Surreal Marvel show WandaVision has premiered on Disney+. The series reintroduces Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and her partner, the android Vision (Paul Bettany)—but in a 50s-style black-and white sitcom. Dominic Corry, who’s seen the first three episodes, loved the novelty of its high concept. (This piece contains a sprinkling of spoilers).
A new era in the Marvel Cinematic (Televisual?) Universe began last week with the debut of the series WandaVision on Disney+. In addition to being the first new MCU content since the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home in July 2019, WandaVision represents the first in a new batch of small-screen productions with stronger ties to the big-screen efforts and mostly centered around characters introduced in the movies.
Based on the first three episodes of WandaVision (the first two are currently available to watch, the third arrives on Friday), this new iteration of the ever-expanding MCU could be a creatively fruitful one indeed.
While the production values are clearly on a par with the films, a clear choice has been made to do something markedly different, plot-wise, from what we’ve seen in the movies, and it feels like a breath of fresh air. The movies, as effective as they are at what they do, aren’t exactly brimming with surprises. This new show has plenty.
WandaVision presents the magical powers-wielding Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and her romantic partner, the infinity stone-infused android Vision (Paul Bettany) as the main characters in a 50s-style black-and-white sitcom where they are the new couple in a small town. It plays out in an old-fashioned boxy aspect ratio, complete with cheesy jokes and a laugh track.
The first two episodes include small acknowledgements that something is amiss with the situation, and there’s slightly more of this in episode three, but for the most part, the show simply commits to the bit. And it’s kind of awesome. The premiere presents a riff on one of the most common old-fashioned sitcom storylines—the boss comes to dinner—and the show really just goes for it. It’s basically Steamed Hams in the MCU. It rules.
It’s surprising how much the show chooses to simply revel in the novelty of its high concept, and while some people may be frustrated by the absence of a fast-arriving explanation, I loved it. An affection for TV history (or the movie Pleasantville) will definitely help you get on board, but the finely-tuned aesthetics are for the most part a straight-up wonder to behold.
The show’s stylistic and storytelling gambit is hard to picture being attempted in a Marvel movie, and it’s encouraging that Feige and company are leaning into the possibilities offered by an episodic narrative. Unlike Disney+‘s other big original series The Mandalorian, which offers something pretty close to what we might expect to see in a Star Wars movie, WandaVision goes out of its way to be unlike its big-screen counterparts.
Olsen and Bettany are both delightfully spry as the MCU’s very own Lucy and Desi, and it’s interesting to see Bettany come full circle into playing his “normal” self, which he transforms into while outside the homestead. It’s nutty to consider that the actor entered the MCU by being the voice of Tony Stark’s AI in the original Iron Man, then was made physical when Vision was created, and now gets to go about without the purple make-up.
Olsen is also a lot of fun and effortlessly evokes many a classic sitcom leading lady with her bright-eyed performance. She is truly the Scarlet Bewitched. The live-action take on her character has never quite explored the full extent of Maximoff’s not-inconsiderable powers, which in the comics were responsible for some pretty massive reality-altering events. It’s not hard to imagine those factors coming into play here considering the set-up of the series. And also the fact that, according to the movies, Vision is currently dead.
There have been innumerable versions of the “characters living whole other life for unexplained reasons” story over the years in Marvel comic books, and it’s pretty choice seeing a version of that play out in live-action with such grand devotion. And beyond the meticulously-mounted retro look, the whole thing has a Twilight Zone quality that kept me intrigued while the show indulged in sitcom shenanigans.
Again, the novelty-forward approach may turn off viewers who come expecting epic MCU action, but I for one loved the supreme weirdness of it all, and I’m looking forward to seeing the show cycle through latter decades’ sitcom traditions as it heads towards something resembling an explanation and establishes its lead characters’ futures in the MCU.