Director: Matt Shakman | Screenwriter: Jac Schaeffer | Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Teyonah Parris, Kathryn Hahn, Kat Dennings, Randall Park | Distributor: Disney | Running Time: 30 min. episodes |
There’s a surreal charm and also a pleasing divergence within WandaVision. Sure, the show starts with the familiar Marvel Studios logo reveal we’ve become used to with every Marvel Cinematic Universe entry, but then we’re given something that isn’t as common for this franchise. We’re given a sitcom. No framing to set up this series. We’re immediately thrown into the sitcom format and a mystery is slowly weaved over just what is going on within this show. It’s unlike anything that has been seen previously in Marvel movies by placing a surreal component of over-familiar characters.
Having spent a decent amount of time with the characters of Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), most audiences know what to expect with these superheroes and their powers. So when WandaVision launches the audiences straight into a sitcom nostalgically astute to the format, there’s an eerie allure to how hard the show leans into this retro vibe. The sitcom angle doesn’t just feel like a one-off bit before the truth behind the characters is revealed. With the screen shrinking to the classic 4:3 aspect ratio and the tone shifting to light domestic comedy, the show seems to completely adopt the initial tone of a 1950s sitcom where Wanda and Vision are a couple who have just moved into a new neighborhood.
The show has a certain wonderment in just how it wraps the viewer into this world. Both the hero characters still have their powers but use them somewhat sparingly and for a comedic effect, ala Bewitched. Armed with cliche plots about the boss coming to dinner and a laugh track backing up the cornball comedy of the characters, the situation is played up so earnestly it’s easy to believe that the show may really be a sitcom.
Now, of course, there are plenty of clues strewn throughout the first few episodes to make it clear something more mysterious and sinister is lurking under the surface, a feat not too tough to weave within suburbian dysfunction. In all honesty, however, I kinda wished the show was fully committed to the sitcom anthology. It’s not just that it works so well in every aspect but that it paints a more engaging portrait for the duo. Wanda and Vision always felt a little locked in their roles that made romance harder to bloom, what with Bettany speaking like a humble robot alien and Olsen racked with the trauma that surrounds her in every Marvel movie. Both actors are thrown a bone in a series where they can express far more emotion, even when relegated to such nostalgic retreads of sitcom familiarity.
Within the first few episodes, there’s certainly something bubbling and it really feels as though it’s the show itself trying to shove away the more familiar world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, there’s a sense of relief some viewers will feel, as the pieces of the puzzle slowly come together but there’s a sensation throughout of some battle for tone. It’s a break from convention and a dream that is clearly being fought for and tinkered with to remain as such. There’s certainly a tragedy that will come to a boil soon but on the basis of what is presented, it feels as though WandaVision itself is trying to throw off the balance of the Marvel formula. There’s a fear coursing through the couple about what will happen when their reality comes creeping back, a shoe that will no doubt be dropped when fans beg for concrete answers about the fate of these characters within the rest of the MCU.
WandaVision is the first of a handful of MCU series that’ll continue the characters past their films. One of the other programs being developed is What If…, an anthology of revisionist Marvel stories that more or less looks like it’ll be posing mismatching stories with the material. For the moment, WandaVision feels more like the enticing what-if show by committing fully to the surreal nature of plopping superheroes in a sitcom. Though the slow reveal works for this show and only adds to the marvelous mind-bending nature of such characters, there’s a certain sadness that can be felt when realizations of the MCU start to come back to the characters. Every so often we’ll see an advertisement or mention of some MCU character or organization, acting hopefully as more than just Easter eggs to be actual hints about where all this is going.
Placing the whole meta nature of the show aside for a moment, its more genuine commitment to the retro allure is spot-on. Everything from the fitting soundtrack to the meandering mannerisms to the cheap animation intros is delivered with such affectionate accuracy. Clearly, a lot of work went into making this dream of a series feel believable enough to be an array of sitcoms yet still seeming artificial enough to realize something is amiss. It was particularly fun seeing Vision stammer about in a worry of concealing his identity while Wanda nervously titters about using her powers to maintain control. It’s an odd yet welcome expansion to their characters who always felt edged out of the picture in the ensemble movies they occupied.
WandaVision has a lot of promise from its first few episodes that always keeps the audience guessing and finding just the right tone to keep the sitcom angle comfy before it slowly comes crashing down around the duo. Yet there’s a certain dread about where this is all headed and not just in terms of what dark terror is being kept at bay for what is sure to be a shocking reveal. It feels as if the show is trying to distance itself from the connective tissue of the MCU and become its own thing where it is not bound by adhering to the timeline. We all know that’s an impossibility from such a show, as credits reveal future episodes will indeed bring in more characters from other Marvel movies to maintain a balance. At least one can dream for most of the episodes about how wonderfully weird a Marvel sitcom would be.