch, a wife and a mother, and whose only job is to keep the world running and happy and stable? The best TV versions of superhero stories have been about women, after all. This was true of "Wonder Woman," and definitely of "Agent Carter." Even "Legends of Tomorrow" became necessary viewing once the woman took over as that team's leader.

This woman simply asks us to step away from the roller coaster of deadly lasers and fistfights, letting us better appreciate the lovely anguish in thoughts like, "What is grief, if not love persevering?"

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Bettany delivered that line with all the contemplative gentleness it deserved and in a calm setting free of threats or even loud noises.

WandaVision

"WandaVision" launched scores of thinkpieces because there are countless ways to think about it. But its ending proves somebody at Marvel took to heart what the great filmmaker said.

The frustrating part for film buffs may be that the result was a beautiful, thought-provoking TV series as opposed to a revelatory but concise superhero feature. But all of the artistic dimensions the filmmaker cherishes boil down to a single concept, intimacy, that no franchise action flick can channel with any depth.

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Television can. Hence, "WandaVision" worked best when the battles were psychological and emotional as opposed to relying upon some VFX-heavy approximation of brute conflicts. This is also why such a story could only star and be about a woman who doesn't have superhuman strength, exceptional fighting skills or bulletproof skin, and who wasn't entirely hero or villain. Wanda is simply a person crippled by grief.

Whether that is to the series' benefit or its detriment depends on what you expect from a Marvel title, or one from DC or any other comic book imprint.

Common complaints among people who don't like "WandaVision" frequently come down to its lack of fight scenes. My husband, who only watched it because he didn't want to miss any narrative threads that carry over into future movies, wrote it off as a soap opera.

But all comic book hero stories are soap operas. What are soaps if not stories informed by loss, psychological trauma, despair, tortured love affairs and revenge? If you mourned the death of Iron Man at the end of "Avengers: Endgame" that's probably because the MCU spent nine features building out Tony Stark's emotional profile, including three "Iron Man" films,  constructing the barest bones of a romantic relationship between Stark and Pepper Potts along the way.

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His great love has been threatened, kidnapped, appeared to die and was reborn. Sorry to burst your bubble folks, but that's premium sudser material.

And on TV, by using playful images and gutting dialogue instead of placing amped up savagery front and center, we're given a sense of that human complexity and paradoxical nature Scorsese was talking about. In its quietude, the show provided us with backstory about these two people while bringing us face to face with some part of ourselves.

Regrettably there will be no "WandaVision" sequel, only the next chapters of the stories born there and realized within another character's plotline – specifically "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" and the next Spider-Man movie, each guaranteed to be jammed with eye-popping visual effects and digital destruction.

Equally as regrettably, at least from a filmmaker's perspective, this means neither it nor other Marvel series to follow, the next being "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," are likely to influence their related theatrical releases to aim for the level of psychological or emotional complexity Olsen, Bettany and Parris bring to their performances here. Instead they'll further blur the line between TV and movies, between the necessity of streaming services and the singularity of the theatrical experience.

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If we're lucky, we'll get more shows like "WandaVision" in the bargain, stories that tousle with that emotional danger Scorsese hails instead of ginning up new ways to show impossibly muscled beings break each other's bones. Stories from the heart and about heartbreak embed themselves in our memories more permanently than a thousand artificial fireballs and bursts of rage, and we could use a lot more of them.

TV and comic books share something else that theme parks don't, which is the notion that successful narratives may end, but the stories that birth them aren't completely dead. So the finale of "WandaVision" might not be a firm goodbye to all it endeavored to achieve. Maybe it's simply a wistful "So long, darling."

All episodes of "WandaVision" are streaming on Disney+.


Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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