The Deconstruction of the MCU
How do you raise the stakes after killing half the universe? That may be the biggest challenge facing Phase Four of the MCU. Thanos was the Avengers’ greatest threat, making the next step murky. The MCU is a unique property with unique challenges, but they always rise to answer them. The writers came up with a very simple answer to the above question: You don’t raise the stakes. You take your time.
Phase 4 has started with two brilliant television shows: Wandavision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Both shows might have their flaws but are brilliant entries back to the MCU. They also set the pace for the next phase of the MCU by deconstructing the age of heroes that came before.
These television shows were not what I expected to follow Thanos but retrospectively feel like the only logical choice. The mythology of the Avengers has built up over the 13 past years. The next step is to look at it, deconstruct it, and ask: Is this right? Both shows examined the MCU’s legacy in different ways, but with one common thread.
Both of the Disney+ original series are about trauma. They examine it in different ways, but trauma is a common thread that runs through both. The source of this trauma is Thanos. The Mad Titan’s effect on Earth has led to long-lasting repercussions, as have the Avengers choice to undo the Blip. Through Wandavision and TFATWS, we get to examine trauma and the impacts of heroics on both the individual and the community.
Wandavision focuses on a much, much smaller slice of the world than TFATWS. It focuses only on the New Jersey town of Westview, which seems to be under a spell. We learn that the spell’s source is Wanda, the Scarlet Witch.
No hero in the MCU has it easy, but Wanda’s had it rough even for a protagonist. We learned about her childhood trauma after her introduction in Age of Ultron and that’s only grown as her brother gets murdered in the same film. During Infinity War, she had to kill her lover — only for Thanos to undo it and murder him a second time.
So she’s a bit of a mess. Wanda’s spell on Westview lets her live a perfect, suburban life with her memory of Vision. The trauma explored in Wandavision is the weight of superheroics. Wanda has made mistakes but has always tried to do what is right. Whether that means fighting the Avengers or aiding them, her intentions are good, but things don’t often go as she would like.
Here, she broke beneath the weight of her pain and grief, which exposes the terrible weight of being an Avenger. Her mental state is the cost of saving the world, and a benefit of taking the time to tell this story across nine episodes is that we get to take our time. We get to explore her trauma with a depth that a two or even four-hour movie could never allow.
Wandavision asks us to think not of the hero but the person. How long can heroes bear the weight of the world on their shoulders? Wandavision ends with Wanda trying to answer this question as she reads the Darkhold, seeking truths about herself and the nature of her power. What will the Scarlet Witch do next, and what state of mind will she be in?
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier contrasts Wandavision as its trauma and story take place on a global scale. Through its six-episode run, we get to learn about a post-Blip world that is in some ways, as bleak as the one we saw in Avengers: Endgame. In the five years between Infinity War and Endgame, the world had begun to heal from Thanos before the Avengers brought everybody back.
This had its own consequences. The world economy collapsed, and huge numbers of displaced people have found themselves on an almost alien Earth. One used to several billion fewer people, one where their younger sibling might now be their senior.
TFATWS goes further than questioning how long one person can bear power, asking whether they should. When we see this broken world trying to mend after a second world-altering event, we need to ask if the Avengers did the right thing. Sam obviously sympathizes with the Flagsmasher’s cause, even if he can’t accept their means.
John Walker, aka the worst Captain America, also plays a role in this. He’s chosen to fill in the legacy of Steve Rogers and fails to do so. This allows TFATWS to question what it means to be a hero. The MCU is accustomed to their heroes now; that’s why they chose a second Captain America.
But as Walker displays, being a superhero requires more than a snazzy suit and a symbol on your arm. It requires a true depth of character, a willingness to fight for the right cause. In many ways, Karli Morgenthau is a better person than Walker. Perhaps she could have even been a better Captain America had things shaken out differently.
This is the point. The MCU uses its television shows to question what came before. Phase Four is no longer about building up the heroes to mythical levels. It’s using the television shows to ground us once more, to ask what it means to live in a world of superheroes. What does it mean for individuals, and what does it mean for society and the world at large? Phase Four isn’t about the myth of the hero, but deconstructing it to understand what it means to be an Avenger.