REVIEW – Marvel Studios’ ‘WandaVision’ Represents a Bold and Innovative New Era for the Marvel Cinematic Universe

We’re finally here. It feels surreal. It’s been over 18 months since the last Marvel Studios film, after getting nice and comfortable with 2-3 films a year. Remember that? Those were good times. For fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, WandaVision is the long awaited turning of the page to the next chapter of the saga, “Phase 4.” While the initial plans were to have Black Widow in theaters and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+ kick off Phase 4, in many ways WandaVision is the perfect project to get Marvel Studios back on track.

WandaVision is unique, clever and deliciously weird. It’s not just a feature film stretched out over 9 episodes. Instead, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, head writer Jac Schaeffer and director Matt Shakman created a show that takes full advantage of television as a medium, telling a story that embraces its eccentricities and completely commits to its devices.

I had the opportunity to watch the first three episodes of WandaVision and below is my review of those episodes together. The first two will be released together on Friday, January 15th (nobody will be going to bed early on Thursday night), and the third episode will released the week after on January 22nd. Much like Lucasfilm and The Mandalorian, Marvel Studios and WandaVision are here to ruin your productivity on Fridays for the next 8 weeks. Mild Spoilers below!

Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios
PElizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff and aul Bettany as Vision
Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS

Marvel Studios presents “WandaVision,” a blend of classic television and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany)—two super-powered beings living idealized suburban lives—begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems. Directed by Matt Shakman with Jac Schaeffer as head writer, the new series debuts exclusively on Disney+ beginning January 15, 2021.

BRIEFCAP

Wanda Maximoff and Vision are in a black and white 1950s sitcom setting, living in an idyllic house within a town called Westview. Wanda looks every bit the part of a sitcom homemaker and Vision has a generic office job that nobody can describe. Wanda is doing everything in her power to maintain the image that they are a regular suburban couple living in a quaint neighborhood. They just want to fit in. They have a quirky neighbor, Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), who randomly pops by at a whim, helps out and offers her two, three and four cents.

Over the course of the three episodes, Wanda and Vision juggle dinner with Vision’s boss and his wife, participation in the town talent show, and even some sudden family planning. It’s a wild ride. The first two episodes stay in the ’50s setting, with the third episode updating to the ’60s/’70s (in color!).

In the second episode, Wanda joins the planning committee for the town talent show and meets another member, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris). Wanda and Rambeau become fast friends, both seeming just a bit out of place, and later Rambeau helps guide Wanda through a very unexpected crisis.

Sprinkled through these suburban sitcom issues, there are bizarre and sometimes chilling moments where the picture perfect surroundings are threatened. A radio squawks with a mysterious voice calling out to Wanda, a strange man suddenly crawls out of a manhole cover in front of their home, and a remote helicopter with a distinct symbol falls in their front yard. Even Vision has moments of doubt and uncertainty, explaining to Wanda that things feel wrong. Undeterred, Wanda repeatedly uses her powers to shift reality and ensure that her story goes on.

By the end of the third episode, more of the facade is starting to fall apart, and Wanda expels one of her neighbors, vaulting them through the sky, far away from her home. Where the neighbor lands provides the first glimpse of what is actually happening in the world outside of Westview.

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The Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Volume 2, #1
The Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Volume 2 #1

The Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Vol. 2.

THE GOOD

During the global press conference for WandaVision, Kevin Feige mentioned that the goal for the show was “to do something that could not be done as a feature; that plays with the format and plays with the medium.” At least through the first three episodes, it’s safe to say that the goal was achieved with resounding success. It’s a testament to Feige’s commitment to letting Matt Shakman and Jac Schaeffer tell their story that through three episodes, very little of what’s actually going on outside of Westview is revealed. There are carefully placed hints and moments of disruption, but for the most part, WandaVision very deliberately avoids peeling back the curtain for as long as possible.

I’m in the camp that believes that superhero stories are not a genre. Superhero stories can be told through various genres, and while the substantial majority of superhero related content over the last decade has been straight action, WandaVision is a bold step in the other direction. There isn’t a single punch thrown in three episodes, and little more than brief moments of superhuman powers being displayed.

Instead, the first three episodes of WandaVision are an amalgamation of 50s, 60s and 70s family sitcoms, like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Brady Bunch, with sprinkles of The Twilight Zone.

As impressive as the huge CGI sets in the MCU movies are, what the WandaVision crew did to recreate the look and feel of past sitcoms is equally impressive. Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and especially Kathryn Hahn, could slip right into any one of those iconic shows. The sets, costumes and actor performances are immaculately executed.

I loved the record scratching moments inspired by The Twilight Zone, when the perfect world that Wanda has created around herself and Vision is breached. At the press conference, Jac Schaeffer said that the iconic horror show had a big impact on her. “The Twilight Zone is an enormous influence on me personally,” Schaeffer said. “I really think that’s actually kind of how I learned to tell stories.”

Viewers expecting to see a direct continuation of the MCU films transplanted onto Disney+ will be disappointed. That isn’t the story Shakman and Schaeffer are telling, nor should they. It would be a waste of the unique platform that Disney+ provides to make a show like that.

Finally, this show seems to be very much a Wanda Maximoff focused story. After watching the first three episodes, the show’s title seems to be a misdirection. “WandaVision” might actually refer more to Wanda’s vision, rather than to the couple.

Kathryn Hahn as Agnes
Kathryn Hahn as Agnes
Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios

THE BAD

There isn’t much to dislike about Marvel’s execution of this unique story. The only element that didn’t quite land for me was the laugh track. Episode 1 was recorded in front of a live-studio audience, which Olsen described as nerve-wracking. While I appreciate the extra effort to recreate the authentic sitcom feel, the audience laughter felt overdone. That continues into the second episode, which used a laugh track. Admittedly, I can’t quite recall if the old sitcoms used their laugh tracks as effusively as WandaVision seems to, but I found it distracting.

THE POC-Y

While there isn’t much diversity within the main cast and creators, there was an obvious effort to include diverse actors throughout the Westview community. Several of Vision’s neighbors and friends are people of color, and those who have keen eyes on the teasers and commercials know that more diversity is coming in future episodes in the form of a certain lovable former FBI agent.

Of course, the biggest role played by an actor of color is that of Teyonah Parris’ Monica Rambeau. Rambeau plays a significant role in the early episodes and I look forward to seeing more of her character develop. Rambeau’s inclusion is clearly intended to have larger implications throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Parris openly stated at the press conference that Rambeau would be seen in Captain Marvel 2.

RATING – 5/5 Pocky