Updated: Aug 5, 2021
"What is grief, if not love persevering?"
Nothing speaks success like venturing into uncharted territory with absolute confidence. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always been bold. A string of storylines told across more than a decade’s worth of multiple interconnected movies, is unlike anything else. It should come as no surprise then, that WandaVision is similarly bold and experimental. And yet it surprises: the MCU’s first attempt into television continually morphs between surreal sitcom, puzzle box mystery, and superhero dramatics, showing that Marvel’s confidence in a post-Endgame world remains strong. Free to write its own rules, WandaVision goes to places few would have expected the world’s biggest popcorn franchise to explore, and its themes of the grief and love between Wanda and Vision help it find its foundation in this newly established timeline.
The episodes set in earlier decades can come across as charming more than laugh-aloud funny, but there’s always something to relish, even if it’s repetitive. Most importantly, this creates a sharp contrast in the tone with the other half of WandaVision’s design. This emotional darkness plays off against the wholesome sitcom comedy, creating frequent moments of turbulence several times within each episode.
Something that I personally always love about Marvel is just how rewarding the shows are to a die-hard fan. Be it the Easter eggs or multiple post-credit scenes. The knowledge of the original shows helps make the jokes more successful and the humour generally manages to transcend from what’s just on the screen. (Both commercials so far reference dead people from Wanda's past who had profound effects on her; Strucker and Stark.) On a weekly basis, this fluctuation between the familiar and strange could be confusing but, seen as a whole, WandaVision makes sense. This lack of consistency and ‘expect the unexpected’ attitude that’s there from chapter to chapter is what makes each instalment feel like a genuinely new adventure. And can we just take a moment to appreciate the absolute genius manner in which multiple shows’ mannerisms and the tone were referenced. Not trying too hard, nailing it perfectly. (I screamed when I heard the Office’s theme.) This is in direct contrast to most of the MCU’s movies and this is where Marvel can truly flex its big muscles; it’s absolute confidence in both the production talent and its audience.
But that’s not to say WandaVision won’t lose some people - even some who expected to like it - along the way. Its experimental nature means it is juggling too many ideas at once, and the half-hour format means there’s much to deal with in a very short amount of time each episode. Furthermore, this isn’t just a show about Wanda and Vision; as the story expands we’re introduced to a whole new Marvel government agency - SWORD - and a secondary protagonist Captain Monica Rambeau. But one of my biggest issues is that Monica Rambeau doesn’t really contribute to the plot or resolution in any meaningful way. She could have had more of an impact on the events, instead ended up feeling like a diversity hire that they forgot to treat as a central character.
There are links to other Marvel storylines as well, with the presence of Ant-Man’s Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and Thor’s Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), along with WandaVision’s new original supporting cast, spearheaded by Kathryn Hahn’s nosy neighbour, Agnes. WandaVision does a commendable job of supporting these multiple threads, but very often something has to give. Sometimes this has long-term repercussions; a character that is a vital part of the final episodes is mostly sidelined for the first two-thirds of the show, and the villain, in particular, is given so little growth that they come off somewhat cartoonish by the finale. Also, talking about drawbacks, using Evan Peters as a weiner joke instead of connecting the MCU to the X-Men universe was NOT FUNNY.
Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s characters were largely used as plot devices in prior MCU movies, and so it’s new ground to see them fully embrace Wanda and Vision as living characters. Bettany effortlessly takes to the comedic skits, playing this version of Vision as bright and bumbling. This contrasts against his traditional, more ethereal personality, and helps generate some uncertainty about the situation. Meanwhile, Olsen deserves particular praise for her chameleon-like ability to replicate performances from yesteryear, capturing the delivery and mannerisms of the likes of Mary Tyler Moore and Lucille Ball, and later on a perfect Julie Bowen. After four MCU films playing a dour and troubled character, it’s fantastic to see Olsen bring a whole new side to Wanda.
But of course, that’s just one side to her story. With a life of tragedy behind her and Vision’s death fresh in the memory, there’s also a more emotionally brutal side to Wanda. And when it's called for, Olsen absolutely delivers the heft required. This often comes across as desperate and barely clinging onto control, which helps solidify the conflict within Wanda. It makes her a character who isn’t always sympathetic in the ways that she deals with her problems, bringing legitimate questions as to who the real villain of the story might be when you take a step back from it. And that WandaVision is not afraid to truly question its protagonist’s actions on occasion is one of its most notable strengths.
It tells us that grief, no matter in what form or degree, is a central theme in all our lives at a point and more often than not, we have to let go of the world that existed in our heads, no matter how much it hurts.