The widespread success and critical acclaim of WandaVision, Marvel’s first Disney+ show to grace our television screens, was by no means beginner’s luck.
By: Alex Kennedy
Officially announced in April of 2019 and released on January 15 of this year, this nine-episode limited series has left this reporter enamored and longing for more.
Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision begins in a rather odd but inventive format, a situation comedy. Extremely different from any other Marvel creations done previously, the first three episodes are entirely in a sitcom format, but with a unique twist. Each episode is set in a different decade, starting with the 1950s. The story follows Wanda and Vision (played by Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany) integrating themselves into the suburban town of Westview, where they attempt to live ordinary lives while hiding their powers from the other Westview residents. This would seem odd to many who have watched the previous Avengers films as we know that Vision was killed by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. However, as each episode progresses, the viewer learns more and more as to why and how Vision is still ‘alive’ and not everything is as it seems in this quaint, suburban town.
Possessing many references to multiple periods of classic sitcom television, WandaVision is much more hilarious and emotional than expected. Jokes about Wanda and Vision’s powers garnered the most laughter from this reviewer as well as from the live studio audience. The script (perhaps cheesy at times), was extremely well-written, with an exceptional balance between comedic and emotional moments. Wandavision explored sensitive subjects such as grief, depression, and unhealthy escapism, while maintaining great comedic timing and great action scenes; the show covered all the bases of what makes a great Marvel story, while injecting it with new and creative plotlines as well as fresh characters. The in-depth study of Wanda’s grief and what she did in order to cope with the loss of Vision, and her other loved ones, is one of the most engrossing aspects of the entire show. Although a handful of Wanda’s actions seem quite predictable from the beginning, the narrative choices of the writers are imaginative, and left me surprised. Additionally, another great aspect of the writing was the exploration of Wanda’s path of grief to acceptance. Aspects of Wanda’s emotions, coupled with the very painful loss she endured, are extremely relatable and raises the emotional connection between the viewer and Wanda. Jac Schaeffer, the head writer and executive producer of the show, explained that her script for WandaVison was inspired by the film Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and the Marvel Comics series Legion, claiming that “those broke the mold of what Marvel stories could be and were daring, original, and ‘bananas.”Overall, absolutely amazing writing, from the first episode to the last.
As for the cast, applause goes to the directors for a spectacular assembly of wonderful actors. Most of the cast were great and played their parts beautifully, apart from Teyonah Parris (Monica Rambeau) and Josh Stamberg (Tyler Hayward). For Parris, she did have qualities that drew me towards her and her story. However, she lacked the emotional depth that Olsen or Bettany possessed. Regarding Stamberg, his annoyingly cliché ‘villain-in-charge’ character, left me underwhelmed as the show progressed. On a more positive note, Wanda and Vision, are as wonderful a pair together as they were in the previous Marvel films. Absolutely charming and amusing, their chemistry is more striking now that they are the protagonists of their own story. It is quite odd for this viewer to see Bettany portray the character of Vision once more after the events of Endgame, but his strong performance demonstrates that the connection between the audience and his character has not dissipated, even after his on-screen death. However good Bettany’s performance was though, Olsen is the real star of the show. The actress possesses an astonishing emotional range, superb comedic timing, and an impressive capability to drastically change her style and speech as the show’s timeline progresses. An Emmy nomination for the actress wouldn’t be surprising as Olsen once again proves that Wanda is not just a side character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This is the first big budget work (each episode averaging a cost of 25 million U.S. dollars for production) from the MCU since July 2019. The stakes were incredibly high as director, Matt Shakman, needed to maintain the enthusiasm and excitement viewers had for characters who have not graced the screen for quite some time. Shakman and Schaeffer both incorporate interesting and unconventional storytelling that transformed the series from a typical Marvel project into an extremely captivating and emotional story.
Concerning the score of WandaVision, Christophe Beck’s work is extraordinary and innovative. From the use of sound effects from classic television to newly-written songs, Beck delivers a score that elevates the show to another level. Additionally, the opening credits are something to marvel at. Each episode opens with a different theme song and title sequence, based on TV shows that were popular in the decade of the episode. As for the special effects, wonderful, film-worthy editing from Tim Roche, Nona Khodai, and Zene Baker; the visual effects are crisp and seamless, even in the show’s black-and-white episodes. Jess Hall’s clever cinematographic style closely resembles that of sitcoms.
From the puzzling and rather unorthodox storytelling that captivated viewers, to the unique and impactful exploration of grief and family, WandaVision ranks as one of the best cinematic efforts of the superhero genre to grace the TV screen. Despite the main narrative following an expected route (by MCU standards), the engrossing side stories and fresh secondary characters cause viewers to continuously reassess and doubt themselves, creating endless amounts of excitement for the next episode. It is still undetermined what the real influence WandaVision will have in the Marvel realm as they move into a new era of superheroes and stories. This reviewer can only assume it is crucial to the next phase and story development for the company, given the final cut scene of Wanda at the end of the series. The series, although frequently utilizing slapstick humor within a sitcom format, never once loses sight of its main emotional core. The focus on Wanda’s feelings and emotions elevates this limited series from a simple side story to some of the best cinematic content in the MCU and dare I say, in the entirety of the superhero genre as a whole.