Tom Flanagan writes about the new superhero-sitcom Wandavision
Before the Coronavirus pandemic closed cinemas worldwide, Disney/Marvel had seen unparalleled commercial and critical acclaim and a seemingly dominant grip on the cinema world. However many were skeptical about Kevin Feige’s planned TV shows for Disney+ and to see how they panned out. Marvel chose to take Risks with Wandavision, and I think it’s fair to say they paid off.
The Marvel formula has been successful, if unchanging from Iron Man to Endgame. CGI fights, lasers in the sky, witty humour from super-powered individuals. Wandavision has all of these, as well as a harrowing exploration into the trauma and grief felt by Wanda Maximoff, now known to the MCU as Scarlett Witch.
The decision to present this grief through a loving parody of the US sitcoms of the past 50 years was an interesting one, but as the pennies started dropping about what was really going on in Westview, we really got in to the mind of Maximoff, played brilliantly by Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen shares the sitcom house with her Paul Bettany’s Vision, who is seemingly revived after he met Thanos’ wrath in Wakanda. Olsen and Bettany’s on screen chemistry is absolutely marvellous and is the foundations on which this series builds its suburban white picket house. The set and costumes are designed marvellously to fit in with the era of the week, as they worked their way through from the 60s through to a Malcolm in the Middle style 1990s and a Modern Family/Office inspired mockumemtary.
It’s soon discovered that Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) the nosey next door neighbour, is in fact Agatha Harkness, a centuries old witch from Salem Massachusetts that wants to steal Maximoff’s power. This is revealed brilliantly through the now hit tune “Agatha All Along” scored by Kristen and Robert Lopez, the same people who drove “Let It Go” from Frozen right into the back of your mind. Harkness takes Wanda through the events that traumatised her the most in life, from the tragic loss of her parents to an American bombing campaign, to the loss of Vision, who, despite being a vibranium synthezoid is the only person that can understand her. We see Vision comforting Wanda after the loss of her brother Pietro/Quicksilver, where he consoles her with “what is grief, if not love persevering” in a line which must have made even the most hardened nerd bawl with tears.
However it’s with Pietro that we find the show’s only flaw, and it’s probably not even their flaw. While many shows in 2021 are “binge watchable” Disney+ have been taking the approach to release one episode a week, in a throwback to a time before Netflix. From a marketing standpoint, this has been an unqualified success, as shows like Wandavision and The Mandalorian have held quite a big place in the public consciousness, with whatever the zoom version of watercooler chat being all about fan theories.
This may be where the show lets itself down from being perfect. It’s own fan’s expectations were in overdrive when Evan Peters, who plays Quicksilver in the X-Men universe arrived in Westview, only for him to be a Westview resident named Ralph Bohner (pronounced Boner). Marvel have now done a bait and switch with the multiverse twice now following Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio in Spider-Man Far From Home. I think after the end credits scene though, this may be paid off in 2022’s Dr Strange sequel.
Furthermore every website, YouTube channel and Twitter account has been theorising about Mephisto- The MCU’s stand in for Satan- to be behind everything that went wrong for the residents of Westview. Elizabeth Olsen had been saying there was a “Luke Skywalker sized cameo” at the end of the show, and Paul Bettany said there was a cameo from an actor that he “had always wanted to work with” this turned out to be a troll, as it referred to White Vision” made by S.W.O.R.D’s evil Director Hayward, played by Bettany himself. So while fans speculation can’t be what this show is judged against, and no show would be able to deliver on such demands, I feel like Marvel didn’t help itself.
To conclude though, this debut for the Marvel TV universe’s strength is in its depth. With side characters such as Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and Ant-Man’s Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) being real diamonds who will be crucial parts of Marvel going forward, Rambaeu to star in Captain Marvel 2, and an X-Files style series for Woo being currently pitched to Disney+ following a viral tweet from Actor and Director Stephen Ford.
Many were upset by Wandavision’s pacing and the sitcoms style in the earlier episodes, which I think are part of this series’ infinite charm, but those who had to slog through the earlier episodes were rewarded with a sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking story, which unlocks a whole other world of mysticism and magic for Marvel fans to explore.