Superheroes in Suburbia: The Joy of ‘WandaVision’
Jan 27, 2021   •   Mikhail Lecaros
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Jan 27, 2021   •   Mikhail Lecaros
In 2019, the Marvel Cinematic Universe brought its first three Phases to an epic conclusion with the one-two punch of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home. With the global pandemic derailing plans for Black Widow to kick off Phase 4 in May 2020, MCU fans rejoiced when it was announced that WandaVision would debut on Disney+ in January 2021.
Featuring Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla) and Paul Bettany (Wimbledon) reprising their Avengers roles as the titular characters, audiences were intrigued when the first images and trailers were released. Is it a superhero show? A sitcom? Something in between? And how does this tie into everything that’s come before?
Read on to see what we thought of the first three episodes of WandaVision!
The show opens with a jaunty intro that, in classic sitcom fashion, sets up the premise: Wanda and Vision are newlyweds, excited to start their lives in the stereotypically nice, 1950s neighborhood of Westview. As Vision starts work at his new job, Wanda takes care of the house while local busybody, Agnes (Kathryn Hahn, TV’s Crossing Jordan), acts as her de facto welcoming committee.
In the first episode, hijinks ensue when a misunderstanding leads Wanda to mistake dinner with Vision’s boss as something else entirely. The second episode goes full-on Bewitched as Wanda and Vision stage a magic act for the neighborhood talent show (while somehow keeping their powers a secret!), while the third deals with a most unexpected pregnancy.
Along the way, there are hints that there’s more to Wanda and Vision’s sitcom life than meets the eye. As cracks begin to shine through the TV-inspired facade, and our heroes ask far fewer questions than they probably should, the audience is left to wonder who’s pulling the strings behind it all.
Right off the bat, we’re thrown for a loop, as, other than their powers and the actors, we’d never know that we were even in the MCU. Draped with the trappings of classic sitcoms — from the Dick Van Dyke Show, to Bewitched, and beyond — we, along with the characters, are immediately disconnected from the franchise’s usual blend of high adventure and lighthearted humor. Whether it’s stemming from the first 23 films’ successes empowering them to do so, a genuine desire to shake things up, or a combination of both, WandaVision’s first three episodes succeed at being absolutely bizarre in all of the right ways.
Indeed, it is this disconnect, this willingness to experiment that, while a potential stumbling block to casual viewers, serves as the show’s greatest strength, and it’s not without precedent. Indeed, it can be argued that leaning into the off-kilter has always helped to balance out the MCU’s more traditional entries, with the overall effect of keeping things interesting — for every straightlaced Civil War, there was a bonkers Guardians of the Galaxy. For every Thor: The Dark World, a Thor: Ragnarok, and so on. With WandaVision, MCU overlord Kevin Feige and his team have taken their narrative agility and irreverence to a whole new level; two years out from Endgame, it’ good to see that there’s plenty of life left in these characters, to say nothing of stories to tell.
With Black Widow’s umpteenth release delay, WandaVision would mark the first time that an MCU phase would start on the small screen. While Agent Carter, Agents of SHIELD, and even Netflix’s mini-universe of shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders) had ties to the overall continuity, WandaVision is the only one to feature actual Avengers in lead roles. Premiering weekly on Disney’s streaming platform, and with more small-screen MCU adventures in the works, including Loki, Falcon and The Winter Soldier, She-Hulk, and Moon Knight, the House of Mouse has a lot riding on this show, and WandaVision does its job admirably.
Olsen and Bettany play well off each other, helping ease us into the reality being presented. With each episode taking inspiration from a different decade of TV (beginning with the 50s and working their way up), the duo adjust their performances accordingly, without resorting to impressions — they may be referencing any number of classic shows, but they certainly aren’t remaking one. In any case, these actors are given more to do here than they ever did in the films they appeared in together, and their glee at tackling the material is apparent, revealing hitherto unknown comedic chemistry.
Despite Bettany performing his role of well-meaning-yet-bumbling-husband like someone who’s just happy to be there, it’s not entirely divorced from his previous portrayals of Vision as a newborn, fascinated with the world and its offerings. Not bad for a guy who started in this franchise as the voice of Tony Stark’s computer.
Olsen, on the other hand, is almost entirely different from her past appearances; American intonation notwithstanding (she gave up on her character’s Sokovian accent around Civil War), she’s able to expand from just brooding over dead loved ones and glaring at villains from a corset. Here, she gets to be an actual character, and, despite everything around them being an obvious ruse of some kind, it gives her a chance to give Wands some dimension. Age of Ultron might have introduced these characters, but WandaVision is finally letting Bettany and Olsen give them life.
Production-wise, the team assembled by Feige and director Matt Shakman (Game of Thrones, It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia) has perfectly recreated the looks of the TV periods being depicted. The attention to detail in everything, from the fashion, architecture, hair, and even special effects used, is remarkable. From separate beds for the newlyweds in the pilot (1950s), to the formica furniture (60s), and Brady Bunch staircase that follow, WandaVision has no shortage of references to the shows of yesteryear. The fun comes from the fact that nobody seems to notice, and the actors tailor their performances accordingly.
From well-kept lawns to white picket fences, everything is “normal”, in a Pleasantville (1998) sort of way. Much like that film, though, it’s not long before the cracks begin to show. It is during these moments that the whimsical tone breaks, hinting that something sinister is at play. And between the faintly ominous commercials and Wanda’s moments of sporadic clarity, it’s clear that all is not sunny in Westview, and, whatever’s going on, it probably won’t end well (though we’d be lying if we said that we weren’t hoping that the unseen villain’s plot lasts long enough for us to get to the aughts’ handheld cams and confessional cutaways a la The Office and Modern Family).
Whether you’re an MCU diehard or a new fan looking to see what the hype’s about, it’s a good bet that you weren’t expecting throwbacks to the Golden Age of television, and believe us when we say that that’s great! After the end-of-the-world antics of their last few adventures, it’s nice to see that Marvel and Disney aren’t afraid to shake things up.
Don’t look up spoilers, and don’t overthink it: kick back, enjoy, and let WandaVision work its magic.
Have you been able to catch WandaVision? Tell us what you think in the comments below!
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