Matt Taylor reviews the first two episodes of WandaVision, the latest franchise spin-off from Marvel Studios paying homage to decades of TV’s past.
There’s a lot riding on WandaVision. Not only is it Marvel Studios’ first foray into the world of television, but, thanks to Covid-19, it’s the studio’s first release of any kind since Spider-Man: Far From Home in the summer of 2019. With the way their line-up currently stands, 2021 is set to be an enormous year for the comic book giant – and WandaVision kicks it off with oodles of style.
It’s extremely difficult to try and describe the plot of the Disney+ miniseries – because we don’t really know what it is. It’s safe to assume it’s set after Avengers: Endgame, the ending of which saw Wanda Maximoff (aka Scarlet Witch) snapped back to life, and her lover Vision still very much dead at the hands of Thanos. Vision’s apparently-permanent death is one of the main reasons WandaVision is so initially intriguing (the other reasons being literally everything else about it). Episode one opens with the newlywed couple at their home in sitcom-style 1950s suburban America – but with no real clue who they are or how they got there. This sense of mystery spills over into episode two, which sees the couple preparing for a talent show in their neighbourhood – but this time they live in 1960s suburbia.
First, let’s deal with what’s in these two episodes, because they are truly excellent. Each is a love letter to a different era of television, capturing its signature style and having the fun to play around with it. The series premiere was shot in front of a live audience, and is beautifully reminiscent of the over-the-top comedy styles of the 1950s. One of the series’ main strengths so far is easily the chemistry between stars Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany. We saw glimpses of their romance in Avengers: Infinity War (enough to make Vision’s death utterly heart-wrenching), but it’s nice to see the pair given space to breathe. Olsen and Bettany’s natural zing combined with showrunner Jac Shaeffer’s wonderful dialogue allow these first two episodes to entirely engage and entrance the audience in equal measure. Wanda and Vision laugh and joke with each other, but it’s very easy to see the love the pair have for each other. This is made all the more important by the fact that this is currently the crux of the show – but big things are afoot.
It’s clear from the outset that someone is doing something to Wanda – but as yet we don’t know who or what. The ending of the first episode sees the credits roll within the world of the show (which notably read “Starring Wanda Maximoff and Vision,” rather than Olsen and Bettany), and the camera dollies backward to reveal someone watching them on a monitor, before the true credits begin. The mystery deepens in episode two when we see a toy helicopter (notably in colour, where the rest of the episode is in black and white) bearing the logo of SWORD. In the comics, SWORD is the space-based equivalent of SHIELD – might we see a connection to Far From Home’s post-credits scene, which revealed that Nick Fury is off-world, and apparently has been for some time?
There’s also the extremely intriguing implication that Wanda is somewhat in control of the world in which she and Vision find themselves. When a masked figure interrupts the couple’s blissful life at the close of the second episode, Wanda rewinds time, Funny Games-style, to ensure they are left alone. Immediately after this, their world is flooded with colour and the episode ends as a mysterious voice comes on over the radio asking Wanda who’s doing this to her. It’s a plot point that potentially confirms what many have suspected for so long: that WandaVision is partially adapting 2005’s House Of M storyline, which sees Wanda create a pocket universe to resurrect her dead brother. We know Vision’s death hit Wanda hard; she is at her most powerful (to date, at least) when facing Thanos in Endgame, using all of her grief to fight him – and she damn nearly defeats him single-handedly. It certainly isn’t such a leap to suggest that the entire world of the show has been created by Wanda’s powers.
Nonetheless, it’s extremely exciting to ponder where WandaVision will go next. We’ve already been introduced to a grown-up Monica Rambeau in the form of Teyonah Parris, and we’ve yet to see what ultimate role Kathryn Hahn will have in the series – though admittedly a simple nosy neighbour is the role Hahn was born to play, and she’s an utter delight whenever she’s on screen. We know we’ll be slowly moving through the decades towards the present day, and we know from the trailers that the Mind Stone will somehow come into play before the series is out. It’s also confirmed that it will tie into next year’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, so we can certainly expect the ending of the series to have huge implications for the rest of the MCU.
But regardless of where the series ultimately ends up going, we can at least revel in its beginnings. Because this is something unashamedly different for the MCU, and it’s all the better for it. The settings are gorgeous, the performances delightful – so far at least, WandaVision is the breath of fresh air the superhero genre so desperately needed.
WandaVision is available to stream now on Disney+.