I decided to delay reviewing Wandavision after its two-episode premiere to avoid the rush to judgement so many of my fellow critics indulged in with this, the first taste of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I wanted some time to consider the show independent of what comics might have been used in crafting its storyline, for the sake of the newbies who might not have read the entire back catalog of Marvel Comics that apparently went into planning this. I wanted to ponder precisely what this show was on its own terms. Not an easy thing given that it is meant to be a continuation of Avengers: Endgame!
The set-up of Wandavision is fairly simple. Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and everyone’s favorite synthezoid Vision (Paul Bettany) have settled down in the suburbs and are trying to start a new life where nobody knows they were Avengers. Hilarity ensues as they try to hide Vision’s nature as a semi-organic robot and Wanda’s chaotic powers from their neighbors, while coping with problems like organizing the perfect dinner party to satisfy an unpleasable boss, planning a magic act for the local talent show and an unexpected pregnancy that goes MUCH faster than expected.
This is all presented as a series of sitcom parodies, with each episode to date taking stylistic inspiration from a different decade. While the general concept pays homage to Bewitched (and indeed features an animated introduction in the same style in Episode 2) there are a lot of in-jokes and references from a lot of sources. The third episode, for instance, opens with a Partridge Family style theme song and Wanda and Vision’s house resembles the home from The Brady Bunch.
Of course we know something is up and things are far from idyllic. The fact that Vision is walking around is problematic, as the last time we checked he was deader than disco and didn’t get resurrected along with everyone else after the Thanos snap was undone back in Avengers: Endgame. Each of the episodes have also dropped hints that reality is not what we think it is, as something seems to be trying to communicate with Wanda and the neighbors keep making references to escaping their small town. The big questions outside of why Vision is alive again is what’s holding everyone there and is Wanda another prisoner… or the jailer?
Comic readers have some vague ideas where this might be going, but Wandavision does a fantastic job of keeping everyone guessing. This seems to be maddening to some of the more vocal viewers, who have demanded immediate explanations for what the heck is going on and complained that the show spends more time making fun of sitcoms than exploring the big picture. I guess some people don’t appreciate a slow-boiling mystery. Personally, I love it. But I also don’t see what’s wrong with a little fluffy fun. Heck, for my money that makes the disturbing implications about Wandavision‘s reality all the stronger, as the tone suddenly shifts from light comedy to dark horror.
While some may quibble about the story and set-up, it can’t be denied that the creative team on this show have all done a fantastic job. The set design, sound design, costume design and direction have perfectly captured the period feel of all the various sitcom realities. The ensemble all do a fine job of altering their acting to fit the stylistic choices of the appropriate time periods. The chemistry between Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany is stronger than ever, with both actors proving to have excellent senses of comedic timing.
Wandavision is a bold step forward for Marvel Studios. It is also a creative triumph and unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU to date. If you haven’t already gotten a Disney + subscription, it’s worth it just to see this show.