After an extra-long break brought about COVID-19, Marvel Studios returned to pop culture to begin its domination in a brand-new medium. The MCU’s massive expansion onto the small screen was a considerable risk for the studio, but the incredible success of WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier on Disney+ prove once again that it’s a mistake to bet against Marvel.
The relatively new streaming services market allowed Disney+ to dominate the industry led by well-timed, blockbuster content from Disney’s army of franchises. The entirety of 2020, however, saw very little blockbuster content come to the service aside from The Mandalorian, which Marvel Studios is single-handedly changing that in 2021.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney+ was on track to hit 100 million subscribers in 2025; it ended up hitting this millstone four years early. Its unprecedented growth can not only be attributed to the pandemic itself making consumers more reliant on streaming for entertainment but also the long-awaited return of Marvel Studios and the high-quality shows it has released so far.
Despite the Marvel Studios logo brandishing both, the first two MCU shows to hit Disney+ could not be more different. WandaVision is a mind-bending journey into television history and the supernatural corner of the MCU. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a buddy-cop style, action-packed adventure that spared no effort to explore the dark corners of society that Disney-Marvel rarely explored before.
The two shows serve as a perfect representation of the diversity of genres that Marvel Studios has built within the same universe, but both are distinctly Marvel at the end of the day. Now that we have two full MCU installments on Disney+, it’s time to bring back every Marvel fan’s favorite question: which one is better?
In this Filmnetic Face-off, I’m going to break down both WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier based on quality, creativity, personal enjoyment, and other factors contributing to the show’s identity. After that, I will decide which one is better, which will surely divide the fandom into warring factions.
Without further ado, let’s get started:
WandaVision is by far the most unique thing that Marvel Studios has ever produced. The entire show is Marvel’s first supernatural mystery that set a new standard for character development in the MCU. Compared to theatrical movies, the extended run time of a television show allowed for a more grounded, character-driven approach to storytelling that does not sacrifice the production quality of the films. To be fair, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier also excelled at this, and the shows were produced simultaneously. Still, there’s an inherent benefit in being Marvel’s first impression on Disney+ from which WandaVision exclusively benefits.
Additionally, WandaVision’s unique framing device sets it apart from the rest of the MCU. The “Journey into Decades of Sitcoms” angle never crossed into gimmicky territory because it became essential to Wanda’s character development and symbolic of her trauma throughout the show. Marvel Studios went through extensive measures to ensure the authenticity of the sets, cinematography, and tone of the classic sitcoms. Check out this story for a full rundown of all of Marvel’s remarkable efforts to recreate decades of classic sitcoms:
Marvel Studios’ one mistake with WandaVision overall was throwing in too many misdirects. Not only did it detract from the true beauty of the show, but it let fans set themselves up for disappointment by their own encouragement. Teasing cameos, crossovers, and massive plot twists only allowed for a warped sense of expectations to spread across the internet, and Marvel probably learned that lesson with this show.
The finale’s full reveal of Wanda as the Scarlett Witch is the main reason for this show to exist. Her arc in this show is essential to the future of the MCU and set up Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness in a different way than expected. Still, it’s exciting to finally get confirmation that Wanda will be a massive player in the MCU moving forward.
The shining light in the show by far is Elizabeth Olsen’s performance. Wanda’s journey through her traumatic past transformed the character into the Scarlett Witch that we all know and love, and Olsen more than carried her weight in selling the journey. Kathryn Hahn also manages to impress even more in a more dramatic performance that proved she can maintain the perfect balance between comedy and drama. Agnes/Agatha Harkness gets fleshed out into an intriguing balance between being both Wanda’s antagonist and mentor, which made for an interesting dynamic for this episode, and hopefully, for the future of the MCU.
The rest of the cast gets their own time to shine. Paul Bettany’s Vision serves an essential role for Wanda’s character arc and concludes the show with a hazy but exciting future for the character. Teyonah Paris’ aged-up version of Monica Rambeau had a perfect reintroduction to the MCU that sets her up for an expansive journey for the future of the MCU. Old MCU favorites like Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis and Randall Park as Jimmy Woo return to form a perfect trio with Parris that MCU fans will be campaigning for a spinoff for years to come.
If there is any genuine critique that I would give to the show overall, it’s that it extensively set up the future of the MCU a little more than expected. The finale made the show itself seem more like an MCU appetizer than a main course by providing more sprawling questions than answers. It is not surprising because Marvel traditionally does this with a lot of its projects. Still, the fantastic arc and message of WandaVision now plays second fiddle to the unanswered teases and does not give the show the full attention it deserves.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
After only a two-week break between Disney+ shows, Marvel Studios returns with a complete 180 from its first television phenomenon WandaVision. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is more in line with what fans are used to from Marvel, but with the depth and intense character focus that made WandaVision so special in the first place.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier kicks off with an incredible action sequence that makes sure fans know the old MCU is back. The show is a sprawling character study with sprinkles of blockbuster action set it up as a true return to the political thriller elements of the original Captain America trilogy. The show follows Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes adapting back into a post-Blip and a post-Steve Rogers world.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier puts Sam Wilson in the role of Captain America, and it finally does not feel like someone else’s shield. The action-packed series rivals anything Marvel has put on the big screen, while at the same time hyper-focusing on a central theme without flashy, gimmicky cameos and plot twists. The finale perfectly balances the final showdown against the Flag Smashers and John Walker while also focusing on Sam Wilson’s full body and soul transformation into the Captain America we need today.
Sam Wilson’s transformation gets the same attention, authenticity, and relevance given to Wanda Maximoff in WandaVision. Much like Wanda’s transformation into the Scarlett Witch, Sam’s transformation into Captain America is a massive step forward for the MCU’s development.
Overall, the show stayed consistent in its exploration of the grey zone of morality and the good and evil within everyone. Erin Kellyman’s Karli Morganthau descends into darkness, but Sam (and the show itself) beautifully communicates her message in a way that shows her righteous passion will not be forgotten. Wyatt Russel’s John Walker gets a small redemption moment, but his character was well established as an anti-hero that relies on following orders to stay on a decent path. The character’s transformation into the comics accurate U.S. Agent teases a future where the Thunderbolts become an established team in the MCU.
Sebastien Stan’s Bucky Barnes finally leaves the villainous Winter Soldier behind him, which sets him up for true freedom as a hero alongside Sam’s Captain America. Bucky’s final transformation is the only character arc that was slightly rushed and stuffed into the end of the last episode. Still, his future of freedom is an important move for the character to finally leave his past behind him.
The finale teases an exciting future for this storyline, with Sharon Carter seemingly showing complete allegiance to her criminal life in Madripoor. Additionally, COVID-19 seemed to have caused Marvel to save some other leaked teases for the future to avoid spoiling certain feature films that felt the full force of the pandemic, which took away from the speculation that inevitably happens after every MCU installment.
In conclusion, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier follows the trend that WandaVision established in its finale. Marvel Studios’ Disney+ shows have officially established themselves as thematic character studies that set up a brighter and more complex future for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The show launches the legacy of Captain America to new heights, with an important and compelling message about the current state of American values. To paraphrase another iconic and iconic piece of comic book history: Sam Wilson is not the Captain America we deserve, but he’s the one we need right now.
Both WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier have their unique qualities. Falcon and the Winter Soldier continued and expanded the MCU that we know and love. At the same time, WandaVision deviated from the formula entirely and opened the door to new possibilities in the future.
Everyone could have equally valid and conflicting opinions over which show is truly better based on personal interest. Those who are die-hard Marvel fans may find The Falcon and the Winter Soldier more familiar and, therefore, more comforting. Still, WandaVision’s inventiveness and creativity are enough to take the victory, at least in my eyes.
Do you prefer WandaVision or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? Let us know on Twitter and follow us for more Filmnetic Face-offs.