Entertainment

What 'WandaVision's release date change reveals about 'Doctor Strange 2'

Marvel is testing the limits of fandom with its accelerated new Phase 4 schedule.

Marvel Entertainment

When you watch WandaVision on Disney+ later this year, you might want to keep a notepad ready. Because you’ll need to remember the show, its details, its plot twists, its everything, for months — months! — until the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

In a surprise announcement made on New Year’s Day, Disney changed the release date of the Marvel series WandaVision. Originally scheduled to premiere in the spring of 2021, it’s now coming in 2020. The announcement was made in a teaser for Disney+ shows and movies coming in the new year where WandaVision was slotted just after the other Marvel show coming this year: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

This is good news for fans, who are basically getting more of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2020 than they previously anticipated. Until now, Marvel’s 2020 calendar was just two films (Black Widow in May, Eternals in spring) and one show (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier). That’s a light load compared to 2019, which had Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and for the truly dedicated, the final seasons of Jessica Jones and The Punisher on Netflix. But now, WandaVision adds one more to the MCU theatrical/TV slate for this year — and it could be Marvel’s most important release of the year.

Marvel may be the biggest entertainment brand of this generation, but the curious case of WandaVision, its sister show Loki, and the 2021 film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be a test run for just how far Disney can run with its intersecting theatrical and streaming efforts.

'WandaVision' concept art, released at D23 Expo. The art illustrates the show's unusual setting for a Marvel superhero series: That of a 1950s sitcom.Marvel Entertainment

WandaVision stars Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, reprising their roles as (no surprise) Wanda and Vision from Marvel’s Avengers films. The series’ secretive plot is currently known only to those working on the show, now in production in Atlanta. We know that the show will resemble a 1950s sitcom from hell, subverting the pleasantries of Pleasantville for something dark bubbling beneath the surface. (Rumor has it some scenes might even be filmed sitcom-style with a live studio audience.)

The show is also confirmed to feature direct narrative ties into the 2021 film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch and touted to include horror elements in a first for Marvel Studios. These ties are expected to be so pronounced that Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios, said in a Bloomberg story fans will need to watch WandaVision, and the Tom Hiddleston series, Loki, to understand Doctor Strange.

Imagine for a moment that, to fully understand Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, you had to watch The Mandalorian. Baby Yoda or not, it’s a tall order to give moviegoing audiences “homework” — “required viewing,” let’s call it — that isn’t just another movie, but something exclusive to a subscription service with monthly fees and a weekly release schedule.

Add on the fact that WandaVision, Loki, and Doctor Strange are all poised to do absolutely weird stuff makes the ask even harder. It’s one thing to remember who died in which movie and where. It’s another to remember which reality, which dimension, which timeline, which part of the multiverse we left of in between installments.

Benedict Cumberbatch in 2016's' Doctor Strange.' Its sequel, 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,' will uniquely feature direct ties to 'WandaVision' and 'Loki.'Marvel Entertainment

Previously, WandaVision’s “spring 2021” release meant viewers could watch the show week by week (or, if they’re feeling dangerous, binge it) just before Doctor Strange’s opening weekend. It was still a risky endeavor, but Marvel seemed intent to make it as easy as possible: Just watch the show once a week, then go enjoy the movie! But with WandaVision moving up six months (we’re estimating; there are no definitive release dates for any of the Disney+ Marvel shows yet), fans will actually have to remember the series’ twists and turns the series until Multiverse of Madness hits theaters on May 7, 2021 (or read a recap on Inverse.com).

Remembering teensy details across movies and shows isn’t a problem for Marvel fans — like their comic book forerunners, they’re experts on the minutiae of canon. But remembering what happened between Avengers: Infinity War to Avengers: Endgame a year apart is different than consuming a multi-episode show from your phone, your Roku, and/or your PS4. Unlike a dark theater seated next to strangers, the comfort of a living room couch is susceptible to distractions like chores, Grubhub orders, and your Twitter feed.

One advantage for WandaVision is the Disney+ release model. As evidenced by The Mandalorian, there is still plenty of audience retention power behind a weekly release rather than a single dump over a weekend. Where it felt like the third season of Stranger Things came out eons ago, The Mandalorian still feels fresh weeks after its final episode. (Netflix still makes a compelling argument via the equally successful hit, The Witcher.)

Obviously, it isn’t game over for Marvel if a few people are lost going into a movie just because they didn’t watch the show. Feige has repeatedly said, including a recent Q&A panel at the New York Film Academy, that Marvel still produces for both the hardcore fan and the casual members of the audience who just want to watch a fun flick with super people doing super things.

Clearly, it’s worked out for them. The collective gross for all of Marvel’s films is $22 billion. If Marvel were a country, it would have the second highest GDP in the world, ranking below China. And besides, if you really forgot what happened on WandaVision while watching Doctor Strange, you could just pull it up on your phone. Just don’t do it in the theater.

WandaVision will premiere on Disney+ in 2020. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will hit theaters on May 7, 2021.

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