REVIEW: “WandaVision” (2021)

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I think it’s safe to say that we have reached a point to where everything Marvel Studios touches turns to gold. You could say one reason is because the mastermind behind the MCU Kevin Feige and his team of creators have defined the superhero movie genre for an entire generation. For better or for worse, Marvel has set a standard so high that many audiences reject (almost out of compulsion) any other unique vision or approach to the genre. Don’t believe me? Ask the DCEU. Movies like the groundbreaking “Wonder Woman” and “Shazam!” (which you could argue is the most MCU movie of their entire catalog) aside, much of the DCEU has been met with at least some resistance (and in many cases tons).

But not so for Marvel. Part of it is due to the allegiance of dedicated fans (and in some cases critics) who heartily embrace anything (and I do mean anything) the studio does. But it’s also because Marvel has been synonymous with quality and they’ve truly done something incredible with the MCU. While they aren’t always scrutinized the way they could be, MCU films are routinely good and always entertaining. They’ve done well casting their characters and picking the big screen stories they want to tell.

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Image Courtesy of Marvel Studios

After all they have done to change the superhero blockbuster landscape, now they look to do the same to episodic streaming. “WandaVision” marks the first of several limited streaming series coming to Disney+. Its story is told over nine episodes and the series was advertised as something we’ve never seen before from the MCU. We were also told it would have major repercussions for Phase Four (or whatever Marvel is calling this) and future storylines. The series brings together two second-tier characters from the Marvel films (and two of my favorites from the comics) and in a snap moved them higher up on the MCU food chain. But that doesn’t mean “WandaVision” is without flaws.

The series was presented in a half-hour television sitcom format with Matt Shakman directing each. It was given a hefty budget which becomes more obvious the deeper we get into the story. But most importantly, the series brings back the two stars from the MCU movies, Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff and Paul Bettany as Vision. Obviously seeing them both together in a post-“Endgame” story raises a TON of questions and adds even more appeal. Olsen and Bettany had good chemistry in the movies but here they really shine, even as the show’s sitcom gimmick starts to wear thin.

“WandaVision” is built on a big central mystery so getting too far into the plot could potentially spoil its effect. Essentially the setup is this: mere weeks after the events of “Avengers: Endgame” Wanda and Vision are living a happy suburban life in the small idyllic town of Westview, New Jersey. In an effort to fit in, both hide their identities from their neighbors and townsfolk. But here’s the catch, their life plays out like a TV sitcom complete with opening credits and laugh tracks. Each episode (minus the final two) is set in a new decade which the sitcom framework conveys. For example, episode 1 is presented in 4:3 black-and-white and is riffing on 1950’s television, specifically “The Dick Van Dyke Show” with a dash of “Leave it to Beaver”. Episode 2 moves to the 1960’s evoking “I Love Lucy”. Episode 3 shifts to color and has a “The Brady Bunch” vibe. And so on…

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Image Courtesy of Marvel Studios

At first this comical conceit is a lot of fun, but it slowly and steadily runs out of gas especially when Wanda and Vision begin noticing something is off in their seemingly television-perfect life together. Whether it’s the behavior from the reoccurring characters who pop back up in every decade (none better than Kathryn Hahn’s quintessential nosy neighbor Agnes), Wanda’s instant pregnancy, or creepy unexplainable visions. The mystery of what’s going on in Westview quickly becomes the most interesting component of the show. Yet “WandaVision” sticks with the nostalgic sitcom gag all the way through episode 7. And when over half of these roughly 30 minute episodes is spent laughing and nodding at decades of sitcom history it leaves little time to dig into the much more compelling elements of the story.

In fairness, the sitcom bits aren’t arbitrary. The show does eventually connect them and add context to their existence. In other words they make sense. But on a week-by-week basis they do account for a lot of the running time. The scraps are given to agents of S.W.O.R.D. who set up a base outside of Westview to monitor what’s going on there. They’re led by the blandly antagonistic Director Hayward (Josh Stamberg). These scenes also feature three returning MCU side characters: the equally bland FBI Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), a returning but inconsequential Darcy Lewis (Kay Dennings), and one of the show’s most intriguing pieces Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Paris). Monica was the adorable little girl from “Captain Marvel”. Now she’s grown up and clearly has a big future ahead in the MCU.

The last two episodes are the longest and finally give us some needed answers while revealing who has been pulling all of the strings. This is the series at its best, wrapping up some story angles, leaving others wide open, and introducing some ‘magical’ new elements into the MCU that is sure to have some long-lasting impact. It also features an eye-popping final showdown that truly is unlike anything the MCU has done before. It’s where the show’s bigger budget can be seen the most.

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Image Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Not everything wraps up quite so nicely. A couple of characters just up and vanish in the final episode (at least one has an excuse we can halfway buy). There’s also the unavoidable question of where are Wanda’s friends from the Avengers? Yes Thor is in space, Cap is old, etc. But no one saw what was going on or felt the need to check on Wanda? Also the finale exposes a certain mid-series surprise appearance to be nothing more than a shameless attention-grab. It earned Marvel plenty of headlines and online chatter but weakly ended as a lame anatomy joke reminiscent of something you would see on Beavis and Butthead.

Hiccups aside, “WandaVision” still accomplishes what it sets out to do: 1) Show that streaming episodic television is an exciting an effective means of telling fresh MCU stories and filling out their large sprawling universe. 2)  It fleshes out Wanda and Vision, not so much their backstories but their relationship which is the true centerpiece of the series. “WandaVision” adds a much-needed layer of humanity between them that earns our empathy and makes them big players moving forward. 3) It moves the MCU forward in a meaningful way and with potentially far-reaching implications. All together “WandaVision” may not be the most seamless television series experience. But it does expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe in an exciting way while setting the table for the slew of other Marvel streaming shows on the horizon. “WandaVision” is streaming now on Disney+.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

3-5-stars

19 thoughts on “REVIEW: “WandaVision” (2021)

  1. Do you think it will ever either come to netflix or be released on DVD? Also, can someone who is completely ignorant of the Marvel Universe be able watch it? Looks good but I don’t see myself ever linking to Disney+ or getting up to speed on Marvel.

    • I don’t see it ever coming to Netflix as long as Disney has its own streaming service. Not sure about DVD. I wouldn’t be surprise if they keep these shows exclusively on Disney+ to keep existing subscribers and entice new ones. But you never know.

  2. I loved it 😀 I wasn’t going to sign up for Disney + but I got 6 months for free when I got my phone, and I know I’m hooked in now (dammit!! 🤣) what with Loki, Winter Soldier & Falcon and Hawkeye etc series in the pipeline. So you see, of course Wanda’s friends couldn’t visit, they’re all busy doing their own series! 🤣. I thought the series worked really well, it was quite a WTF? beginning, but the reveal came through in just enough time. I thought the end credit scene told nearly as much as the series.

    • Nice! Gotta love those free months (I got one year of Apple TV with my phone). I loved the first episode and the last two. Merely liked the others mainly because after episode 3 I was ready to move past the sitcom gag and get on with the meat and potatoes. I did enjoy it though and it shows Disney+ is another great way to tell these MCU stories.

  3. There are actually 3 different series, 3 different motorcycle trips. They were pretty major undertakings too, I enjoyed every single episode, I was sorry when they ended. (Long Way Round is first) Off topic, but have only seen the first 2 Wanda Vision shows, so can’t comment on that yet 🙂

  4. I love this show. It was better than I thought it would be but it was also moving and engaging. I think the people at Marvel including Kevin Feige, Matt Shankman, and Jac Schaeffer did a hell of a job. I got sucked into every moment as well as really care for these characters.

    Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany give career-defining performances that should be considered for many accolades with the former just being this rollercoaster of emotions as I felt for her grief while the latter also shined but also reminded me of how funny he is. I also enjoyed the supporting cast as Kathryn Hahn is always fun to watch and that song of hers is stuck in my head and I refuse to let it go away. Teyonah Parris is a real break-out as I hope to see her again as I really liked the fact that Monica Rambeau is the one person who really understood what Wanda is going through. Randall Park and Kat Dennings I think were a lot better than people give them credit for as I can’t help but enjoy their collaboration as I think they’re smarter than people give them credit for. Plus, give the writers props for making Jimmy Woo be more inventive as he’s managed to learn magic.

    I do hope there’s a second season coming as I don’t usually say this but I think the show is a landmark event for television. Not just in exploring the themes of grief but also in showing how much the medium of television can mean something to people and how it shapes them. It really does pay tribute to those shows as I’ve seen some of them and I love they also give tribute to every little detail of what made those shows so special.

    • Wow, I love your enthusiasm. Obviously I wasn’t quite as smitten with it but I still really liked it. I’ll be honest, other than Monica and the Wanda flashback most of the SWORD stuff was pretty ‘blah’ to me. I found Woo to be dull (personality wise) and Darcy was there but not much else. She didn’t even get a proper final appearance. But the show nails it where it counts and I love that the two leads have been brought up the MCU ladder as they should be. And it really gets you excited for the other shows on the way.

  5. I had issues with the finale but I loved the show overall and I’m glad it was a hit for Marvel. Wanda is my favorite and Lizzie is such an underrated actress. She, Bettany, Parris and all were excellent. I can’t wait to see them again.

    • I’m a big Wanda fan, both in the comics and the MCU. I don’t know if comics interest you at all, but as a Wanda fan you should check out House of M. It was a tremendous event that focused on her. It’s so good. She’s my daughter’s favorite and she’s reading House of M. So far so 👍🏼👍🏼

  6. Hmmm if this totally has very far reaching impact on the MCU then it sounds like it is not only suggested but mandatory viewing. It isn’t a huge shock to me as I think Feige said that all Disney+ MCU shows will tie into the future, but it is just a realization in my mind that in order to really know what’s going on in the new phases, I’ll need to watch OR read spoilers, which the latter mars the experience and usually misses details. Not sure how I feel about that, I was leaning towards checking out on Marvel after Far From Home but now I almost certainly will just watch what catches my eye with them.

    I actually don’t have Disney+ and have had little incentive to get it. May be different if I had kids or a S/O who was super into Disney as a whole, but right now, just feels unneeded.

    • I never fully bought that the shows wouldn’t be mandatory viewing. Sure, in a literal sense you don’t have to watch them to know where the movies are going and I’m sure there will be some kind of reminders along the way. But to really get into the upcoming storylines you’ll have to have some knowledge of WandaVision.

      As for jumping off of the MCU, I know what you’re saying. I’m sticking with it just to see how this next phase starts but my excitement level isn’t nearly what it was going into “Endgame”. Honestly I’m more excited for the Justice League Snyder Cut than any of the upcoming Marvel movies.

  7. Pingback: REVIEW: “WandaVision” (2021) – Scarlett Johansson

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