WandaVision finds the most powerful Avenger in a most unexpected situation
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, Kat Dennings, and Randall Park
The era of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s TV offerings is finally upon us, debuting with the highly original WandaVision. After an entire year without any additions to the MCU, the last we saw of the Universe was Peter Parker’s identity being revealed at the end of July 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. As a result, WandaVision, as not only the first indication of the quality of Marvel’s TV output, but also the first product of the MCU’s Phase Four, is highly anticipated and has huge expectations to uphold.
As the opener for Marvel’s Phase Four, WandaVision is an interesting choice, though this was not the original intention, as Black Widow was intended to grace screens as far back as May 2020, with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals and even Disney+’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier set to premiere preceding this release. WandaVision certainly doesn’t deliver the typical blockbuster action that typifies the superhero genre, but it’s this subversion of expectation that ultimately proves to be WandaVision’s greatest strength.
This is largely due to the sheer number of films that Marvel has produced in the past decade, making these offerings feel like a more creative breath of fresh air. Indeed, lots of the upcoming projects from Marvel seem to be broaching new and unusual territory which separates and elevates from the Phases that have come before it.
WandaVision finds Wanda Maximoff (AKA Scarlet Witch, AKA Elizabeth Olsen – thankfully without the spurious accent of her previous performances) and husband Vision (Paul Bettany) inhabiting a black and white universe that pays homage to many classic sitcoms. The first episode, for example, is based in the 50s and is heavily influenced by Bewitched. The decision for each episode to move to a new era is also a nice touch, which helps keep the show interesting and for the creatives to really play with the conventions of different time periods.
The show is highly committed to paying homage to these different sitcom eras, and that is reflected heavily in the production methods used. Jess Hall, the cinematographer, was careful to use different camera lenses and appropriate lighting that would have been used in the separate eras of television that will be covered as WandaVision progresses, while the sound design took into consideration different recording methods while using canned laughter tracks. A dialect coach, Courtney Young, was used to work with the actors to help them move and sound like people from within each era, which makes both episodes currently available really impressive, intelligent homages to these televisual eras.
However, unsurprisingly, all is not as appears. While watching the recreation of these sitcom eras is highly amusing and diverting, the show is just as successful and infinitely more intriguing when the cracks in the veneer start to show.
It is evident that Wanda and Vision are seemingly unaware of the events leading up to the point of this series, or any of their adventures that they’ve experienced in the wider MCU. Their lives have a sort of two-dimensional quality, with the two of them not possessing an anniversary or aware of how long they’ve been together. The time period that they’re in alters without any comment being made, while Wanda and Vision’s house changes from episode to episode. With strange voices echoing through the radio mentioning Wanda’s name, it seems apparent that there’s some sort of reality-bending at play. As for who is responsible, there are plenty of answers in the episodes to come, with further connections to the wider MCU being made, with Teyonah Parris portraying an older version of Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel, and Kat Dennings and Randall Park returning in the same roles that they last portrayed in Thor: The Dark World and Ant-Man and the Wasp respectively.
In many ways, the answer isn’t necessarily going to be the most thrilling or interesting parts of WandaVision. What will be more interesting is seeing how it unravels. The moments where the real world seems to creep through are the most fascinating. Within the first two episodes, which are almost entirely black and white, the moments where a flash of colour bleeds in are visually beautiful as well as being utterly captivating. The change in the way that the series moves from an authentic era into a more contemporary set-up helps to illustrate that disconnect and really builds tension, aided by the score, which is otherwise suitably jaunty for the sitcom feel.
WandaVision features brilliant performances from Elizabeth Olsen in particular. There’s no mistaking that this is her show, and she’s allowed to breathe much more life into Wanda than she’s been able to within the MCU while surrounded by so many other plays, and while having to affect a vaguely spurious Eastern European accent that has slowly dropped away as time has moved on and everybody’s accepted that Eastern European accents perhaps aren’t actually in her repertoire. She manages to portray Wanda’s strong connection to Vision, as well as that creeping foreboding that there’s something missing below the surface. Again, the moments where the real seems to poke through the facade are further interesting, with moments of as-yet unexplained fear and defiance breaking through the otherwise sunny exterior. It will be interesting to see how much of WandaVision’s storyline comes from Scarlet Witch’s storylines within the comics, but with Vision’s death incredibly apparent within the wider MCU, it would be a pity to miss out on more of Olsen’s incredible acting as she truly comes to terms with Vision’s death. It would be a bold direction for the MCU to go in, to breathe a little bit more real-life emotion to the other-worldly aspects of the superhuman world.
Paul Bettany also portrays his role admirably, bumbling around as the peculiar Vision, and much comedy is derived from his differences to a regular human. Kathryn Hahn is simply delightful as neighbour Agnes, and lights up the screen whenever she’s on it, adding an awful lot to the series’ comedy overall.
WandaVision is a promising start to MCU’s foray into long-form storytelling. It is innovative and unexpected; a true opportunity for incredible levels of creativity across the board, and the sort of story that would be a disservice to present as a movie. Disney+ has made the decision, as with The Mandalorian, to release episodes on a weekly basis, which is bound to frustrate many viewers who wish to consume the series in one go, but is certain to keep audiences hooked as the mysterious storyline unfolds.
WandaVision is streaming exclusively on Disney+, with new episodes released on Fridays