We take a spoiler-free look at whether the first two episodes of Marvel’s miniseries live up to expectations…
I’m always glad to see a bit of weirdness being injected into the MCU. Even though they kicked everything off with Iron Man by taking a more realistic and timely approach, these stories have always been varied and wide-reaching, and it’s often been shown that veering from norms – even norms the MCU created – produces Marvel’s best (Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther) and sticking to formula produces some of the worst (Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World).
That’s why the next few years are looking interesting to say the least: Lady Thor in Thor: Love & Thunder, an Asian superhero in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals (finally), and Sam Raimi directing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Not only that but a whole host of TV shows airing on Disney+, the most intriguing of which seemed to be WandaVision, whose first two episodes were released on the 15th January.
The premise is a bit hard to outline – confirmed details are thin but what’s clear is that Scarlet Witch and Vision (in roles reprised by Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany) are living in an artificial world, although whether it’s technological in nature or Wanda’s magical powers at play isn’t certain. The world they live in, a town called Westview, takes the form of a clichéd sitcom setting, with each episode resembling a different decade’s television style and tropes, and both Wanda and Vision trying to integrate with their new community.
On the surface level, the dedication to recreating these time periods is impressive, and absolutely charming. The creators of the show talked about the way they used period-accurate lights and cameras, as well as extensively studying the styles of sitcoms of the past, and it really comes across as a fully realised recreation. The jokes genuinely land despite their cheesiness, especially the ones delivered by Agnes (played by Kathryn Hahn), although I’m glad we’re moving forward as I don’t think I could handle a whole season of 50s hijinks. You don’t even mind the laugh tracks, their commitment to the illusion is so great.
Olsen and Bettany are clearly giving it their all and pretty much carry the show through the comedies of errors with their energy. Bettany does a fantastic Dick Van Dyke and Olsen nails an Elizabeth Montgomery impression. Most of the appeal in the show right now is the mystery – almost nothing is revealed about what’s really going on, but the ominous signposts laid out are extremely effective. There’s definitely some Twilight Zone influence here but I think it’s more appropriate comparing the show to the Youtube series Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, with the low-stakes sitcom ease being interrupted by small moments of oppressive tension. Both episodes feature fictional ad breaks and something is a little bit off each time – watches and toasters are now way more creepy than I’m comfortable with.
That being said, besides the genre trappings, there’s not too much in the show to really motivate you to keep watching. This show apparently cost upwards of $200 million to make. By comparison, Avengers: Endgame had a budget of $356 million, and for their money let me reiterate – they got Endgame. Here, I suspect most of the money went towards all the equipment, the people operating it, and setting it up over and over, especially over two shooting periods thanks to coronavirus. I don’t know if I’ve just been conditioned by decades of massive battles with CGI alien/robot armies, but I am concerned that Marvel (or Disney) won’t make as much money to justify further projects with as much creative flair as this one.
WandaVision is moving forward with a slow but steady pace, and comes with an implicit promise of more to come – more weirdness, more laughs, and answers to our questions. I’m just hoping that it’s worth it in the end.