Marvel’s first foray into television using their bigger names (sorry, Agents of Shield) is one that quite imaginatively subverts the Marvel formula, at least for a while.
“WandaVision” seems normal enough from the outset, at least in terms of riffing on the tropes of television of the 1950’s. Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and her partner Vision (Paul Bettany) live their lives in a picturesque American suburb with the wacky hijinks that come along with it.
This show has a good sense of the fact that it is a television-style show, and the way that it runs with this format is one that even people that aren’t super familiar with the Marvel-sphere can appreciate. It is with this appeal, the dipping of the toe into what has been up to this point and the uncharted waters for the Marvel brand as a whole, that is WandaVision’s greatest strength.
As the episodes follow, the decades advance, going through formats reminiscent of classic programs like the “Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Full House,” “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Modern Family.” Throughout these pseudo-shows, the characters stay the same, especially in the case of their “nosy neighbor” Agnes (Kathryn Hahn).
Outside of the world of these shows, we see that Wanda has basically taken an entire town in New Jersey hostage to process her grief. The observation operation is led notably by S.W.O.R.D. agent Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), once the young daughter of Maria from the 2019 film “Captain Marvel.”
She is then joined by FBI Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), astrophysicist Dr. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) from the first “Thor” film and the Director of S.W.O.R.D. himself, Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg).
Why is Wanda keeping these people hostage specifically? How is she doing it? These questions I’ll leave for the show to answer itself.
I think the thing that WandaVision has going for it is the sense of unease. Throughout the TV-style portions of the show, the sense of reality seems just a bit off. At first, it’s not really that big of a deal. People acted weird back in the fifties, so what’s all the fuss, right? The way this feeling of the traversal of the uncanny valley is treated is excellent. Everything’s just off enough to where it all feels just mostly normal.
Sure, there’s the occasional blip where the radio calls out for Wanda specifically, but everybody shrugs it off and moves on. Everything’s just a bit too squeaky clean, and I absolutely love it.
In the terms of the parallel S.W.O.R.D. plot, one can only really go so far in the artsy department, so that is more what one expects from the traditional Marvel fare. It’s not to say anything particularly negative about it, it’s just that when you place it next to the experimentality of Wanda’s TV, it does pale a little bit.
In addition to that, once the two plots fully collide, it’s really just another Marvel movie at that point. I think it’s safe to say that I’m a bit jaded about the Marvel format, but clearly, it’s still working for most everyone else out there. So there’s no point in fixing something that still works.
If you have absolutely been starved for Marvel content in the wake of the pandemic, I’d say you’ll be satisfied, but you’ve probably watched the show already. If you have cold feet, I’d advise to give this a watch. I really like the directions they go with the core “WandaVision” TV show shtick. I hope the smaller scale and more experimental direction is the norm going forward instead of the exception, because I think there can be a lot more stories that can be told like this.