WandaVision’s first three episodes barely have the time to bother paying attention to Marvel’s larger “Cinematic Universe.” However, the Scarlet Witch’s promise to Thanos at the end of Avengers: Endgame is whispering throughout the new Disney+ series — even if Wanda might not be able to remember what she said.
Despite the Mad Titan being quite dead, WandaVision — created by Jac Schaeffer (TiMER, Black Widow) — steps onto the scene as Marvel’s answer to the question of who Wanda Maximoff is, both as a woman and Avenger who’s repeatedly helped save the world. She also happens to be one of the most complicated legacy characters that Marvel’s ever attempted to bring to the big screen and beyond. While there are shades and then some of classic comics plot lines present in WandaVision’s big picture and each weekly episode’s fine details, the series speaks in its own voice to tell a story love, delusion, power, and American pop culture.
Of all the strange things that occur in WandaVision, what’s most immediately disorienting about it is actually the Marvel Studios logo sequence that plays before each episode begins. By now, it’s likely you’ve seen the sequence countless times in theatres where it sets the expectation that you’re settling in to watch another slickly-produced spectacle of light and sound, and the same is true here. But as the saturation drains from the title card, and the opening notes of WandaVision’s first theme song begins to play, the episodic nature of the series jumps out, and reminds you that this debut Marvel series on Disney’s streaming service isn’t quite trying to conjure up your traditional MCU shock and awe.
True to the song’s swinging, straightforward lyrics, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) truly are a pair of newlyweds who’ve left their tricky, secretive pasts behind to live in domestic bliss with one another in the town of Westview. Joining them are their new neighbours like Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) and Teyonah Parris, as Monica Rambeau whose identity is somewhat more complicated than initially presented. Monica is well-known to comic fans as the hero Captain Marvel, however, the character was introduced first as a young girl in the MCU’s film of the same name — the young daughter of Maria Rambeau, best friend of one Carol Danvers.
The odd trappings of Wanda and Vision’s new life raise all sorts of pressing questions considering that WandaVision’s set after the universe-changing events of Avengers: Endgame. However, the series urges you to set all of them aside by quickly establishing how absolutely committed it is to its seemingly ersatz realities in which they’re always saving the day, albeit on a much smaller scale.
When Vision finds Wanda in the kitchen levitating dishes in the premiere, what’s both striking and delightful to see is that Olsen isn’t at all trying to parody Lucille Ball’s on-screen performances and Bettany’s anything but poking fun at the long line of bumbling sitcom husbands who’ve charmed audiences with their antics for decades. For this reason, WandaVision can’t really be called “camp,” at least at the very beginning, though it’s understandable how people might see it as such because of how genuinely funny everyone here is. What the two lead actors — and the rest of WandaVision’s cast — are doing instead is genuinely bringing their characters to life in modes fitting a variety of vintage television shows.
By jumping through the decades into different periods of U.S. television, WandaVision puts itself in the interesting position of being able to draw from and warp details from the characters’ many years of appearing in Marvel’s comics. With Wanda in particular, this works especially well as a clever way to touch on Marvel’s Golden Age.
Both Olsen and Bettany are at their MCU best here in these mostly-new, vastly-different versions of themselves. You can see shades of the Wanda and Vision we’ve caught brief glimpses of in the past, but never been given all that much time to spend with. Together, the pair are the series’ emotional centre and its comedic power source, which gives them the chance to show off the breadth of their on-screen range. WandaVision’s conceit could easily lead to the show getting ahead of itself almost immediately because of the way each of the earliest episodes is packed to the gills with laugh-track fuelled corny jokes and ridiculous situations that push everyone into almost a slapstick physical comedy space.
Misunderstandings between the Visions and his boss Mr. Heart (Fred Melamed) and the couple’s next-door neighbour Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) give everyone reason to get their lives chaotically tangled up with one another before working everything out as the “in-universe” false credits begin rolling. But each of the early half-hour chapters of this story also very quickly begins to clue you in to just how off things in Westview actually are. At the same time that Wanda and Vision knowingly wink and nod at one another because the two of them are hiding the fact that they aren’t regular people, you start to see clues that everyone around them isn’t necessarily as in the dark or enthralled by the town’s Pleasantville-like influence as you were initially led to believe.
Each time Agnes barges into Wanda’s kitchen, or Wanda and Monica end up together as part of some local function, the supporting characters get a chance to be bright, fun, and goofy in ways you don’t usually see with Marvel, but they also intensify the sinister, foreboding energy pulsing just beneath WandaVision’s surface.
At this early stage, it’s difficult to gauge just how far-reaching the fallout of WandaVision’s events are going to be in the long term and what sort of impact they’ll have on the rest of the world. But as Wanda and Vision’s reality starts to falter with increasing regularity, and the couple finds themselves quite suddenly on the verge of parenthood, you can feel Marvel’s plan for Wanda to play a pivotal role in the studio’s upcoming feature film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
But in the same way that you as a viewer know that there’s much more to come farther down the line, WandaVision knows you can’t get to that point without going through this series first, and it uses that reality to make you appreciate each of WandaVision’s episodes for the curious, superhero-themed vignettes that they are. Of course, it also comes with the understanding that all good things must come to an end, no matter how idyllic and indestructible they may seem.
WandaVision will drop its first two episodes Friday, January 15 at 7pm AEDT on Disney+. The following episodes will stream weekly.