*This is a review of the first three episodes of WandaVision sent to press outlets. I will update this review in further weeks to offer my complete analysis*
The MCU’s juggernaut run has reached unprecedented critical and financial heights for blockbuster filmmaking. Their nearly-undefeated track record (sorry Thor: The Dark World) now looks to venture to the small screen with a batch of Disney+ TV shows. Ever since the announcement, I have wondered what this intriguing transition would look like. The shift presents Marvel with fresh opportunities to innovate from their typical formula, but would they be willing to risk their winning resume?
While it’s not completely unfamiliar from the Marvel routine, their debut show WandaVision does mark a refreshing change-of-pace for the storied brand. In allowing two seldomly-highlighted characters to breathe in a unique setting, director Matt Shakman’s program reaches its own affable frequency amongst its big-screen peers.
After being forced on-the-run following Civil War, WandaVision follows Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) as they begin to live in sitcom-esque suburbia. As the two grow in their new environment, they begin to suspect their world is far more fragile than it seems.
Without any marquee action beats or colorful costumed moments, WandaVision‘s initial episodes may befuddle some diehard fans. Personally, I was delightfully surprised by the levels in which Shakman and company embraced the sitcom pastiche. The trio of episodes delves into the subculture of sitcom’s evolving history, cleverly embracing each period’s distinct sensibilities with a detailed eye. The running gag never becomes too clever for its own good, with the visceral references serving as well-spiced seasoning for the narrative at hand. The creators’ self-assured patience allows the narrative to set-up without overwhelming the show’s best dynamics.
Under all the aesthetics, WandaVision elicits the most enjoyment from its titular pair. After seeing Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany relegated to thin, self-serious roles on the big screen, both actors charismatically let their hair down with their super-powered roles. As a couple discovering themselves among marital normalcy, the two share lived-in chemistry through their naturalistic delivery. It’s a blast to see these two playfully stumble past the nuclear normatives of the family structure, with the material discovering intimate humanity from the character’s continual growth.
WandaVision’s cliffhanger tease boasts potential for future episodes, but I do have some concerns about the show’s ability to sustains its unique energy. Jac Schaeffer’s promising narrative presents a weightlessness concurrent with the MCU’s generally safe presentation. There is an inability to engage with meaningful dramatic frames, whether it be Wanda recovering from the loss of her twin brother or Vision having doubts about his role as a father. I hope future episodes embrace TV’s unique structure, potentially allowing characters to grow more than they would in busy super-powered team-ups.
WandaVision welcomes an intriguing new form, but it still presents the same crowd-pleasing allures of the Marvel brand. It will be fascinating to see how the show evolves in the coming weeks.
UPDATE AFTER THE SEASON FINALE
Little did I know, the first three episodes of WandaVision would rank as the show’s most consistent stretch. The show quickly ditches its singular sitcom vision to balance its real-world story involving SWORD agents. While it’s nice to see the talents of Randall Park and Kat Dennings return to the screen, the two are relegated to corny roles that lack any dynamism outside of flat one-liners. I like when Teyonah Parris’ Monica Rambeau has a chance to breathe on screen, but her character never gets any agency outside of Wanda’s personal strife.
Marvel certainly means well in its attempts to ruminate with Wanda’s grief and the way it manifests the world around her. I just don’t think their material reaches any meaningful nuances within its character development. Overworked dialogue strains for unearned sentimentality, while an overwhelming use of expository dialogue sledgehammers every wrinkle with awkward obviousness. The show is at its best when Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are sharing the screen, yet the second half seems to split their engaging dynamic whenever it gets the chance.
WandaVision doesn’t live up to its initial promise. That still doesn’t stop this Marvel show from eliciting some exciting entertainment. Through the roller-coaster second half of the season, the show still kept me at the edge of my seat as each new development unfolded. The growth of Kathryn Hahn as a wicked antagonist brings the show a much-need threat, while a few playful narrative detours keep the audiences on their toes. I eagerly tuned in every Friday and still awaited follow-up episodes after each tense cliffhanger.
I am excited to see where Marvel can go with this new serialized format. The platform allows fresh opportunities for patient storytelling against the brand’s usually boisterous big-screen brothers. That being said, I hope Marvel allows its writers to stretch outside of the studio’s typical comfort zone, as WandaVision would have benefited from a bit more distance from familiar superhero devices.
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