This weekend sees the debut of WandaVision, the first new Marvel Cinematic Universe property to hit Disney+, and the first bit of “canon” MCU content since Spider-Man: Far From Home way back in 2019. If you’re a little rusty on your Marvel lore, it’s understandable. If you need a refresher course, this is it.
WandaVision stars Elizabeth Olson as Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff and Paul Bettany as the android Vision. It’s an ambitious new property from Marvel, drawing on decades of comics for inspiration while simultaneously using some well-worn TV tropes to mess with the viewer’s perceptions. As the first post-Endgame bit of Marvel television, it’s a fascinating setup for both the characters within and the universe without.
Oh, and before we continue, there are going to be spoilers for the MCU in the information below. Nothing about WandaVision itself, but all the movies that came before. We clear? Okay then. All of these movies are available to stream on Disney+.
In the Comics
Scarlet Witch first appeared in the X-Men comics way back in 1964, along with her brother Quicksilver. They’ve both been frequent antagonists, but eventually became on-again-off-again antiheroes. There’s a long and complex history to both of them, often revolving around their relationship to each other and their father Magneto. Since Magneto doesn’t appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (yet), and Quicksilver gets killed off in his first supporting movie role, we don’t get too much of that, either.
In the comics, she’s a mutant who can manipulate reality in a bunch of different ways, usually manifesting as telekinesis, mind control, and more freaky powers affecting the laws of probability. Scarlet Witch’s specific powers are often left undefined, so she can be ridiculously powerful to a universe-shattering degree, or merely a tricky part of a hero or villain team-up. It really depends on what comic series you’re reading. Decades of continuity have made her everything from a basic, no-frills mutant to an all-powerful demigoddess of “real” witchcraft.
Vision the android came just a little later, appearing in Avengers comics as far back as 1968, but loosely based on The Vision from Marvel’s predecessor Timely Comics. In the original comic continuity, he’s created by an evil android, Ultron, to fight his creator Hank Pym (the original Ant Man). He’s recruited by the good guys and becomes a regular on the Avengers.
Vision can shoot beams of energy, phase through objects, fly, and possesses the usual grab bag of super abilities such as enhanced strength and speed. In the comics, he begins a relationship with Scarlet Witch … which gets incredibly weird and complicated very quickly, since he’s a robot and she’s more or less human. They shared a limited run comic series in the 80s.
To say anything more might spoil some of the events of WandaVision, so let’s get to the versions of these characters as they exist in the movies.
Before Age of Ultron
Vision the Android got his start as “JARVIS,” Tony Stark’s personal AI assistant heard throughout the Marvel movies going back to the original Iron Man. JARVIS is a digital voice provided by Paul Bettany, and he’s basically a snarky version of Alexa, helping Tony manage his various technology with voice commands and information readouts.
Jarvis was a real person in the comics, a butler, but in the MCU he’s a computer program. The change was perhaps made to differentiate him from the very similar butler-to-a-rich-guy-superhero, Alfred, from Batman. We see another Jarvis, an actual butler to Tony’s dad Howard Stark, in the Agent Carter TV prequel show. Tony presumably named his digital assistant after the human Jarvis, remembering him from childhood.
JARVIS can be heard in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, the first Avengers movie, and Iron Man 3. But it’s not really essential to watch any of those movies to get a handle on the character. Just know he’s an artificial intelligence that Tony Stark designed to help manage his armor gadgets. Tony has developed a possibly less-than-healthy attachment to his digital butler.
Elizabeth Olson technically first portrayed Wanda Maximoff in an after-credits sequence in the second Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier. We can very briefly see her and her brother Pietro being experimented on by Baron Strucker, a former leader of Hydra. Strucker is using the energy from Loki’s scepter, which contains the Mind Stone (one of the Infinity Stones), to alter the twins and give them their powers. This will be important later.
The scene above is pretty much all you need from before Age of Ultron to get a handle on these characters.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Scarlet Witch and Vision both get their true starts in the second Avengers movie. Wanda and Pietro Maximoff are revealed with their full powers (telekinesis and mind control for the former, super speed for the latter), and given a backstory as war orphans from the fictional country of Sokovia. Wanda manages to use her powers to inspire paranoia in Iron Man, who uses the Mind Stone (the same thing that made those powers possible) to design a new “defensive” AI and an upgrade to JARVIS: Ultron.
Ultron does a quick Google search on the history of human warfare, becomes unstable, and gives his digital daddy JARVIS a butt-kicking. He takes over Tony Stark’s Iron Legion drones, grabs the Scepter and the Mind Stone, and flees to Sokovia, where he recruits Wanda and Pietro to fight against the Avengers. The twins are on board. They hate Tony Stark, too, since he sold the weapons that killed their parents. Wanda’s mind powers help set up another big battle—Iron Man versus a crazed Hulk.
Wanda and Pietro help Ultron get the tools to build a new and even better android body, incorporating the Mind Stone and synthetic organic tissue to make it invincible. (The body is super-powerful, but kind of human. This will be important later.) But before he can finish, Wanda takes a peek into his brain and realizes he plans to blow up the planet. Wisely concluding that this is a Bad Thing, the twins switch sides and join the Avengers, helping them secure the experimental android body and taking it back to Tony Stark’s lab.
There, Tony and Bruce Banner use the shattered remains of the JARVIS AI and the Mind Stone to power up the android, with a little help from Thor’s hammer. The android Vision is born, with the Mind Stone in his head and a fantastic range of powers—super strength, energy beams, flight, and the ability to become intangible.
Now assembled, the Avengers (with Wanda, Pietro, and Vision) have a Third Act Battle with Ultron. Pietro is killed, but the team manages to beat him and end the threat. Wanda kills off the “prime” Ultron body, Vision rescues Wanda as a big chunk of the city is plummeting towards the ground, and he later kills off the last mini-Ultron bot.
Scarlet Witch and Vision join the Avengers as two of its most powerful permanent members.
Captain America: Civil War
Civil War is basically a mini-Avengers, bringing together a huge number of the MCU’s supporting cast. It’s all centered around a fight between Iron Man and Captain America about, among other things, government control of the team and letting Cap’s unfrozen best bud Bucky go free.
The opening scene sees a botched mission in which Scarlet Witch attempts to avert an explosion but accidentally channels it into a building. This shatters her confidence in herself and gets her put in time out, in the new Avengers compound in upstate New York. The events instigate a war of principles in the Avengers. Tony Stark thinks they need more government oversight, while Cap thinks they should retain their autonomy as a more or less independent peacekeeping force.
Here’s the first on-screen hint of a relationship between Wanda and Vision, who also lives at the compound, and is now a fan of sweater vests. Vision isn’t human—he still has trouble figuring out things like doors and paprika. But he’s also far more than he ever was as the computer program JARVIS. And while he retains a sort of subservience to Tony Stark (who, in a way, used to be his “owner”), he’s developing a distinct personality and desires. One of those desires is to be near Wanda and protect her.
Later in the movie, Hawkeye swings by the compound at the behest of Captain America, to bust Wanda out and go on the run. Vision attempts to stop them, and he’s unstoppable to vanilla human Hawkeye. But Wanda’s powers come from the Mind Stone in Vision’s head, and he appears to have a distinct weakness to her abilities. (This will be important later.) Wanda uses her telekinesis to literally bury him under about a thousand feet of New York soil. This is apparently an inconvenience, but doesn’t materially damage him.
Wanda and Vision meet up again at the Berlin airport, where Iron Man’s group of Avengers (now bolstered by the first onscreen appearance of the MCU’s Spider-Man) and Captain America’s rogues have a punch-up. Wanda helps Captain America and Bucky to escape but gets captured in the process. As Vision is comforting a shaken-up Wanda, he makes a mistake and accidentally shoots his team member War Machine out of the sky. It’s the first indication that his android body and mind are prone to emotionality and mistakes.
Before the conclusion of Civil War, Captain America’s team including Wanda is imprisoned at the superpowered detention facility The Raft. Cap escapes, beats the crap out of Iron Man one last time, and eventually frees them.
Avengers: Infinity War
When the MCU’s cosmic big-bad Thanos finally gets tired of waiting around for the Infinity Stones, it’s been a year or two since the events of Civil War. Wanda’s part of Captain America’s disparate team of do-gooding fugitives. Vision is still nominally part of the Avengers, but apparently he’s been taking frequent breaks to visit Wanda on the run, using his powers to disguise himself as
Paul Bettany a normal human when he does so.
Wanda and Vision are having a romantic evening in Scotland when they see that aliens are attacking New York City. (It’s okay, that happens a lot.) Before they can do anything about it, they’re attacked by a couple of Thanos’s lieutenants, who want to literally rip the Mind Stone out of Vision’s head. They get in a sneak attack, severely damaging Vision’s android body (and conveniently de-powering him for later), but they’re bailed out by Captain America and Black Widow.
Facing the threat of Thanos, who’s now armed with multiple Infinity Stones from across the universe and the ability to use them, the reunited Avengers consider how to keep even more of them out of his hands. The Mind Stone in Vision’s head can’t be destroyed by conventional means, but since Wanda’s powers come from the Stone, she should be able to blow it up. Naturally, she’s not on board with killing her robo-boyfriend. But they figure that the advanced technology in Wakanda, homeland of the Black Panther, might be able to separate the Mind Stone from Vision’s head without killing him.
Wanda, Vision, and the team head to Wakanda, which has got to be awkward, since the last time Wanda saw King “Black Panther” T’Challa, she tossed him around an airport. T’Challa’s genius kid sister Shuri says she can get the Stone out of Vision, but it’s going to take time. How much? Enough time for Thanos’s alien army to invade Wakanda while the Avengers and the Wakandan army fight them off.
Wanda stays in Shuri’s lab when the battle starts since she’s the only one who can blow up the Stone if the battle lines are broken. But when things get desperate, she’s drawn out into the main battle. This allows a stealthy team to infiltrate the lab and lure a weakened Vision himself out, stopping the extraction process. Wanda and Vision meet up just as Thanos arrives, packing five out of six Infinity Stones. He only needs Vision’s Mind Stone for the full set, which will enable him to kill half of the living things in the universe.
Vision tells Wanda to destroy the Mind Stone and kill him. She tearfully complies, managing to hold of the most powerful bad guy in the universe with one hand while exploding her boyfriend’s head with the other. But Thanos has the Time Stone, so he pulls a quick rewind, and brings Vision back to life for about two seconds. He then pulls the Mind Stone out of his head, assembles the Infinity Gauntlet, and snaps his fingers.
Vision is dead. But crucially, he’s killed by Thanos himself, not the Snap. The Snap kills half the universe, including Wanda. At the end of the movie, both of them are gone.
Endgame is a long movie. To put it succinctly, what’s left of the Avengers team uses a time machine to reassemble the Infinity Stones, build an Infinity Gauntlet of their own, and undo The Snap, bringing back all the people it killed. This includes Wanda … but not Vision, since he wasn’t killed by the Snap itself.
After the reverse snap, Doctor Strange and his team of wizards transport Wanda (still in Wakanda when she’s unsnapped) and pretty much everyone else to the Avengers compound in New York. They have to fight off a second Thanos army (which is also traveling through time—it’s complicated) and keep him from pulling a double-reverse-backsies Snap, this time blowing up the whole universe.
Wanda participates in the battle, once again squaring off directly against Thanos. At the end of it, Thanos’ entire army is wiped out, and the Avengers’ only notable casualty is Iron Man. Captain America returns the Infinity Stones to their rightful place in the timeline … which means that the Mind Stone isn’t around to bring Vision back from the dead.
Wanda’s alive. Vision isn’t.
WandaVision is the first Marvel show to debut on Disney+. But exactly what’s going on isn’t clear. In the previews, we see Vision (who’s still very dead, according to the current continuity) living with Wanda in a series of idyllic scenes, all lifted more or less directly from classic American television sitcoms.
These include sets and costumes from radically different eras. We see Wanda and Vision in recreations of sitcoms from the 90s (Roseanne), 80s (Full House, Family Ties), 70s (The Brady Bunch), 60s (Leave it to Beaver and Bewitched, complete with black-and-white visuals!), and 50s. The explicit references to I Love Lucy show Wanda and Vision playing a very self-aware, superpowered version of television royalty, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
WandaVision‘s trailers indicate that some very weird stuff is going on, almost certainly related to Wanda’s mind powers and her fragile mental state after killing her boyfriend, watching him be resurrected and then killed again, and dying and coming back to life herself. It’s also playing on the preconceptions of television shows themselves. Even the title, WandaVision, implies that we’re going to see some weird plays on Wanda’s perception.
The events of the new show will almost certainly be inspired by Wanda and Vision’s long history in the comics, though probably not completely mirror them. After all, the MCU versions of Wanda already diverge significantly from the comics. Scarlet Witch isn’t a mutant, and in the source material neither of them get their powers from an Infinity Stone/Gem.
WandaVision is one of the most anticipated streaming shows of early 2021, as only the second piece of genre TV to hit Disney+ and the first glimpse into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in over a year. The first double-length episode is on Disney+ now, with one dropping every Friday through March 5th (for a total of nine). Other Marvel shows will follow, including Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki, both scheduled for later this year.