Read Andrew’s take here.
Marvel’s latest offering is a deep dive into the most powerful human emotions, with plenty of supernatural and superhuman elements thrown in.
*Spoilers ahead *
For the last nine weeks, the latest cultural phenomenon has been Marvel’s newest TV show WandaVision, with each episode streaming weekly on Disney+. With the temporary closure of cinemas (thanks a lot, COVID), there has been a complete lack of Marvel cinematic releases for the first time in thirteen years. Needless to say, fans were incredibly excited at the prospect of new superhero material – especially as the focus is finally on Wanda Maximoff, aka the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Vision (Paul Bettany).
However, it’s more than just the excitement of new superhero content that has contributed to the success of the show. Just as Taika Waititi revitalised the genre with his comedic genius in Thor: Ragnarok, so too has Matt Shakman shaken up the formula. Shakman’s creative and exciting direction takes the viewer from mystified to spellbound to emotional over the course of nine episodes, before leaving us with the heart-breaking realisation that we A) don’t know what lies in store for our beloved Wanda, and B) have to face facts that the show has actually ended.
Sitcoms, but make them Super
Immediately, one of the most noticeable things about WandaVision is the stylistic deviation from the typical Marvel fare. Naturally, the superhero element is very present, however, from the first episode it is clear that the writers and creators are comfortable throwing the audience in at the deep end.
Wanda and Vision appear to be starring in a sitcom together as a happily married couple navigating suburban life – first in a 1950’s-era show, complete with black-and-white picture and a live studio audience, before moving onto the style of popular 70s, 80s, noughties, and modern-day ‘mockumentary’ sitcoms in subsequent episodes. Each sitcom episode also comes with its own title sequence and jingle according to the decade it belongs to, adding another surreal layer to an already unconventional show. Hijinks ensue, and we eventually see Wanda and Vision have their own children, twin boys Billy and Tommy, as they muddle their way through various light-hearted domestic situations.
However, each sitcom episode hides brief but bizarre moments. Sequences that were once comedic are interrupted by something unnerving, such as the distorted voice addressing Wanda through the radio in episode two. As the show progresses, the viewer is left questioning the reality of Wanda’s ‘world’, until we are given more insight into the plot in later episodes. It is here that the weekly release of each episode plays an important part – without the suspense in-between to heighten our confusion, the show would not pack as much of a punch in its ultimate reveal.
Additionally, if the whole setup wasn’t mind-bending enough, the sitcom episodes themselves contain commercials created for various products. From toasters to watches to yoghurt, the premise seems simple enough but often each advert has unnervingly creepy undertones or references something related to the MCU – “Hydra Soak” being the most glaringly obvious one. As is often the case with all things Marvel, fan theories have been rife as to the significance of these commercials, with some theorising that they are easter eggs relating to the infinity stones. Only time will tell what the true meaning is behind these deliberately chosen adverts.
“What is grief, if not love persevering?”
Aside from the visually engaging format, WandaVision excels in its exploration of grief and trauma. Marvel is not one to shy away from exploring tougher issues in some films, including mental illness (such as Tony Stark confronting his PTSD in Iron Man 3). This time around, the emotions of grief and loss take centre stage.
From her introduction in Avengers: Age of Ultron right up to the recent events of Infinity War and Endgame, it’s safe to say that Wanda has experienced a great deal of suffering. From losing her parents as a child, experiencing the death of her brother Pietro in Ultron, a finally losing her husband and soulmate Vision at the hands of Thanos in Infinity War – our girl has been through a lot. However, the audience never got the chance to see or understand the full extent of Wanda’s trauma. WandaVision gives Marvel the opportunity to dig into the tragic backstory of a beloved character, highlighting the pain and grief within that leads her to create her own perfect world in Westview. Sometimes, it’s easier to hide from our woes than it is to confront them; just like many people seek solace in re-watching their favourite TV shows, Wanda seeks comfort in creating her own sitcom-world where Vision is alive and they have a family together.
The scenes between Wanda and Vision are some of the most beautiful in the show, with both Bettany and Olsen giving stellar performances and providing the series with a well-crafted emotional anchor. Their portrayal of a couple so entirely in love cuts through the humour and joviality in the early episodes, before adding a heart-breaking layer of sadness towards the end – I challenge anyone to watch their final conversation in episode nine and come away with dry eyes.
However…Things Could Have Been Better
Olsen and Bettany are excellent, and the supporting cast more than hold their own throughout the show – old favourites Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) pop up to our great delight, and seeing Evan Peters as Pietro caused great excitement from fans thinking this signalled the start of an MCU / X-Men cross-over (the jury is still out on this one). Additionally, we are also introduced to an all-grown-up Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), on-screen for the first time since Captain Marvel. Last, but certainly not least, Kathryn Hahn delights as the camp and charismatic Agnes / Agatha Harkness – wherever the MCU goes in the future, we can but hope and pray that the deliciously wicked Agnes is there for the ride.
Despite such a strong supporting cast, however, they are mostly under-utilised in the finale. One particular example is the previously strong connection between the characters of Wanda and Monica, reduced to a few lacklustre lines of conversation that could have held so much more meaning, instead of highlighting how rushed the writers must have been to get to the finish line. One could also argue that the finale was somewhat predictable – an understandable belief, given how many loose ends the writers needed to wrap up and the fact that this was more action-heavy than previous episodes. After the ingenuity of the sitcom-style episodes, seeing a more formulaic approach seemed underwhelming – perhaps Marvel will see the popularity of the earlier iteration of the show as encouragement to continue to push the letter in terms of creative direction.
Overall, however, WandaVision as a series has been a triumph. Not only has the show spawned countless memes on Twitter, but it’s been another breath of fresh air in the Marvel cinematic universe, with many seeing this as a signal for the direction of future Marvel productions such as Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
Wanda may be done with Westview, but the MCU certainly isn’t done with her – I for one cannot wait to see where her character arc goes next.
Words by Yasmin Bye
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