After 2019’s Avengers: Endgame wrapped up the Infinity Saga, many fans were wary of where the MCU stories could go next, but a new format to the ongoing franchise would inevitably change things. After the success of series like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki, it appears that a new favorite format may be topping the future films, but not because of the pulsating action, but rather for the character development.
It was back in 2018 that Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios were developing limited series based on more side characters who were unlikely to have their own titular roles in future films while still connecting their storylines to the main films. The 3 series were to kick off the start of phase 4 for the MCU, which continues to expand the MCU universe in unique and exciting ways.
And although the whole Marvel team’s goal was to keep the same high production quality the films presented (which all of the series did not disappoint on), one aspect that seemed to shine the most in the shows that are released so far is the character development that occurs within each storyline. Instead of packing an overstuffed story in a 2hr film while still trying to contain all of the action many expect, what each show excels at is taking the time to explore these 2nd tier characters that give audiences an in-depth look at who they really are. The 40-50 min episodes really flesh out each storyline, and through this, there’s this new humanity to all of them that ultimately gives fans a greater reason to care and want to continue following these characters.
What WandaVision does so great, other than going beyond the usual structure fans have grown accustomed to seeing by introducing a sitcom element and still retaining its cinematic quality similar to the films, is presenting compelling character moments enhanced by the two leads. Wanda, in particular, is able to shine as the show opens up about her mourning the loss of Vision and the ways she has been dealing with her grief. It gives the show and her character a whole other layer that wouldn’t be as effective in an MCU film. Viewers are able to get a deeper understanding of her past and her family that really ties up any loose ends.
Other than Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s incredible performances in these roles, other standouts include characters like Jimmy Woo, Darcy Lewis, and newcomer Monica Rambeau who keep the sequences outside of Westview engaging while also putting them in moral situations involving how they should respond to Wanda and the whole anomaly. The action, entertaining at times, never outshines the unique characters and original plot.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier may not be as bold or unique as WandaVision was, but there’s no less character development. The series follows Sam Wilson’s Falcon and Bucky Barnes’ Winter Soldier as the two team up for a globe-trotting adventure. A mix of the Jason Bourne, James Bond, and Mission Impossible films, this series doesn’t reinvent the genre, but what makes it work are the character relationships as well as the underlying themes involving race, legacy, and moving on from the past. Audiences were able to get a few glimpses of Wilson and Barnes’ interaction in Captain America: Civil War but here they are fully exposed to the wise-cracking remarks and instant chemistry.
New characters, especially John Walker (new Captain America), create numerous moral conflicts that connect with the 2 leads and are able to develop fluidly each episode. Old ones, like Zemo, return as well and are given more screentime to convey their complexities and where they stand after the events of Captain America: Civil War. The heart of it all, though, lies on the two leads. Wilson has a dilemma surrounding Cap’s shield and whether or not he should’ve given it up to the U.S. Government for display. On the other hand, Barnes seeks counseling in order to help move on from the trauma of the crimes he committed as the Winter Soldier. These two arcs intertwine to give these characters the satisfying conclusion they deserve.
When fans thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre, then came Loki. Michael Waldron (creator for the series and writer for Ricky and Morty), creates an off-kilter, time travel adventure that has Tom Hiddleston’s Loki returning to full glory. It’s no surprise this is the only MCU series renewed for a season 2. Out of all the otherworldy mayhem Loki has to endure, the most fascinating is his character arc and the conversations he is forced to have with Owen Wilson’s new character, Mobius. Taking place after stealing the Tesseract in Avengers: Endgame (which is kind of 2012 Avengers Loki too), Loki finds himself dealing with the ramifications of his actions after being brought to the Time Variance Authority (TVA). There, he goes on a journey of self-discovery and shifts from villian to endearing anti-hero.
The series, especially in the first 2 episodes, takes its time with a great deal of it revolving around Loki and Mobius talking and sharing their beliefs. The two discuss Loki’s past and who Loki truly is as a person and why he does what does to the ones closest to him. This establishes a really emotional arc for the character and one that sets down a path of self-realization. By the time the show gets to the slow-paced yet intriguing finale, which teases Kang the Conqueror in a very impactful performance by Jonathan Majors, Loki is a changed man/god now full of wisdom and empathy. Loki getting to star in his own series adds so much to his character and it really changes the way fans view the god of mischief. Having 6 episodes to depict his self-discovery makes Loki’s bigger role one to look out for moving towards the multiverse/phase 4.
There’s no doubt the upcoming MCU films will be full of engaging and emotionally enriched characters, but for now, at least the series’ expansive premises continue to capture the attention of many fans.
The MCU’s next show, What If…?, premieres on Disney+ on August 11, 2021.
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