WandaVision – Marvel’s first (mini) series on Disney + and Disney + Hotstar – is an odd delight. It stars Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) doing the dishes and Vision (Paul Bettany) girds her soft tones at a dinner party. Two of Marvel’s most powerful superheroes, who have been busy saving the world time and time again, have suddenly been relegated to homey stuff. In that sense, it sounds a lot like our collective experiences of the past year, as we got stuck at home. The first few episodes – I’ve seen three of them – are mostly black and white, shot in 4: 3 aspect ratio. And oh, did I mention it was in the fifties? WandaVision is Marvel’s first new offering since Martin Scorsese compared Marvel movies to theme parks and complained about not being “cinema,” and the new Marvel series appears to be a direct response to those remarks.
Of course, part of this is just accidental. WandaVision is the first entry in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – it’s an insider’s term that refers to the post-Avengers: Endgame era – but it wasn’t planned like that. Directed by Scarlett Johansson Black Widow was set to begin last April, with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, to follow on TV as the MCU embarked on its Disney + journey. WandaVision was going to be third in line, but the pandemic swept us away and delayed everything. In a way, it worked well for Marvel. Black Widow and Falcon and Winter Soldier look a lot like Marvel’s existing offerings, per Scorsese’s reviews. WandaVision is unlike anything in the MCU, and its daring bodes well for Marvel’s start up with Disney +, which Marvel chief Kevin Feige has also acknowledged.
WandaVision’s monochromatic Academy-ratio look is inspired by dozens of classic American sitcoms it pays homage to. This includes the likes of I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Family Ties, and Full House. And just like some of those shows, WandaVision switches to color as it progresses, embracing new tropes and styles along the way. It starts off as a Golden Age Hollywood sitcom with a laugh track – Episode 1 was shot with a live studio audience – and silly jokes at a choppy pace, then moves through the decades. using physical comedy, animated sequences and vibrant color pops. WandaVision even has period-appropriate title sequences, new for each episode, and they’re accompanied by opening themed songs designed by the Frozen duo of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
But WandaVision is not just that. The sitcom’s appearance is a front for a larger mystery that lurks beneath the surface – it technically takes place after the events of Endgame and will lead to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which stars Olsen – the one who gets the shortest of mentions early on. . In this essence, he feels the closest to Westworld (whose creative team included mystery box lover JJ Abrams) and looks set to spawn endless theories after every episode. And just like with the HBO series, I’m sure enthusiasts and editors alike will experience the true nature of WandaVision in the early episodes.
The first Marvel Disney + series opens with a “just married” sign on the back of a vintage car. The couple in question are Wanda and Vision, who have just arrived in the idyllic suburb of Westview. They both recognize that they are an unusual couple, even outside of all the superpower activity – they have no wedding rings, no wedding photos, and even no memories of a wedding – but Wanda wants that they “fit in”, and that’s what they do. She does her best to be a housewife, cooks meals and organizes local events with other women. Vision spends his days typing forms in an office job from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. He once wonders what the company actually does, but no one seems to know, in what feels like a blow to the bureaucracy and being a cog in the machine.
There are early signs that something is wrong, with Wanda and Vision struggling to remember the importance of a day ahead. The two also struggle to remember anything from their pre-Westview days, as they find out when a guest asks them the simplest questions. Exasperated, the guest shouts, “What’s your story?”, In what sounds like a question asked by the show’s audience. After all, Vision died – twice, at the hands of Wanda and the big bad Thanos – in Avengers: Infinity War, but he appears to be alive and well on WandaVision. What East their story? The Marvel Series – Designed by Creator Jac Schaeffer, an in-house Marvel talent who worked on Captain Marvel (uncredited) and Black Widow (story) – is in no rush to provide answers, however, with the first few episodes functioning as sitcom episodes for the most part.
In the first episode, Wanda and Vision have to deal with an impromptu dinner, which hilariously goes off the rails. In the second, the two sign up to do a magic show for a local fundraiser – it sometimes comes across as Chaplin-esque – which also hilariously derails. And in the third, they have to face a life-changing event that is progressing much faster than usual. In between and all around that, WandaVision sprinkles jokes about the dual personalities of Wanda and Vision, which play on the fact that audiences know more than the other characters in the series.
Speaking of other characters, WandaVision has three from the biggest MCU: Monica Rambeau (Teynoah Parris) from Captain Marvel now adult Dr. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) of Thor and Thor: The Dark World, and FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) from Ant-Man and the Wasp. The only newcomer is Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), a curious neighbor.
WandaVision also has its rare dramatic moments. They explore Wanda’s family worries and maternal desires, the death of her brother (who was killed in Avengers: Age of Ultron), and the mental anguish it caused. These are all moments that have never been allowed her before, because the Marvel movies don’t have room to process those feelings, and even more so because Wanda is a side character and has never had a standalone movie.
Just as the trailers have hinted at, the sitcom world appears to be a construct manifested by Wanda in pursuit of a normal life that she never had. Or maybe as a refuge from some kind of danger. There are hints early on in WandaVision that this supposedly virtual state might not be Wanda’s own creation, with fake ads serving as proof of the same. Feige has admitted that the biggest truths about the show will come out of these commercials.
It’s an honor to Matt Shakman, the director best known for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (40+ episodes) and Game of Thrones (“Eastwatch” and “The Spoils of War”), who shows himself capable of handling both light and heavy, and brings a soft touch to darker notes. Of course, the real test of its abilities lie in the remaining six episodes, which Disney didn’t make available to critics until the show’s release. WandaVision is unlike anything we’ve gotten previously. There is nothing cookie-cutter about its approach, something Marvel has rightly been accused of in the past. But how will he do as he nears the end of the game? After all, its creators once said that it was like a great MCU action movie in the third act. Will it remain very different from Marvel or will it end up dissolving into a generic MCU actuator?
WandaVision releases January 15 on Disney + and Disney + Hotstar. Two episodes will air in the first week, and one per week until March 5.