Liam Ferguson reviews Marvel’s flagship Disney+ show WandaVision.
Over the last decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has dominated the conversation around popular culture as well as the film industry’s box office. Now, after over a year without a movie from the universe that is one of Disney’s tentpole moneymakers, the creatives are taking a bold new stretch into the realm of television. WandaVision is the first of these miniseries that will stream on Disney Plus every week and kicks off the fourth phase within the MCU. This jump to a televised format is not a first for the franchise, with previous shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Netflix’s Defenders properties and the much-maligned Inhumans having technically taken place in-universe. However, it is the first to properly link itself with the major film releases, having the aim to connect with the upcoming untitled Spider-Man Far From Home sequel as well as 2022’s Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. As of writing this article, four episodes out of an announced nine have aired for WandaVision, and in that timeframe the show’s premise has been solidified. From what has been released thus far, it is clear Marvel has something special on their hands with this series and it is setting up a much more creative, open and promising future for the MCU.
When Marvel first announced their slate of TV content for Disney Plus with WandaVision, The Falcon & The Winter Soldier, What If and Loki, it was easy to view WandaVision as the unlikely outlier. Sure, the eponymous characters of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are popular enough, but they certainly do not gain the fanfare from people in the way Loki, for example, would. One would never have truly expected a film starring these two as the protagonists, let alone a nine-episode series. However, there is an ongoing presumption that Marvel knows what they are doing and supposedly have their content plan lined up through the 2020s. It is also clear from The Mandalorian that Disney is more than willing to pump movie-sized budgets into their Disney Plus exclusive content in an effort to create a diverse range of prestige television in the streaming age.
When the first trailer for WandaVision dropped, it portrayed a sit-com-inspired and creatively rich premise that it has thus far delivered on.
The premise of WandaVision, so far, is simple. The protagonists Wanda & Vision are a newlywed couple who have moved to a small town named Westview, in a series that takes its inspirations from sit-coms that have come before. Each episode moves up a decade in the history of television with the first paying homage to the TV of the 1950s, specifically the famous sitcom I Dream of Genie, going so far as to be filmed in front of a live studio audience and entirely in black and white. However, there is one small caveat, as far as the audience is concerned. The character of Vision got his brains ripped out in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. This alone is a breath of fresh air for many of those who critique the MCU of being too formulaic with its properties. The series has its own unique style that lifts both musically and visually from the era of the TV it is portraying in any given episode. On top of this, there is a hook in the question around how Wanda has found herself in this strange place with the seemingly resurrected Vision. With each answer, there are more questions, some of which begin to gain their answers in episode four.
In many ways, WandaVision is indeed very different with this interesting premise and style. That being said, there is a lot within the series that sticks to the Marvel formula. On the surface level of the mystery and intrigue surrounding the town of Westview and its citizens, there is the usual reliance on humour that is present in every MCU property. The difference here is how quickly the shift from humour to genuinely nail-biting and intense sequences can creep up on the viewer. One minute Wanda can be having a pleasant conversation with her neighbour until said neighbour references a point of trauma from Wanda’s past that throws the Scarlet Witch into a fit of rage. Shocking imagery such as Vision’s limp, grey corpse with a hole in his head can be followed up with a laugh track and ditsy sitcom music. While there have been plenty of shocking and intense moments within the MCU before this, these stark shifts from comedy to tragedy are reminiscent of the work of David Lynch and feel like the franchise is finally taking some creative risks.
The series also does an excellent job of connecting itself with what has come before while not completely relying on those events as a narrative crutch. The MCU is known for consistently paying off character arcs set up in previous films and expanding upon seemingly one-off gags or lines later on. WandaVision begins to answer a question that one can only imagine will linger throughout at least the next phase of MCU films and TV: what is the lasting implication behind half of the population disappearing for five years before suddenly reappearing out of thin air? Without spoiling too much, WandaVision showcases the unsettling premise on a grounded level to normal people inside of a hospital setting, and helps to remind the audience that this universe-altering event will not go ignored now that Iron Man has saved the day. On top of this, the series is filled to the brim with small easter eggs and connective tissues to previous in-universe events, both big and small, and features characters such as Kat Dennings’ Darcy Lewis that have not been seen in years.
Furthermore, the performances thus far in WandaVision have been nothing short of excellent. Elizabeth Olsen especially seems to have grown into her role as Wanda Maximoff and is effortlessly able to switch between the comedic and the serious at a moment’s notice, subtly changing her performance style based on a given episode’s time period. Other stand-out performances thus far include MCU newcomer Kathryn Hahn as the mysterious and delightfully on-the-nose Agnes, as well as the always hilarious Randall Park returning as FBI agent Jimmy Woo.
Overall, WandaVision is setting itself up to be a smash hit for Disney and Marvel as well as an engaging and intriguing starting point for the fourth phase of the MCU. It is clear from the get-go that Marvel has not yet run out of original ideas which is, of course, helped by the endless supply of comic book history to pull from, but this series may be their most ambitious project yet. Every set piece has the look of quality one would expect from the MCU at this point and the performances and premise only bolster them. With a close-quarters presentation and character-driven story that builds upon what has come before it, while offering an extremely exciting look at what is to come next, WandaVision is absolutely not one to miss out on and offers a breath of fresh air for those jaded by formulaic and consistent action.