WandaVision review: Marvel dishes out a mindbending appetiser before we dine in the multiverse
Creator - Jac Schaeffer
Cast - Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris
Faced with increasing criticism about the cookie-cutter quality of its movies, Marvel has outdone itself. Not only is WandaVision unlike anything that the studio has made before, it’s fitting for the MCU’s first Disney+ show to be such a love letter to the television medium itself.
Three episodes were provided for preview, and this should be considered a review of those three episodes only. The series will premiere on Disney+ Hotstar with two episodes on Friday, followed by a new one every week. It’s an interesting strategy, unlike Netflix’s trademark release day dump, and ultimately one that’ll benefit the show, considering its mystery box nature.
Watch an interview with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige here
Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision finds itself with the unexpected pressure of placating an audience that has been hungry for new Marvel stories for close to 600 days. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the theatrical release of Black Widow and Eternals was pushed, inadvertently promoting WandaVision to being the inaugural chapter in the studio’s Phase Four.
Without any preamble or context, the show hurls both the viewer and its protagonists into the deep end. The superpowered Wanda Maximoff and her android partner, Vision, find themselves in a Truman Show-esque world, trapped inside the narrative and aesthetic trappings of a 50s-era sitcom. Every episode pays homage to a particular decade in television history. So if the first three episodes tip their hat to shows such as I Love Lucy and I Dream of Jeannie, future episodes will presumably track the evolution of TV sitcoms right up to Friends and The Office, before WandaVision, in all likelihood, turns into a more conventional Marvel spectacle.
I hate to speculate, but three episodes aren’t enough to gauge what sort of show WandaVision really is. Nor are they enough to even convey if the show’s any good at all. While the first couple of episodes are almost entirely restricted to sitcom shenanigans — the central conflict of episode one is literally whether or not Wanda and Vision will be able to put together a dinner party to impress his boss — episode three ends with a tease of the larger picture.
I can’t comment about the overarching themes at play, or if WandaVision justifies its reported $200 million budget — there is zero indication of either in the first three episodes — but it’s fun to theorise about what creator Jac Schaeffer and director Matt Shankman have up their sleeves.
We know that Vision died at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, at the hands of Thanos himself. So it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume that Wanda is still trying to come to terms with the tragedy.
What if as a coping mechanism, Wanda has found a level of safety inside the world of TV comedies? She grew up in the fictional Eastern European nation of Sokovia, so her only exposure to American culture could very well have been bootlegged old sitcoms. Thematically, they all seemed to revolve around idyllic family life — the possibility of which was so cruelly snatched from Wanda.
Teyonah Parris appears briefly as Monica Rambeau. Kat Dennings is supposed to return as the wisecracking Darcy in future episodes, and if I’m not mistaken, I heard Randall Park’s Agent Jimmy Woo over the radio on a couple of occasions. Kathryn Hahn drops by as a pesky neighbour that I’m sure is some sort of mole, suggesting that this could all be an elaborate SHIELD experiment to keep Wanda’s formidable powers at bay. Remember how she exploded when her brother, Pietro, died in Avengers: Age of Ultron?
If this turns out to be true, then WandaVision would be the first MCU project to address grief in a meaningful manner. Spider-Man: Far From Home explored the emotional fallout of Tony Stark’s death, particularly through Peter Parker’s perspective, but Marvel hasn’t quite had the opportunity of contemplating the immense toll that the events of Endgame must’ve had on these characters.
It’s a delicate tightrope to walk, tonally. And while Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s chemistry is famously fabulous, there’s an added layer of complexity to their performances here. They’re in a cheesy sitcom about a life of domesticity that they, as superheroes, have never been able to experience. And they’re also aware that they do not belong in this world. It’s delightful to watch Olsen, in particular, visibly try and tap into these themes.
WandaVision is a major stylistic leap for the MCU, and nearly impossible to resist, if you’ve been invested in these stories for over a decade now — a mind-bending appetiser before we dine in the multiverse.
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar