Marvel’s start to Phase 4 of their Cinematic Universe may not be the epic, action packed romp that they were hoping for after the numerous delays of Black Widow. Instead, they were forced to start with a small scale, surrealist story that focuses on two secondary heroes which appropriately signals the future of the MCU, and its potential on Disney+.
WandaVision, set immediately after the events of Avengers: Endgame, sees Wanda Maximoff living a suburban lifestyle throughout various sitcom decades with The Vision. Wanda’s cliched, idyllic life is anything but as reality warps around her and outside influences threaten her dream life.
It’s not often that the high point of a superhero show is the production design, but WandaVision’s strive for authenticity is commendable. Each episode deals with a different decade of sitcom from the 50s to the 2010s. All the sets, costumes and cinematography adhere to the techniques and styles of each era. The 50s is a closed set with 2-3 locations; the 80s house has the look and feel of shows like Married with Children and Full House. Each episode, or decade, evolves with the ‘times’ and there is a lot of care put into capturing a nostalgic feeling.
That level of detail even extends to the cast, who manage to alter their performance styles to suit each decade, but without becoming grating. It is a testament to Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s chemistry and skill that there is a charm to their performances.
Not that there aren’t those that struggle to make it convincing, like Kathryn Hahn as Agnes, the nosey neighbour, whose performance feels out of place at times and pulls you out with how over-the-top camp it is.
Honourable mentions to song writing couple Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who parents can blame for the music in Frozen, and who Marvel fans can thank for creating some addictive, unique theme songs for each new episode and decade.
WandaVision has the privilege of being the first of many Marvel/Disney+ series, and makes a great case as to the benefit of smaller scale stories that can feed into the wider universe but are not essential; they enhance the world and characters.
Which is easily one of the strongest aspects of WandaVision, as the series explores themes relating to grief, love and family all through the lens of Wanda Maximoff own trauma. There are some genuine, heartfelt moments as Vision questions his identity and purpose and Wanda confronts the loss of those she loves, her traumatic life, and how she copes with it.
Jac Schaeffer and Matt Shakman manage to incorporate these themes into the sitcom style as “Message of the Week” moments, highlighted in Episode 5 ‘On a Very Special Episode…’. This adds to the trippy tone of the show which feels more like Get Out than a Marvel film, with the idyllic suburban life tainted by an unsettling and creepy mystery.
Sadly, the storylines outside the TV world are less engaging. acting as exposition dumps to everything out for the audience. The dynamic between Randall Park and Kat Dennings is enjoyable Marvel banter, but still feels formulaic. There is also the action finale expected of a Marvel property that is incredibly dull, even for a TV budget.
As much as the streaming platform allows the show’s creators time to flesh out the universe and characters, the weekly release model suits the show’s mystery story, but highlights the repetitiveness of the episodes. The series is a slow burn that unfortunately means that attentive audiences will solve mysteries well before they’re resolved.
WandaVision is a compelling start to Phase 4 of the MCU and doesn’t revolutionise the TV world as some predicted, but it does herald a new age for the MCU. Carried by Elizabeth Olsen’s emotional and nuanced performance, and showcasing detailed homage to the history of sitcoms, WandaVision has surprising depth, but flounders when it tries to be a Marvel property.