Why you should catch up with WandaVision (spoiler-free)
Ivan Radford | On 14, Jan 2021
This is a spoiler-free review of Episodes 1 to 3 of WandaVision. Episodes 1 and 2 premiere on Disney+ on Friday 15th January, with episodes then arriving weekly.
“We are an unusual couple, you know.” “I don’t think that was ever in question.” That’s the sound of Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) returning to our screens for WandaVision, Marvel’s first Disney+ series. The MCU to date has been many things. Action-packed. Heartbreaking. Visually jaw-dropping. But unusual? That’s a new one, and WandaVision undoubtedly takes the MCU to places it’s never been before. It’s not just unusual – it’s uniquely so.
We pick up as Wanda and Vision settle into their new home of Westview. They’re married. He has a job pushing paper. She has a nosy neighbour (the always-excellent Kathryn Hahn) asking questions about her husband. They’re both in black and white. So far, so normal American TV life – well, except for the fact that Wanda has telekinetic powers and Vision is an android.
Part of the pleasure of WandaVision is seeing just how fastidiously the show recreates every old US sitcom you can think of, from The Dick Van Dyke Show to I Dream of Jeannie. From the plots (impressing the boss at dinner!) to the escalating stakes of trying to maintain their pretence, it’s flawlessly crafted from the classic TV playbook, right down to the laughter and bad puns. Even each episode’s opening credits are gorgeously conceived, with one Bewitched-style animation playfully setting the tone for a programme that’s part-nostalgia and part-magic.
The astonishing production design extends throughout every element of the show, from the architecture and decor to the superbly period-appropriate hair and costumes, as well as the knowing aspect ratios and colourfully monochrome cinematography from DoP Jess Hall (Hot Fuzz, Son of Rambow). Even Vision changing his head from synthetic to “human” is accompanied by a little sparkle and tinkling noise, while Christophe Beck’s music morphs to match the changing mood of each episode with a chameleonic wit.
The juxtaposition between superheroics and super-normal cliches is a constant source of humour, and Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen are flawless together, leaning into every comedy beat that comes their way. Their chemistry is a delight to behold, as Olsen moves from panicked to relaxed, from confused to oblivious and from put-upon to tickled pink – while Bettany moves from poised and calculating to goofy and clumsy, with a side order of frantic or fawning. One sequence involving a talent show is laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s a joy to see Bettany get a chance to flourish the comic timing he’s previously displayed in Wimbledon and A Knight’s Tale.
But while their sincere interactions, both with themselves and with other people, are key to WandaVision’s breezy charm – “My wife and her flying saucers… “My husband and his indestructible head!” – they’re also the foundation for an increasingly eerie tone. Because the happier their domestic bliss becomes, the less natural and normal everything seems.
The flashes of awareness that both Bettany and Olsen display, and the ambiguity of their enigmatic supporting cast, gradually become highly unsettling – creator Jac Schaeffer (Olaf’s Frozen Adventure) fills the script with little nods and references, as well as snatches of product placement, that hint at how this might all tie into the events of Avengers: Endgame, when we last saw these two characters on our screen. Given what happened then, there are underlying questions that linger through the show, questions of grief, loss, the way we retreat into nostalgic perceptions of normality in the face of trauma – and there’s a bit where Paul Bettany sings Yakety Yak.
To what extent all of these things will be built upon or brushed aside as things tie into the wider MCU will only become clear in time. By dropping each of the nine episodes weekly (after an initial double-bill premiere), each half-hour progresses the mystery without undermining the thrill of the puzzle – the show will leave fans rewinding and replaying moments to try and speculate what’s going on. Director Matt Shakman (The Great, Succession and It’s Always Sunny) marshals it all with an anarchic precision.
This may be new territory for the MCU, but after umpteen films and franchise familiarity, that’s exactly what Marvel needs – and based on WandaVision’s first three episodes, Marvel knows exactly what it’s doing. It might not have been intended to be the MCU’s debut on Disney+ (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic) but if this sets the bar for the creativity and innovation we can expect from Phase 4, WandaVision may just be the most excitingly unusual TV show of the year.
WandaVision is available on Disney+, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.