Black Widow var ju tänkt att introducera den nya Marvel-fasen på filmduken förra året, men när coronaviruset svepte över världen förändrades de planerna, både sättet som vi konsumerade film och våra förväntningar på blockbuster-franchiser. Istället är det upp till WandaVision, Marvel Studios allra första TV-seriesatsning, att rivstarta den nya Marvel-eran efter en lång filmtorka... med en sitcom-historia i 50-talsmiljö, där handlingen kretsar kring Vision och Wanda som ett gift par i en märklig sitcom-värld. En ovanlig comeback, men en välkommen sådan.
Ett helt år utan Marvel-spektakel har ju satt saker och ting i ett helt annat perspektiv. Efter Endgame behövde Marvel-universumet en välbehövlig paus från allt som heter Thanos och fullskaliga CGI-bataljer med allas favorithjältar. Kanske är det precis det folk behöver just nu, i dessa mörka pandemitider - ett bekvämt sitcom-format som tröstar med sina bekanta upplägg, sina Twilight Zone-doftande hemligheter och en struktur som får en att törsta efter nästa avsnitt varje vecka. Kanske kan Wanda Maximoff och Vision rädda oss från virusets strypgrepp, åtminstone en halvtimme varje fredag?
Det här med digitaliseringen har sannerligen blivit ett faktum, där presskonferensen på plats har bytts ut mot Zooms-möten och där distansen till våra intervjuoffer är större än någonsin. Ändå fick moderatorn Jaleel White, den sköne liraren som etablerade sig i TV-branschen som sitcom-ikonen Steve Urkel, till en riktig god stämning bland deltagarna. Deltagarna, då? Förutom att journalister över hela världen bjöds in till eventet var även skådespelarna Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Teyonah Parris, Kathryn Hahn "på plats" tillsammans med regissören Matt Shakman, manusförfattaren, Jac Schaeffer och självaste Marvel Studios-hövdingen Kevin Feige. Inte lite stjärnspäckat, med andra ord, och intervjufrågorna avfyrades på löpande band.
Det framgår tidigt att WandaVision är lika experimentell som det är en kärleksförklaring till den gamla hederliga komedigenren, då Marvel Studios ville testa ett längre berättarformat inför sina andra TV-projekt. Faktum är att det allra först avsnittet spelades in med live-publik som skrattar till Wandas och Visions 50-talshyss. För Elisabeth Olsens del var detta en unik upplevelse, men i slutändan var hon ändå tacksam att följande avsnitt gjordes mer traditionellt:
Oh, God. It was the first thing we shot. It was so nerve wracking and there was a lot of adrenaline. There were a lot of quick changes and it totally confused my brain [...] the idea of not playing to an audience but feeding off an audience and having a camera and I was really grateful when when we added the forth wall for our second episode...
Den gladlynta filmstjärnan tog även upp sina främsta inspirationskällor inför sin prestation, som ju sträcker mellan olika årtionden:
I don't know. I think it was like an amalgamation of Mary Tyler Moore and Elizabeth Montgomery, and I think I accidentally threw in some Lucy in the 70s just because there was so much physical comedy, berättade skådespelerskan och diskuterade vilken skillnad det var att ha praktiska effekter på plats:
Well, I can't wiggle my nose so we had to figure out something else that was period appropriate, so this kind of was our translation and to watch our special effects team blow things up, set things on fire, create wind, create smoke. These guys became like puppeteers of things floating in the sky and dealing with magnets in different ways to make things spin and it was just so incredible to watch our special effects team adapt to the air of specific ways of creating these practical effects by doing the research of what did they do on Bewitched. Or even as stupid as like, you know, holding still and doing a quick change and trying to remember your bodies for the camera. I'm used to it all just coming together in CGI, so it was really fun to have the practical effects there.
Regissören Matt Shakman, som har haft ett förflutet med sitcom-serier och som har regisserat TV-episoder till Fargo, Succession, Game of Thrones och It's Always Sunny i Philadelphia, menade att det var viktigt att få till en så autentisk TV-upplevelse från möjligt:
Well we wanted to be as authentic as possible. That was one of the biggest goals and so production design, cinematography, costuming, everything was about going on this deep dive and with the actors we all wanted to do the same thing, so we watched just a ton of old television episodes, talked about how comedy changes, you know, because it really does. The approach to comedy in the 50s, 60s, 70s is really different. And as Lizzie said, the doing it in front of a live studio audience, which is this weird quasi theater-TV-thing is real. It really adds to it. [..] We also worked with a fabulous dialect coach to work on how the people would sound in that era, how they would move. We just did everything we could to make it as authentic as possible.
För Paul Bettanys del var det viss nervositet som han trädde in i rollen som Vision igen, som ju var en av många karaktärer som eliminerades i Avengers: Infinity War. I episoderna som journalisterna fick se - inklusive Gamereactor - stornjöt dock Bettany i sin Dick Van Dyke-doftande prestation som den mekaniske familjemaken och var helt klart en av seriens höjdpunkter:
Yeah, I was worried about that initially. I was like, "Wow, this feels so different," as I read the script and how do I keep him the same? And then I realized he's always been becoming something else, you know. He's Jarvis, he's part Ultron, he's part Tony Stark, and he's omnipotent but he's also this sort of naive ingenue. Then I realized, well, I'll just throw a little bit of Dick Van Dyke in there and a little bit of Hugh Laurie. [...] I think what Vision is, is just decent and honorable and exists for Wanda... and then you're safe.
Han kommenterade också skillnaderna i prestationen medan sitcom-formatet förändrades för varje avsnitt:
I think there is a lot more slapstick and physical comedy early on. Luckily by the time we get to the 90s they've all made me look so ridiculous that I didn't really have to work that hard for the laughs, I think.
Han tillägger följande detalj om hur karaktären smälter in det amerikanska grannskapet: Oh, a lot of wigs!
Vi fick också en liten inblick hos de nya karaktärerna Monica Rambeau - som spelas av eleganta Teyonah Parris - och grannen som lägger näsan i blöt, Agnes, spelad av legendariska Kathryn Hahn. Parris, som vi har sett i filmer som If Beale Street Could Talk och storserier som Empire, kommer tydligen att vara en återkommande nyckelfigur i Captain Marvel-uppföljaren och berättar så mycket som möjligt om sin figur - utan att nödvändigtvis spoila något om karaktärens framtid i Marvel-världen:
We met Monica in Captain Marvel as a little girl and basically in WandaVision we pick up with who she is now as a grown woman and through the course of the show we find out what she's been up to, what's happened for her between that gap in the years and who she's grown and involved or not. And we just follow her along. We will get to see Monica join Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel and Miss Marvel in Captain Marvel 2.
Hon tillade: We actually do get to learn particularly what those things are that Monica has seen and gone through and how they have shaped her life.
Hahn, som har spelat roller i filmer som Step Brothers och succé-serier som I Know This Much Is True, spelar den högljudda grannen som alltid knackar på lite olägligt:
In all those classic sitcoms, there's always that person that busts through the doors and sits on the couch and, it's like, their personal life, you never get to know anything about them. I think in that classic way, I was able to walk into it as Agnes just like with all those beautiful tropes set up behind me to just build on.
När Hahn sedan tillfrågades om utmaningarna om att spela samma roll genom olika årtionden menade hon att tricket låg i att hålla sig till den där bekväma idealen som sitcom-serier alltid har förmedlat:
I feel like what the sitcom (has) always represented is this kind of like aspirational view, this kind of comfortable ideal. The trick was, not only were we trying to be just, life within each decade, but to present this comfortable ideal. The structure of a sitcom, which is the set up, the misunderstanding and the resolution is such a comfortable, comforting little structure.
That is something that we have just like baked in us. I'm a kid of the 80s, that's just baked in. So the trick was to not to satirize it, but to get inside of each one and that's what I think was such a trick to pull off. I'm still so blown away by Matt and by Jac, by being able to do that because that's difficult, tonally.
I grunden är WandaVision en kärlekshistoria som snarare har ramats in i ett lika komiskt som mystiskt berättarformat. Manusförfattaren Jac Schaeffer, som ju också har skrivit manus till Black Widow-filmen och agerar exekutiv producent för WandaVision, menade att det var viktigt att fortsätta utforska kärleksparets relation, vilket mest skymtades i Avengers-filmerna:
I think that Wanda and Vision are really as a couple a fan favorite because their love story has been so very tragic, but also really kind of warm and intimate, and we've seen them in these really beautiful kind of stolen moments in the MCU. It's actually been a small amount of screen time but very powerful and very soulful. We're sort of opening up the stage and the space for them and they're in this like domestic sphere.
We get to see them doing dishes and in the kitchen and being cute, just all the sort of like homebody stuff that you would never get to see a superhero participate in. We really go from these enormous, dramatic moments and kind of frat moments in the MCU and then in WandaVision, it's a lot of cute-cute... until it's not.
Förutom utmaningarna med att göra research-arbete för att hitta rätt accenter, talrytmer och typiska drag för alla sitcom-eror berättade den exekutiva producenten om hur en viss kultklassiker inspirerade henne som författare:
Twilight Zone is an enormous influence on me personally. I really think that's actually kind of how I learned to tell stories. [...] You think you're in one sort of thing and then suddenly it's slipped on its head. We were all incredibly enamored of that. I think there are a lot of current shows right now, prestige series that are doing this very exciting thing where you watch a couple episodes and you think the show is one thing and then by episode four or five it flips the script. That's really where I think the more contemporary references come in terms of boundary pushing in genre.
Både Jac Schaeffer och Matt Shakman reflekterade över vad som var acceptabelt på exempelvis 50-talet, vad som inte har åldrats lika bra idag och hur det har påverkat det kreativa arbetet i WandaVision:
As Kathryn mentioned earlier the key reference points are family sitcoms, because there are so many legendary sitcoms throughout time. [...] There are key reference points that were about this idea of family and I think that oftentimes does age pretty well. I think also the key references that we were looking at are those miraculous shows that have managed to be timely and timeless. They resonated in their moment and somehow you watch the Dick Van Dyke show today and it's just as good as it was back then. [...] So I think a lot of the reference points that we gravitated towards were those kind of shows.
Schaeffer höll om det mesta med och gav sin egen syn på saken:
When we looked back and we were doing our research and looking at these older shows, there were shows that were a little disappointing and that were not acceptable for today. We had a very really incredible writer's room full of people, part of our job was to keep an eye on these things. As Matt said fairly quickly as zeroed in on family sitcoms, there were a lot of different sort of workplace sitcoms and other types of sitcoms. The family piece kept us very, very centered. I can't speak of the larger puzzle of what the show is, but that was also a piece that kept us on the right track.
När vi sedan vänder oss till den kepsförsedde Marvel-giganten Kevin Feige diskuterades vad det innebar för Marvel Studios att börja den nya Marvel-fasen med en sitcom, även om det inte var planen från början, och hur pandemin har påverkat de planerna:
Yes, the original plan was Falcon and The Winter Soldier was gonna debut first last year, followed very soon behind with WandaVision. So creatively, it didn't reshuffle. Part of having the plan is having the ability and the ideas of how to shuffle should the need arise. I'm not saying we were prepped for a global pandemic. We were not. But we've always, over the past 12-15 years of Marvel Studios, been able to shuffle around.
This was Marvel Studios' first foray with cast and amazing characters that we'd seen in movies coming onto television. The idea always was to do something that could not be done as a feature, that plays with the format and plays with the medium. There were a lot of meetings before people actually understood what we were trying to go for and we're only sitting here because Jac and Matt we're able to turn a whacky idea into a spectacular show.
Feige tillfrågades också om The Mandalorian - en av de största succéerna någonsin hos Disney Plus - kan ha inspirerat WandaVision på något sätt. Feige avslöjade att WandaVision var tilltänkt långt innan Mandalorian drog igång, men att rymdäventyrets framgångsrika vecka-för-vecka-sändning gav honom hopp:
We were all underway on WandaVision long before we saw The Mandalorian. There is lots and lots, of The Mandalorian that has inspired us at Marvel Studios, not the least of which is the stage craft technology that they pioneered that we're using on some upcoming project.
We want to make people understand these projects on Disney Plus are as important as the projects going into theaters. We want to feel that same excitement and the Disney marketing team is best in the world, best of all time frankly, right now.
Sometimes series drop all at once on streaming services, and Disney I think was very smart to do the week by week because of that conversation that happens every week between episodes I think is very important.
Each time I witness that, experience that and joined in that with Mandalorian. It got me excited for the way we had already been building WandaVision to be unveiled.
Sista ordet fick Feige, som berättade lite mer om sin egen personliga koppling till sitcom-serier, hans chefer Bob Iger och Alan Horns förflutna med sitcoms, WandaVision-talangernas koppling till genren och hans morfar Robert Short, en TV-producent som arbetade med såpoperor:
TV meant a lot to me and I found comfort in television families. There's one thing we talked about early on is these are not parodies. This is not direct satire. We love these things and they meant a lot to us. Dated and silly as they may seem now, there is a comfort factor there. That was the primary factor and the comic inspiration of course is what led us to putting these ideas together. There is a wonderful thing though that happened with Matt's background as he's talked about, which is so amazing. Lizzie's background with her sisters didn't even occur to me until I think we were standing in the writer's room with pictures of Full House on the wall and I went, "Oh... right." The connection with my grandfather going way back and even people that oversee Marvel Studios and created Disney Plus... [...] this was everybody's past and it was fun to hear stories as we worked on this series about all these people that we worked with every day and getting an insight into a bit of where they'd come from.
Med det sagt var den digitala presskonferensen plötsligt slut och allas kameror släcktes ner. Det hela gick lika fort som Thanos ödesdigra fingerknäpp. Mer än så kan vi inte berätta om WandaVision - ännu. Gamereactor har, som sagt, fått kika på tre avsnitt från den efterlängtade TV-serien och kommer att publicera en recension av seriens början under veckan. Missa inte det! WandaVision får Disney Plus-premiär med två hela avsnitt den 15 januari.