Read Yasmin’s take here.
It might be time to reconsider the notion that you know what you will get from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). WandaVision, the MCU’s first foray into television using their movie stars, redefines the perception of the franchise. It opens up some exciting possibilities for the future of the superhero genre on the small screen.
WandaVision employs an original concept of being a television show within a television show, in this case, a sitcom within a drama.
We begin with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) settling into their new marital home in a near-perfect reconstruction of a 1950’s sitcom, in a homage to American classics such as I Love Lucy. The aspect ratio, storyline and humour all perfectly fit the era, whilst the delivery is fun, and the jokes are a beautiful representation of the times they portray. The chemistry between Olsen and Bettany is magical as they revel in the sitcom setting.
Yet, there is an unsettling undercurrent. Those who are familiar with the MCU will be puzzled by what is happening – has Kevin Feige decided to make a sitcom with two prime characters? Even more unsettling is that we know Vision died during Infinity War. The mystery deepens at the end of the first episode; during a dinner-party-gone-wrong, the couple cannot answer questions about why they came to Westview. The characters in the scene appear to ‘glitch’, and the canned laughter fades away. As the episode finishes, we see a bank of monitors with someone watching the show.
Further snippets of the puzzle are revealed over the early episodes. The sitcom starts to move through the decades with sets, storylines, styling all transforming with discombobulating speed. As the episodes progress, we move into the Bewitched vibe of the 1960s, The Brady Bunch of the 1970s and onwards to Malcolm in the Middle of the 2000s. As the eras change, the innocence and honesty of the production remain; any cynicism is left on the cutting room floor.
In each episode, the mystery deepens within the sitcom and a little more of the real world is revealed. There is a The Stepford Wives-style moment, including a radio appearing to call out to Wanda. There are also hints of Pleasantville and The Truman Show.
The fast-changing eras act as a vehicle to progress the storyline. Wanda finds out she is pregnant and gives birth within mere moments, while her baby twins change to toddlers and then to children within two episodes. At the same time, the series starts to devote more time to the outside world.
Outside the sitcom is a world where SWORD – an organisation monitoring alien threats to Earth – is trying to control the events happening within the ‘Hex’ encompassing the town of Westview. We meet up with Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), last seen as Scott Lang’s parole officer in Ant-Man and the Wasp, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), reprising her role from Thor: The Dark World, and SWORD director Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg). The real-world action plays out as standard MCU-fare, as the organisation deploys technology and soldiers to overcome the threat to the citizens of Westview.
We soon realise that the sitcom is a fictional creation that is entrapping the real citizens of Westview, but it isn’t clear why. Nor is it clear who the real villain is, and how all the various threads will join together. That is until WandaVision reveals the truth about the mysterious Agnes (Kathryn Hayn), Wanda’s nosy Westview neighbour.
The fan theories about Agnes were some of very few to be proven right, as she eventually assumes the role of the witch Agatha Harkness. Harkness takes the lead role in episode eight, as she ensnares Wanda and takes her on a poignant tour of her key life events. This has a ghost-of-Christmas-past feel to it, and the narrative helps to explain years of trauma that have gradually broken Wanda. The situation becomes clearer as we see some of her happiest moments were watching sitcoms.
The series also serves as a vehicle for bringing us a new MCU hero. Introduced as Westview resident Geraldine (Teyonah Parris), we soon learn that she is Monica Rambeau, daughter of Maria from Captain Marvel. We excitingly get to see how Monica gets her super-powers that, as the mid-credits scene suggests, she will need as she joins up with Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) in the latter’s sequel movie.
As we reach episode nine, the fictional sitcom version of Westview fully merges with the outside world as we enter full MCU battle-mode, with Wanda pitting herself against Harkness and Vision fighting a SWORD-construct of himself, White Vision. What we get is a painting by numbers MCU conflict, but after the originality of the opening episodes of WandaVision, there is a sense that there’s a missed opportunity, a sense of unfulfilled promise.
But that sense would be doing WandaVision an injustice, and misses the point of the entire series. This is not good-versus-evil, in the traditional sense of the Avengers movies. WandaVision is a study of grief and love. On the one-hand, we have a love letter to classic sitcoms, and on the other, we have the story of a woman using her incredible powers to try to come to terms with her grief. The final episodes have two beautiful moments that lift the show above the formulaic. As the two Visions battle, we have a Blade Runner-esque moment where the two organic-machines discuss what is real. There’s also the series’ final moments where Wanda and Vision have to say goodbye yet again, as Wanda faces both her grief and the world anew as the Scarlet Witch.
Her rebirth leaves me with optimism that the MCU has a bright future. Despite some of the flaws and formulaic moments, WandaVision gave us a televisual experience full of honesty and hope.
Words by Andrew Butcher
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