Is it worth the watch? – Marvel’s WandaVision (2021)

I haven’t written a review for a TV show since 2012. To be fair, I haven’t really watched a lot of series since then –though I will recommend with no reservations NBC’s Hannibal (2013), Showtime and Sky’s Penny Dreadful (2014), Fox and Netflix’ Lucifer (2016), and Tencent’s The Untamed (2019).

In hindsight, my tastes for binging shows apparently trend towards the suspect and the supernatural. WandaVision was a good fit. I had fun binge watching this series with my sister.

This post is 99% spoiler-free. In fact, it’s less a review and more of me post-processing all my feelings. Enjoy.

Exciting cast. It doesn’t hurt that I already stan all the characters in this promotional poster.

The Premise and the Plot

It’s 2023, mere 21 days after Hulk undid “the Blip” in Endgame. It’s also the 1950s in a random town in New Jersey. Then it’s 1960s, then 1970s, then… It’s WandaVision.

WandaVision is a 9-episode series installment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, set only days after the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019). The Disney+ and Marvel Studios production stars Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff and Paul Bettany as The Vision in a blend of classic sitcom television and classic Marvel sci-fi action.

Like many other additions to this franchise, knowledge of the greater universe is preferred, and even required. The show finally builds on deeper themes and character development for its leads, both of which had a subtler (if non-existent) take in the more action-oriented blockbusters. To fully appreciate this series, you need at least passing familiarity with Age of Ultron, Infinity War and Endgame, and maybe a little bit of Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange.

Official trailer. Disney+’s WandaVision trailer gives nothing away.

The first few episodes start out confusing and unmoored, but entertaining. You don’t know why you’re watching Wanda and Vision play domestic in a 1950s sitcom, and you don’t know why there’s a suffocating sense of doom in the air set to bouts of foreboding music. But the charm of the actors and the air of mystery draw you in, leaving you with the curiosity of “what’s next?”. Since the first three episodes are in the traditional half-hour comedy format, it’s easy to click next and move along. So: keep watching.

Nearing the middle of the series, episode 4 comes around to break the bubble (or the fourth wall). Outsiders such as Dr. Darcy Lewis (played by Kat Dennings since its character debut in the first Thor in 2011), Agent Jimmy Woo (played by Randall Park; Ant-Man and the Wasp in 2018) and Monica Rambeau from S.W.O.R.D. (played by Teyonah Parris) finally look in. WandaVision has become a meta-sitcom, but this time with Truman trying to stop outsiders from breaking in.

The plot turns up with more twists and turns. Other beloved comic book characters appear, even as the happy domestic bubble of Wanda and Vision starts to pop. In many ways, this show has been an intelligent exercise in using self-contained sitcom episodes against overarching character and thematic development. Though as with all limited series with an ambitious character, there are several plot devices that felt either rushed or downright too convenient.

In the series finale, Marvel goes with its usual boss-style 1v1 fight between good and evil. Boring? Maybe, though they do try for some more twists in the end. (A bit predictable, though.) At that point, it didn’t matter. The payoff of the series is in the run of it.

It’s important to note that as a story set after Endgame, WandaVision is a more thoughtful and realistic exploration of trauma than Spider-man: Far From Home (2019). Part of this is the luxury of six hours of total runtime. But part of this is also the script, which finally focused on building relationships and processing grief, and the production, which was able to navigate realities through smart design and cinematographic tricks. There is something deeply resonating about the way WandaVision concludes with the poignant painfulness of the truth (but like many other Marvel stories, the end itself still leaves the audience begging for more accountability out of its heroes).

Finally, Marvel continues to excel in planting easter eggs and hints for the future. Thanks to WandaVision, I find myself still excited for the next phase of the MCU. Don’t forget the post-credits scenes!

The Production

I love it when people with a vision (heh) have the budget to go with it. And what a vision it was! Or rather, what a budget it was! Every episode spared no expense when it came to set design, costuming, camera tricks, and attention to detail. The show even invested in gratuitous opening credits and meta commercials littered with in-universe references. In the aptly titled first epsisode, “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience”, WandaVision gambled on NDAs for an actual live audience.

Creator Jac Schaeffer’s vision was executed so masterfully despite being a relative risk. Special mention must also be given to the series’ theme song composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for their dedication to producing such era-appropriate opening sequences.

Behind the scenes. A story featurette from Marvel Studios.

There’s something beautiful about how every aspect of the show tried to match with the “decade” of the episode (and the state of reality), whether it was the shifting screen aspect ratio, the advertisements and gadgets in the background, and the filming technique for the sitcom. Despite the stylistic differences from episode to episode, the show was successful in keeping everything together. This might be thanks to having a single director, Matt Shakman, for all nine episodes.

It almost goes without saying: the visual effects were amazing. I can’t imagine the amount of work that had to go to make Vision (and human!Vision) come to life, as well as the glitching sets and the superpowered shenanigans. There was also something interesting about the way they portrayed the town Westview, which at times did seem like a plywood set, and at other times seemed entirely like the real deal.

The Acting

I’m not a connoisseur or a critic. But I will say that there were several great performances in the course of this series. Within the meta-sitcom, Olsen and Bettany were able to portray a spectrum of feelings in relation to each other’s characters, from the uncanny artifice of domesticity to the more genuine affection and love between Wanda and Vision. Their chemistry was comforting and believable (especially considering one’s a synthezoid), though it was helped greatly by the little establishing scenes scattered throughout the MCU.

The supporting cast gave life to the show at every turn. Without going into detail, I especially loved the performances of actors playing what were basically bit characters –computational employee and Vision’s co-worker Norm (played by Asif Ali), the Boss’ wife Mrs. Hart (Debra Jo Rupp), and the quintessential suburban wife Dottie (Emma Caulfield Ford). What little screen time they had complemented the story perfectly and raised the stakes. Maybe it’s the muted hysterics in their eyes.

Not to mention the cast of recurring MCU baddies, aka Kat Dennings as Dr. Darcy Lewis (what a level up from her days as an astrophysics intern) and Randall Park as G-man Jimmy Woo (he can finally do his card trick, guys!). I think one of the most charismatic performances to come out of this series was Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau. If her character’s name sounds familiar, it’s because we last saw her as a kid in Captain Marvel! Perfect casting. I’m excited to see her in the future of the MCU.

The Script

Okay. As established, I rarely watch TV series. It’s too much commitment. But the main reason why I chose to watch WandaVision was because of some screencaps people started sharing online from episode 8, “Previously On”. If you don’t want any spoilers, then skip to the next paragraph. But if you’re fine with a teeny tiny spoiler, then the line, spoken tenderly by a younger Vision, was this: “What is grief, if not love persevering?”

It was the kind of tragic writing that I would have watched twice the number of episodes for. I felt anything that could produce such a moment, even communicated to me through a screencap and then a meme, would be worth the watch. And it was. Laura Donney, the writer for that specific episode, must be credited. The specific line was apparently born from the minds of Jac Schaeffer and Laura Monti. Kudos all around.

It doesn’t help that one of my favorite movie characters of all time was The Vision, half for Paul Bettany’s awkward charms and half for the character’s nuance and naivety. As a Mind Stone-powered synthezoid only a few years old, his story is always an interesting perspective into the human condition. He has one of the best lines in the entirety of MCU’s history: “But a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts”, delivered to Ultron in 2015. The Vision delivers some of the best lines in this series, as adapted from the comics or otherwise.

The End: Is it worth the watch?

Yes, WandaVision is definitely worth the watch. I wouldn’t have spent writing more than 1000 words on it otherwise. The emotional depth of WandaVision is unprecedented in terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (I may have gotten teary-eyed once or twice). And it still carries the same fan satisfaction of self-referential nods and action-packed sequences.

WandaVision is also a well-timed series. In no other time can Marvel find an audience that’s as hungry for stories of grief, love, and quarantines. Go tune in Disney+ now. You’re welcome.

What are your binge-worthy recs?

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