By Michael Wright
*This review will contain mild spoilers for the show throughout. Heavier spoilers for episode 4 (the most recent episode as of writing this) will be marked beforehand.
It has been a year and a half since Marvel Studios put out their last project. With the pandemic putting a serious hamper on the production and distribution of new content, things have been pushed back and rearranged. Now in 2021 WandaVision is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s grand return to our screens. WandaVision is Marvel Studios’ first proper foray into producing TV content.
While there have been shows loosely connected to the MCU before, such as ABC’s Agents of Shield & Netflix’s Daredevil, this is the first project created under the same studio as the movies. It promises production values on par with the feature-length films and stronger narrative connectivity to the universe as a whole.
The premise involves Avengers Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) attempting to live out a quiet suburban life in a 1950s-style sitcom. Of course, everything is not as it seems, as strange events begin to happen in the town. This brings forth questions of the nature of the strange reality Wanda and Vision seem to be living in.
The first three episodes of WandaVision play out just like sitcoms from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. In each episode, Wanda and Vision find themselves in a cookie-cutter plot where cheesy gags and hijinks occur. While there are hints that something is wrong throughout each episode, for the most part the sitcom element is played fairly straight. This is the meat of the first three episodes and where I think the series goes wrong somewhat.
Initially, I found it charming, but after just the first couple of episodes, the novelty was all but gone. A sprinkling of weird occurrences (that hint at where I already know the plot is going) didn’t really help me to be engaged in what is otherwise a barely parodical take on these types of shows. By the end of the third episode, I was wondering if the whole series was going to be in this format.
*BEGIN SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 4
The fourth episode was a welcome change of pace. In many ways, it felt just like the first act of one of the MCU films. The clean cinematic visual style and quippy dialogue really made it feel like this was the same world as Iron Man or Captain America. This episode grabbed me from the first few moments and it had a strong momentum that left me wanting just a little bit more by the end.
The ties to the greater universe are blatant, with side characters from Captain Marvel, Ant-Man, and Thor being brought in to solve the mystery of what is going on. The grabbing of elements from other stories in the same universe appeals to me much as it does in The Mandalorian. That’s not to say WandaVision requires the viewer to have seen all those movies; it’s just a fun inclusion for those of us who have. The only real requirement to understand WandaVision so far is to have seen the MCU films that actually feature Wanda and Vision.
All of that said, it is disappointing that the episode that managed to really draw me in was also the one that stuck closest to the tried and true formula of the MCU films. The visual style, dialogue, and plot were enjoyable, but not anything that hasn’t been seen before. I was hoping it would be the weirder aspects that would be this show’s strength. I’ll be getting my fill of regular Marvel content later this year, so I was looking forward to WandaVision being something unique. It still is of course, but not so much the parts I actually like.
*END SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 4
WandaVision is a strange show, but not in the way I expected it to be. So far it’s not been the breaks in the illusion that have been the weirdest aspect, but rather the illusion itself. I’ve never seen a show structured like WandaVision before and it’s fascinating. As much as I dislike the regular sitcom bits, I can’t help but look forward to seeing what the show does next. As the story unravels, I think the series could showcase the strengths of its premise. Regardless of the outcome, those first few episodes might be ones I skip on a rewatch.
WandaVision is streaming on Disney+.