WandaVision: 1.01 and 1.02
It’s probably a massive understatement to say that 2020 did not play out the way we all expected it to. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that. One mouse who usually gets their way is Mickey, the mighty figurehead of family entertainment, but even Disney could not stand in the face of Covid-19. Like all the other film studios around them, their release schedule crumbled like so many heroes before Thanos. So, for the first year since 2008 there were no releases from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
One of the biggest releases would have been The Falcon and Winter Soldier, the first proper MCU television show (apparently we’re no longer counting shows produced in conjunction with other studios such as Daredevil and Agents of SHIELD) and the perfect way to kick things off on Disney+. It would have been the ideal introduction for the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on the small screen, continuing straight on from Avengers: Endgame and featuring two hugely popular stars as they carry the legacy of Captain America forward. Alas filming wasn’t complete when the pandemic hit and the release date was delayed.
Fast forward to 2021 and the MCU finally makes it to our screens, albeit in a completely unexpected way. Now leading the charge are Wanda and her dead boyfriend Vision. In a 1950’s sitcom. Framed in the old 4:3 television ratio. Filmed before a live studio audience. In black and white. Only Marvel could get away with this. Welcome to WandaVision.
The opening episode of WandaVision is a loving homage to 1950’s sitcoms. It conjures up homely thoughts of I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s television from another age, a much more innocent time when sitcoms depicted tranquil home lives filled with farce and misunderstandings. Into these idyllic times Marvel has dropped Scarlett Witch and her beau Vision, who we last saw being destroyed by Thanos as he ripped an Infinity Stone from his forehead. How and why they got here is obviously going to be the main thread of the show going forward.
Ignoring the MCU trappings, the first episode plays out exactly as you would expect from a sitcom of the era. Vision’s boss is coming to dinner with his wife and all sorts of mix-ups and wacky shenanigans ensue. For the second instalment, we move slightly forward in time to the swinging sixties and get a beat perfect pastiche of the more fantasy based comedies of the time, such as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. The hokey theme tune complete with animated title sequence and canned laughter track, are pitch perfect as the oddball couple take part in a talent show to raise money for a local school. As tributes to these old style shows WandaVision is a fun diversion but, you may be asking, what has this got to do with superheroes?
Anyone expecting the usual high octane superhero action is going to be disappointed by the opening couple of episodes of WandaVision. However, it is obvious that Marvel have a plan and if anyone can plot out a story that unfolds to a satisfying conclusion, it’s the people who gave us some 20 odd movies in 10 years that led up to the biggest event in film history. There are subtle clues scattered throughout the show that indicate everything is not as it seems and hint towards what the actual story is about.
I have not the read the comics that parts of the show are based on and I suspect that avoiding all spoilers will make this a much more satisfying watch. Apart from the obvious clues like Vision still being alive and the fact that Wanda and him are living in an old sitcom, we get little hints that all is not as it seems. For starters neither Wanda or Vision can remember anything about their lives, such as where and how they met. Vision is working for a company, but has no idea what it is he does for a living. Far more sinister, are the little things that happen to Wanda in what feels like incursions of the real world. A toy helicopter falls into her garden emblazoned with a mysterious sword logo (this is also one of the only objects to appear in colour). Then most strangely an urgent voice on the wireless keeps repeating “who’s doing this to you Wanda?” If I had to guess, I’d say we’re dealing with a Matrix style alternate reality, which will probably all come crashing down at some point in the future.
On such a highly stylised show as this, the performances of the leads are going to be paramount in selling the conceit. Luckily then that Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany more than step up to the task. Olsen in particular shines as Wanda Maximoff, her performance is pitch perfect for the ‘50s style that they are going for. She looks and sounds utterly authentic in her role and is the complete opposite from the usual intense brooding performance she brings as Scarlett Witch. Likewise it is great to see Paul Bettany get to stretch his comedy chops, particularly in the second episode when he accidentally ingests some chewing gum. Watching him ham it up as a malfunctioning Vision careening about in a drunken style is great fun to watch and such a change from his usual heroic demeanour.
The supporting cast is equally terrific, with Kathryn Hahn putting in a fantastic turn as the neighbour Agnes. She is the epitome of all sitcom neighbours, welcoming the new couple to the neighbourhood and coming to the rescue when the dinner party is headed for disaster. The perfectly cast guests at said dinner party are noted character actor Fred Melamed as Vision’s boss and the incomparable Debra Jo Rupp as his wife, utilising all her years playing sitcom mom Kitty Foreman in That ‘70’s Show to great effect. Buffy The Vampire Slayer alumni Emma Caulfield Ford rounds out the cast as Dottie, the queen bee of the neighbourhood, and plays her with all the pantomime bitchiness you’d expect from such a character.
I particularly enjoyed the faux advert breaks featured in both episodes. The first being a toaster manufactured by Stark Industries that sounds suspiciously like the Iron Man suit as it toasts your bread. More interesting is the advert for Strucker watches that feature the Hydra logo. Baron Von Strucker, as we know, was the Hydra agent responsible for experimenting on Wanda and her brother. Whether or not these adverts form part of a future narrative, they are a meta and fun addition to the show.
Marvel have certainly taken a chance on WandaVision. It is such a huge departure for the MCU, a bold and innovative experiment. I hope that all the people that complain that superhero movies have become too formulaic and predictable support this show and its daring premise and execution. Those wanting more generic superhero fare might be disappointed by what WandaVision has offered so far. Personally I’m incredibly excited to see something so different being embraced by the MCU. It’s not quite on par with the magnificent lunacy of Legion; no one has broken out into a song and dance routine yet, but it has the potential to tell a unique story. The first two episodes do just enough to set up an intriguing mystery, that I can’t wait to see unravel.
As the second episode concludes with Wanda seeming to deny to rearranging reality again, and bright colour floods into their previous monochromatic world, Wanda asks “Vision, is this really happening?” I suspect the answer is far from straightforward, but it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun finding out.