(This review contains spoilers)
It’s hard to reconcile that this is really Marvel. With a black and white colour palette, upbeat opening song and comparatively low stakes, it’s easy enough to forget that Wanda and Vision’s last appearance on our screens was an intergalactic CGI spectacle complete with time travel and mind-bogglingly epic battles. At least, this is the sense of whiplash you get from the initial episodes of WandaVision, the first of Marvel’s latest attempts at cashing in on the television streaming boom. It’s odd seeing these much-loved characters powered down and stripped back, but to fully appreciate WandaVision is to accept that this is a show full of twists and turns; dreams and reality; perfectly crafted lies and inconvenient truths.
Set in the sunny suburbs of Westview, WandaVision follows the misadventures of its titular couple (Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany respectively) as they navigate life as two superpowered newlyweds hopelessly out of their depth. There’s humour here – and quite a few nods to sitcom classics – but something dark and incomprehensible lurks beneath the surface. A sense of the uncanny is what powers the first few episodes of WandaVision; as we watch, it becomes more difficult to ignore the strangeness of Westview. Like the shows it tries to emulate, WandaVision’s community of suburban nuclear families are artificial, their words scripted. Wanda performs an act of domestic felicity with all the cinematic trimmings, but when the cracks start to materialise in the form of glitchy neighbours and intruding beekeepers emerging from manholes in the dead of night, this false reality shatters.
It is here, at this point of fracture, that WandaVision takes on a second life. Splitting off from the self-contained narrative of Wanda and Vision’s sitcom life, we’re introduced to Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) in an almost jarring shift back to reality. This is the MCU as we know it – decked out with huge government facilities, hardened agents and vaguely incomprehensible science. There’s something quite reassuring about seeing the bizarre events of Westview from the perspective of outsiders like Monica, Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and fan-favourite Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). The sense of reality they bring with them grounds WandaVision, putting it into the context of a post-Thanos cinematic universe and giving its viewers some much needed clarity. With the intervention of Monica and her team comes the bombshell revelation that Wanda herself is responsible for brainwashing the citizens of Westview and creating a perfect world to deal with the immeasurable grief of losing Vision.
And that’s just the half of it. What’s really exciting about this Marvel mini-series is its capacity for bringing about seismic changes to the very fabric of the MCU. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the sudden and totally unexpected appearance of Evan Peters, who reprises his much-loved role as Quicksilver – only he seems to be in the wrong cinematic franchise. With Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Pietro Maximoff dying unceremoniously in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel were left with a sizable gap in the comic-book canon; what better way to send Twitter into a frenzy than filling this empty slot with a mutant? In one fell swoop, WandaVision suddenly found itself being the most watched show on a streaming platform, and a new jewel in the crown for Disney+. In a franchise as extensive as Marvel, a move like this can open up an entire universe (or perhaps I should say multiverse?) of possibilities – and fans wasted no time mobilising online to formulate theories about the arrival of an X-Men character in the picturesque neighbourhood of Westview. The stakes were suddenly a lot higher.
From the very start, WandaVision has taken on a second life outside of the confines of each episode. When the end credits start rolling, the memes are being posted and the theories debated. It’s no wonder that Kathryn Hahn’s musical number ‘Agatha All Along’ – accompanying the revelation that her character “Agnes” is really an evil witch – has become an instantaneous hit on social media. But Agatha Harkness’s big reveal is much more interesting than that; providing the crux of Wanda’s character arc and delving deep into her origin story, Agatha is a means of introducing us to the Scarlet Witch. But more than that, WandaVision is a gateway into the next phase of the MCU. It promises magic, limitless universes and conflict on a more supernatural scale.
It’s easy to get lost in the epic implications of a show like WandaVision, but at its heart is a desire to explore very human emotions. A stunning script elevates the show beyond just being a soulless superhero romp, and Olsen does a superb job at exploring the grief and all-consuming misery of her character. Bettany shines too, bringing his usual Shakespearean profundity to a character that may otherwise come across as outlandish and unrelatable. Never before has a robot been so eloquently tender. We are promised great things from Parris’s Monica Rambeau – who will go on to appear in future Marvel vehicles – and she’s already every bit the superhero. Hahn is an excellent villain, but she’s at her best when she’s grounded in some sense of reality; the show slightly loses its touch when the CGI comes out in full force for airborne battle scenes. With so many positives to talk about, the ultimate disappointment of Peters’s Quicksilver being used to make a glorified dick joke seems an almost inconsequential missed opportunity – albeit a very frustrating one. Minor irks aside, WandaVision has been a joy to watch. In setting up excitement and expanding the parameters of the MCU whilst maintaining a sense of emotional sensitivity, it couldn’t have done a better job. All that’s left now is to sit back, relax and wait for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to hit our screens on the 19th of March – but until then, this reviewer will be content to keep herself busy with theories about Westview and all the stories Marvel has yet to tell…
WandaVision is available to stream now on Disney+.