After a long, very un-marvellous drought of content from the mainline MCU since Spider-Man: Far From Home in July 2019, fans have eagerly awaited what is the first of a slew of small-screen series coming to Disney+ for the foreseeable future. Was it worth the unusually long wait?
The short answer to the above question is yes, without a shadow of a doubt. The long answer, however, requires a look at exactly why this ambitious, crazily-premised sitcom spoof scratches the itch left behind by closed cinemas and empty theatres the world over. It may not be an equal substitute for the seemingly-cursed Black Widow feature, or the thoroughly mysterious Shang-Chi and Eternals properties for which there is still yet to be any promotion. But what is is, thankfully, is a risk-taking look inside the mind of the most tortured and tragic character still alive after Thanos’ war with the wider universe.
Grief-stricken after Vision’s demise in Infinity War and given no time to process her trauma, Wanda has taken control of a small town in New Jersey and made it her home with…Vision?!
Or at least, someone who looks like Vision. What starts as a homage to classic black-and-white era sitcoms barrels through the decades before reaching the 21st century, with each era offering its own set of clues as to what is really going on. Viewers could be forgiven for being totally lost after the credits have rolled on episode one. And two. And…maybe the third one as well. Eagle-eyed fans, however, receive vindication when the fourth episode pulls the curtain back on the twisted spectacle playing out in front of them when fan-favourites Jimmy Woo and Darcy Lewis join forces with a grown-up Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel and S.W.O.R.D. to make sense of it all.
Although Monica is the only existing character from outside Westview who Wanda interacts with (and even at that, she is portrayed by a different, much older actress), viewers could hardly care less. Whether she is in sitcom-land, a S.W.O.R.D. makeshift base, or a witch’s basement lair, Elizabeth Olsen gives the performance of her Marvel career across nine heartbreaking episodes. Moving through the stages of grief we see her deny the truth, rage against her reality, drift into acceptance, and then ultimately find peace. Never before has such a journey been portrayed in a single property before, owing thanks to the new long-form storytelling afforded to Marvel Studios by Disney+.
One person who does not have Wanda’s best interests at heart is the only unidentifiable Westview resident – the mysterious Agnes.
Always popping up when is least convenient and portrayed brilliantly by the ever-talented Kathryn Hahn, Agnes fulfils the role of ‘friendly neighbour’ which has found life in nearly every sitcom since the genre’s inception. In the final third of the series we finally receive confirmation that ‘Agnes’ is in fact the infamous Agatha Harkness, a character who is intrinsically linked with Scarlet Witch in the original Marvel comics. While there she is mostly portrayed as a positive influence on the world, here we get the sense that in the MCU that statement could not be further from the truth.
For the most part, WandaVision takes risk unlike any other MCU project that came before it. Before the advent of Disney+ it simply would not have been feasible to output a long-form story like this in the first place, and only in the aftermath of record-shattering Endgame can Marvel Studios afford to get weird and challenge audiences in ways hitherto undreamt of. That is not to say that this fledgling limited series is without flaws; it absolutely has missteps which can and will rightly be criticised. But for the most part it does something wonderfully refreshing and unique – it dares to be bold.
Sharing top-billing and elevating the series to great heights is Paul Bettany who, at long last, is afforded the opportunity to have fun with his role as The Vision.
If someone had told fans of Iron Man back in 2008 that the voice behind Tony’s armour would go on to play the resurrected husband of Wanda Maximoff in front of a sitcom live studio audience they probably would have laughed in your face. Thankfully that came to pass, and the franchise is better for it. While Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn spar and trade words (sometimes in equal measure), it is Bettany who provides the most complex performance. Having said that, the most impressive episode of the series is its penultimate one which hardly features him at all, speaking to the calibre of acting from all involved.
Having embraced sitcom life to the full, even employing stunt casting for the long-lost sibling trope, WandaVision starts to feel familiar from the seventh episode onwards when it reverts back to more traditional superhero fanfare. What it gains in spectacle however is lost in equal measure in terms of charm and uniqueness. Falling into the prevailing trap of a CGI fight between the hero and similarly-powered villain, some viewers will be left wishing that such a unique show would have instead opted for a more unique form of conflict resolution.
As for dangling plot threads, if Photon getting the call to arms in outer space and a restored Vision weren’t enough then surely a post-credits scene teasing the sequel to Doctor Strange will whet your appetite.
When all is said and done, fans and curious outsiders alike will look back on WandaVision with fondness, marvelling over just how well a bizarre concept like this was executed while still fitting seamlessly into a wider franchise. Even now, Disney+ apps are being booted up as we speak for immediate rewatches to start the crazy ride all over again and try to spot clues hiding in the background. What held it back from being truly great, however, was its hesitation in committing fully to the promise it made in being a “new era of television.” Certainly nothing like this has ever been done on the small screen before; but a small part of it has definitely been seen on the big one. In this way it scratches the itch left by an absent Black Widow release, but it falls short in staying true to the gimmick it paraded so proudly for the majority of its run.