WandaVision: Episodes 1 and 2, A Delightful Beginning (Review)
WandaVision: Episodes 1 and 2 are an eminently pleasant way to begin Marvel’s foray into bringing the “real” MCU to the television format.
As an unabashed fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve felt the withdrawal of going over 18 months without an entry in the saga. And so, I’m going to write-up WandaVision each week to delve into whatever shenanigans that Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany get up to. I’ve spent years arguing that MCU is basically a giant television show, so I may as well focus my energies when the MCU makes an actual giant television show, right? And so, off we go!
Audience: Raucous Applause!
Wait. Why is there an audience for my TV column? What’s happening here?
Well… that sure is strange. Let’s continue, I guess… So, WandaVision focuses on Wanda Maximoff and The Vision, two characters introduced with relatively little impact in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The two have mostly percolated around the periphery of the various team-up movies in the universe over the years. Wanda, also known as the Scarlett Witch whose magical powers are ill-defined in the films, was last seen nearly felling Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, while The Vision, a cyborg of similarly unclear powers, was last seen actually dead – and not just *SNAP* dead – at the end of Avengers: Infinity War.
The impact of COVID-19…
…has seen the Marvel calendar shuffled. WandaVision, once envisioned as the fourth entrant in Marvel’s Phase IV after Cate Shortland’s Black Widow, Chloe Zhao’s Eternals, and Disney+’s Falcon and Winter Soldier, now serves to resurrect the next generation of the franchise and introduce the first “real” fully canonical Marvel TV show.
The show is structured, at least for now, as a loving homage to classic sitcoms. Episodes 1 and 2 of the series riff first on the format of The Dick Van Dyke Show and then of I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. The show echoes classic sitcom plots: “oh no! The boss is coming over for dinner on short notice!”
Guys, relax. I hadn’t even made a joke! The show smartly riffs on the character’s largely latent superpowers in the sitcom context. Jokes revolve around The Vision hiding his robotic qualities from co-workers or Wanda trying to use her magic powers to cook a meal without a neighbor realizing. It is, candidly, a bit strange, but it never feels less than entirely pleasant. It goes without saying that there is all sorts of superheroic tomfoolery happening beneath the surface of the show’s sitcom veneer. That the show works so well is a tribute to the strength of the cast.
Elizabeth Olsen has a face that appears to have been specifically designed for the very particular sort of acting in classic sitcoms. She has the humorous ease of overexpression you might recognize in Lucille Ball. She looks utterly at home in a 50s circle dress and radiates the sort of starpower upon which very long careers are made. She is, in a word, luminous.
Paul Bettany is nearly her equal as The Vision. I’ll admit I still struggle a bit with the robot makeup and the attraction between the couple. Thanks, Joss Whedon!
Wow this is an easy crowd! But Bettany sells the hell out of this thing. He too feels right at home in a classical sitcom moment. The actor’s natural charm, largely quashed in past MCU offerings, is on grand display here. He displays a wonderful sense of physical comedy that fits the material splendidly. The supporting players simply feel right for the premise too, including Kathryn Hahn (Transparent) as a nosy neighbor, Emma Caulfield Ford (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as the town’s most popular housewife, and Fred Melamed (Casual) & Debra Jo Rupp (That 70s Show) as The Vision’s boss and his wife. They’re all willing to play BIG in an appropriate way the feels right in tone with the material.
So here’s the part where we get to spoilers and nerdy speculation about the future of the show…
Thank you! So, Episodes 1 and 2 give us clear reference to two major Marvel groups barely utilized in the various MCU media thus far: S.W.O.R.D. and A.I.M. Aside from the cute allusions to a Strucker brand watch – complete with Hydra symbol! – and a Stark toaster, these two groups start to give us some notion of what’s happening here and the broader ties to the MCU.
The S.W.O.R.D. logo is seen on a notebook on a desk, where an unseen induvial appears to watch the same episode of WandaVision that we the viewers just have. S.W.O.R.D. is sort of a space-based version of S.H.I.E.L.D. – the superhero CIA spearheaded by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in the last 23 MCU movies. S.W.O.R.D. has been lightly teased in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show and in the stinger to Captain Marvel. Why are they watching WandaVision? Do they have a copy of The Vision backed on board? Is someone reading Wanda’s thoughts?
Comic readers know Wanda has the power to make MASSIVE changes to the universe, including altering the very fabric of reality when she lost her children in the House of M arc. It’s easy to speculate that Wanda has done something similar here, to process her grief over losing The Vision in Infinity War.
At the end of Episode 2, we get an appearance by a fellow in a beekeeper suit. This can only be a reference to A.I.M., which has been lightly alluded to in Iron Man 3 and has ties to Baron Strucker – the fellow who had imprisoned Wanda in Age of Ultron – in the comics. There’s some wacky comic stuff on the A.I.M. side, so it could be fun to see WandaVision lean into something absurd like M.O.D.O.K., a giant floating robotized head and one of Marvel’s strange creations.
I’m cautiously optimistic that future weeks of WandaVision can keep up the good humor of the sitcom riffs, while making all the other MCU moving parts fit in relatively seamlessly. I, for one, am greatly anticipating a WandaVision riff on The Office or Parks and Recreation. As the show tells us “in a real magic act, everything is fake”, so here’s hoping all of the fun fakery leads to a satisfying payoff! See you next week!
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