CAST: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Teyonah Parris, Kathryn Hahn, Jolene Purdy, Fred Melamed, Debra Jo Rupp, Asif Ali, Emma Caulfield Ford
RUNNING TIME: 30 mins (Episode 1); 37 mins (Episode 2)
BASICALLY…: There are mishaps aplenty when superpowered couple Wanda (Olsen) and Vision (Bettany) move into the neighbourhood – but not everything is as it seems…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
What’s the next logical step for a studio that’s produced 23 mega-hits in a row, one of which is currently the highest-grossing film of all time? Go weird, of course – and why not, because at this point Marvel Studios could bring on board David Lynch to make one of their movies and people would still be hyped to see it.
Fittingly, there is something eerily Lynchian about WandaVision (or at least, the first two episodes of WandaVision, released simultaneously on Disney+ during the miniseries’ launch day), with echoes of Pleasantville and The Truman Show as well as a huge admiration for classic sitcoms of the 50s and 60s, but make no mistake: this is already turning out to be Marvel’s biggest oddity so far – and it’s impossible not to be wowed by its ambition.
The first episode models itself after 50s sitcoms like The Dick Van Dyke Show, and depicts newlyweds Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) – the latter somehow miraculously still alive following the events of Avengers: Infinity War – moving into a suburban neighbourhood, complete with nosy neighbours like the suspiciously chipper Agnes (Kathryn Hahn). The episode’s plot is a classic sitcom set-up: she’s eager to surprise her husband for their anniversary, while he’s invited his no-nonsense boss (Fred Melamed) and his wife (Debra Jo Rupp) over for dinner, and hijinks naturally ensue – but soon, it’s made very apparent that this twee black-and-white universe is not as jolly as it seems.
Those suspicions seep into the second episode, which takes its cues from 60s sitcoms like Bewitched, and sees both Wanda and Vision attempting to fit in with their new community, ultimately leading to a talent show performance which may or may not typically end in disaster. The feelings that something is very off are much more apparent here, from the sudden appearance of fully coloured items in the otherwise black-and-white environment, to highly suspect commercials in-between acts which offer some very telling clues as to who might really be pulling the strings.
Right away in Episode 1, and all the way through Episode 2, you can clearly spot the astonishing attention to detail in its recreation of 50s and 60s sitcom tropes, from the use of cheesy practical effects right down to the use of a live studio audience (which the filmmakers apparently did film at least the first episode in front of, for extra clarity). They really nailed the tone and look for these eras of television, with cheery theme songs (by Oscar-winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez) and old-fashioned cinematography, even incorporating some of the hilariously outdated gender politics from those time periods – in the first episode alone, Wanda appears to be a full-time housewife in a homely dress while he’s off at work in a suit and tie – which is a risky move for something released in 2021 but works fully in the context of this narrative. The actors have perfect deliveries that match almost exactly with the speaking patterns and styles of acting that comedy legends like Dick Van Dyke and Lucille Ball became famous for, and it’s great fun watching these characters who we’ve gotten to know in past movies suddenly adopt these kinds of tropes and environments with highly suspicious ease.
Of course, it’s not long before there are signs that this sitcom universe is perhaps too good to be true, and while it’s too early in this series to truly speculate (we are, after all, only two episodes in to this nine-episode miniseries), the clues it offers are bound to have eagle-eyed Marvel fans scrambling for answers. Props to director Matt Shakman, who not only instils the energy and passion into his own homage of classic sitcoms, but also sets forth a mystery that is compelling enough to guarantee your investment for the rest of the series. It’s all but guaranteed we’ll eventually find out what’s what, but for now Shakman has established this strange world that begs to be explored further in delightful fashion, and certainly doesn’t let his more surreal inspirations hide away when hinting at something much larger at play.
I suspect that as the series goes along, it will get tougher and tougher to talk about things without going into some kind of spoilers, but I will certainly do my best to keep things as vague as possible throughout. These first two episodes will probably be the easiest ones to talk about (without giving too much away at the same time), because they’re more about just having fun in this surreal sitcom universe before things really start to get real, and I have to say that this is an extremely promising start for WandaVision. In fact, it’s a very strong beginning for this new era of Marvel Studios in general, as they continue to branch out with other upcoming Disney+ shows like The Falcon and the Winter Solider (due to begin in March) and Loki, which shall give them the opportunity to tell new stories with these popular characters as well as introduce some fresher faces (look out for Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk in the near future), in bold and ambitious ways that show just how far they have come in their storytelling, their characters, and their ability to take creative risks with outside-the-box filmmakers.
All of that begins with WandaVision, which so far is off to a splendid start.
SO, TO SUM UP…
WandaVision: Episodes 1 & 2 are not just a fun and delightfully strange start to Marvel Studio’s first major miniseries, but are also astonishingly crafted homages to classic sitcoms of the 50s and 60s, with everything from the intentionally cheesy practical effects to the actors’ perfect deliveries greatly capturing the aesthetic of those eras of television while also making them their own, and setting up some of the mysterious reveals soon to come.