THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE
To say that WandaVision’s sitcom trappings are merely a gimmick to bring something new to the smorgasbord of superhero fare is a disservice to what it actually does. There’s an actual sincerity to the way WandaVision is designed. A profound appreciation for what the American sitcom has meant to pop culture and to the intricate world the MCU has built. Under the guise of the shows of old, Wandavision celebrates all that came before it and what will come in a way that hasn’t been done before. The show is a representation of the MCU’s future.
In true comic fashion, the show pretty much throws you right in the middle of this idyllic town of Westview with little to no exposition as to why Vision and Wanda are living in their own Truman Show. The vignettes that make up each episode provide a glimpse at the happy day-to-day life these two Avengers have made for themselves. Life has been good for the Visions since we last saw them; their romance is flourishing; they just moved into this great neighborhood, and the people around them are welcoming. But all good things must come to a slow and painful end. For the Visions, it begins with them noticing the many glitches in the matrix and the proverbial red pill they have yet to take is the mystery box of the show.
As bleak as that premise sounds, the show is surprisingly fun. The absurdity of two superheroes trying their dandiest to carry on with a normal life is at the forefront here which allows for fine situational comedy. Wanda struggles to make dinner while Vision tries to join the neighborhood watch. There’s honestly nothing more to ask for in a show like this.
It’s honestly hard to pinpoint what doesn’t work in WandaVision. The complexity of the premise might be inaccessible to newcomers who have no idea who these characters are, to begin with. At the same time, the show’s quirky format provides autonomy from all its overwhelming world-building needle drops. The singular day-to-day adventures Wanda and Vision go through to fit in their neighborhood of Westview work perfectly without any exposition. Each decade they adapt is its own thing with its own set of threads. These threads don’t necessarily carry over to the next episode. There’s almost no semblance of a larger story arc with the exception of the needle drops at the end of each episode. Even the character arcs are left vague to service the mystery of what the hell exactly they’re building up to.
Having the arcs shrouded in a mystery box, in addition to the surrealist nature of the show, allows for Wanda and Vision to be completely different characters from their previous appearances. It’s a very unusual way to develop these characters but it also gives stars Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany carte blanche to play it however they want. And boy, do they really have their fun with it.
For me, Bettany is, by far, the MVP of this show. He grounds the show’s sitcom pastiche in a zany performance that is equally self-aware as it is charmingly ignorant. My condescending highbrow self certainly didn’t expect to laugh out loud at 50’s humor, but I did thanks to Vision acting like a believable buffoon. Bettany is totally hilarious in this and steals so many scenes in more ways than one.
Olsen unsurprisingly stands her ground to Bettany’s wacky performance and delivers a tour de force act of her own. While Bettany brings in some grade-A levity to the show, it’s Olsen who balances it with depth and range. She has a jaw-dropping moment in the third episode that will surely elicit some exciting reactions from fans. More than Bettany, the show asks the most out of Olsen, and will likely spotlight the full spectrum of her talents when Wanda becomes the bigger focus in the season’s latter half.
As of the first three episodes, there’s not much yet to grasp with the ensemble cast. Kathryn Hahn’s wink-wink tongue-in-cheek performance as Agnes lends itself to the seeming sinister nature of what Westview really is. She’s fun to watch and is totally hamming it up for good reason. Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau brings an aura of warmness to an ensemble filled with unsettling Stepford Wives characters. As a fan of her work on That 70’s Show, seeing Debra Jo Rupp channel in her inner Kitty Foreman once more, in a Marvel show no less is a blast to watch.
The way the show commits to authenticity as they navigate through the various eras of the sitcom world is impressive as hell. With a few exceptions of a few frames that look too modern and anachronistic, the shows stay true to form as to how these sitcoms actually looked and felt. It even manages to nail the cultural and social sensibilities of the past down to the ridiculous gender norms. For someone like me who finds pop culture of all eras fascinating, WandaVision functions as a nice history lesson on what came before, albeit with a synthezoid and a witch.
Most MCU properties have a rewatchability thanks to the proven and tested Marvel Studios formula that perfectly marries levity, spectacle, and good old comic book fare that make their films worth watching. However, WandaVision just might be the property that takes the cake, as far as rewatchability goes. Kevin Feige, Jac Schaeffer, and Matt Shakman have crafted a make-believe world within a make-believe world so intricate that every detail on screen seems to have a life of its own. So much of what you see in the show feels like it means something, even though it might not. Be it the silly gags or the jokes, there’s a purpose to it. Every innocuous detail feels like an easter egg that’ll lead tinfoil-wearing fans into a rabbit hole and keep them rambling for weeks. Even the less nuanced callbacks to previous MCU moments and arcs have a heft to them as they allude not only to the MCU’s past but also to its future. It’s one of those shows where once they finally unveil the ace in their sleeve, every episode that came before will feel completely different.
WandaVision makes a truly convincing argument that the future of the MCU rests within the world of serialized television. The chilling moment where the monochromatic world of Wanda and Vision bursts into Technicolor is emblematic of this new era of the MCU that’s being ushered in front of our very eyes.